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Category: Web 2.0

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ReInvent Law! How Technology and New Business Models Are Affecting Legal Practice

Anyone interested in where legal practice may beheaded should check out ReInvent Law Silicon Valley 2013 on March 8 at teh Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA (disclosure I am a speaker). The conference is devoted to law, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the legal services industry. Dan Katz gave and excellent talk at the mid-year AALS conference. He talked about how automated system, machine learning, and more are defeating outsourcing and changing the face of legal practice. I nodded as what he said mapped to what I learned while I was at Google. In 2008 I started writing about problems with the structure of legal education. Those issues are now with us in full force. I think Dan and this project get to issues within the legal industry that may make the what about firm jobs question obsolete (which it may already be for a host of reasons) but present opportunities going forward.

Here is how he sums up the idea:

At all price points, the legal services market is rapidly changing and this disruption represents peril & possibility. This meeting is about the possibility … about the game changers who are already building the future of this industry. This is a 1 day event featuring 40 speakers in a high energy format with specific emphasis on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. It will inspire you to consider all of the possibilities.

In that Silicon Valley way, it will be a blitz of 40 speakers covering LegalTechStartUp, Lawyer Regulation, Business of Law, Quantitative Legal Prediction, Design, 3D Printing, Driverless Cars, Legal Education, Legal Information Engineering, New Business Models, Lean Lawyering, Legal Supply Chain, Project Management, Technology Aided Access to Justice, Augmented Reality, Legal Process Outsourcing, Big Data, New Markets for Law, Virtual Law Practice, Information Visualization, E-Discovery, Legal Entrepreneurship, Legal Automation … and much more.

Tickets are Free but registration is required.
Please feel free to sign up today.

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The Importance of Section 230 Immunity for Most

Why leave the safe harbor provision intact for site operators, search engines, and other online service providers do not attempt to block offensive, indecent, or illegal activity but by no means encourage or are principally used to host illicit material as cyber cesspools do?  If we retain that immunity, some harassment and stalking — including revenge porn — will remain online because site operators hosting it cannot be legally required to take them down.  Why countenance that possibility?

Because of the risk of collateral censorship—blocking or filtering speech to avoid potential liability even if the speech is legally protected.  In what is often called the heckler’s veto, people may abuse their ability to complain, using the threat of liability to ensure that site operators block or remove posts for no good reason.  They might complain because they disagree with the political views expressed or dislike the posters’ disparaging tone.  Providers would be especially inclined to remove content in the face of frivolous complaints in instances where they have little interest in keeping up the complained about content.  Take, as an illustration, the popular newsgathering sites Digg.  If faced with legal liability, it might automatically take down posts even though they involve protected speech.  The news gathering site lacks a vested interest in keeping up any particular post given its overall goal of crowd sourcing vast quantities of news that people like.  Given the scale of their operation, they may lack the resources to hire enough people to cull through complaints to weed out frivolous ones.

Sites like Digg differ from revenge porn sites and other cyber cesspools whose operators have an incentive to refrain from removing complained-about content such as revenge porn and the like.  Cyber cesspools obtain economic benefits by hosting harassing material that may make it worth the risk to continue to do so.  Collateral censorship is far less likely—because it is in their economic interest to keep up destructive material.  As Slate reporter and cyber bullying expert Emily Bazelon has remarked, concerns about the heckler’s veto get more deference than it should in the context of revenge porn sites and other cyber cesspools.  (Read Bazelon’s important new book Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy).  It does not justify immunizing cyber cesspool operators from liability.

Let’s be clear about what this would mean.  Dispensing with cyber cesspools’ immunity would not mean that they would be strictly liable for user-generated content.  A legal theory would need to sanction remedies against them.  Read More

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BRIGHT IDEAS: Werbach and Hunter on For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business

This Bright Ideas post looks at Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter’s new book, For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. I have posted about it, but Kevin and Dan were gracious enough to answer some questions. We go into what is gamification, the differences between internal and external uses of the technique, how it relates to super-crunching, and the ethical and legal implications of the technique.

Kevin and Dan, you have drilled into an area, gamification, that seems almost arcane, a technique known to initiates. Why do it?

[KW] We actually think gamification is quite relevant for a broad range of audiences. First of all, video games have a huge impact on our culture. The games industry generates more revenue annually than Hollywood does at the box office. According to a Pew survey, 97% of American teeagers play video games, and it’s not just young people: the Entertainment Software Association reports that the average age of a gamer is 30, with almost half of them women. We can dismiss video games the way we used to dismiss social networking… and e-commerce before that… and the Internet before that… or we can look at why they are so powerful and apply those lessons in other contexts.

Second, the core goal of gamification is motivation. Think about all the situations where motivation matters: at work, at home, as consumers, in legal compliance, in social activism, and in collective action, to name a few. In all these cases, greater engagement drives material results. If there were motivational techniques that were proven in real-world businesses, consistent with decades of psychological research, and synergistic with big data and other leading-edge technology trends, wouldn’t you want to understand them?

And third, gamification is happening. It’s a rapidly growing business trend among startups, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and even government agencies. It raises a host of significant legal, operational, and ethical issues, as well as a variety of practical business concerns. We felt that my work on emerging technology and policy trends through the Supernova conference, and Dan’s scholarship on virtual worlds and background in cognitive psychology, gave us a unique ability to tackle these questions in a serious way. That’s why we put together the first gamification course at Wharton, and wrote For the Win as business guide to this emerging field.

OK, so what is gamification?

[KW] Gamification means applying design techniques from video games to business and other problems. In other words, it’s the process of motivating customers, employees, and communities by thinking like a game designer. It doesn’t mean turning everything into a game. Quite the contrary! Gamification involves incorporating elements of games into existing activities, the way Nike weaves levels and awards into its Nike+ system, or Microsoft motivated employees to review half a million Windows 7 dialogue boxes for localization errors with a competition among offices.

When you look at it that way, the basic concept of gamification is pretty simple, but doing it well is hard. Even experienced game designers often create games that aren’t much fun. Executing gamification effectively requires a combination of skills and knowledge, which we describe in For the Win.

Right. I see games are important in that they are big business and a big part of many folks’ lives. Let’s talk a little more about motivation. Is this approach a sort of applied behavioral economic one? Someone identifies levers and then builds systems to nudge or indeed shift the way others engage and behave?

Read More

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Take that Constitution and…

…forget about it.  I understand that some folks must continue to fight Constitutional battles, inside and outside the courtroom, even if just to try to hold the line against Supreme Court precedents and federal legislation that encroach on the most basic interests and freedoms people need. Note that I can mention these without reference to rights.  Rights – another term that legal academics of all stripes tend to obsess about to the point of distraction from considering the very goods that recognized rights foster and protect.  The goods are not the rights.  Rights shelter goods and interests.  If they are the only form of cover your adversaries will acknowledge, then you better pitch a rights tent.  If representing the good or interest as covered by a right does not help further the good or interest, then don’t use the representation.  Rights and “rights” are neither objectively problematic nor objectively wonderful.  What’s important is which interests and goods we decide to foster collectively,  how we decide this, and whether law is a suitable social method for fostering any given worthwhile interest or good.  If law is an appropriate mechanism for the task, then there are interesting empirical questions about whether the law should be strongly interventionist, requiring very specific conduct to facilitate and foster these goods or interests, or whether it should be more subtle, creating background institutions and norms which increase the chance that these goods and interests will flourish.

Now, consider areas of law that start not from rights but from duties, areas like tort (publicly created duties, originating in common law or in legislation) or contracts (privately created duties, originating at the nexus of individual agreements and legal endorsement of certains types of agreement but not others – some agreements are endorsed or disqualified by courts, some by legislatures).  Not coincidentally, torts, contract, and restitution have historically been grouped together as the law of obligations, in both Anglo and Continental traditions.  And not coincidentally, these bodies of law presuppose interconnectedness and relationships. The foundational or mythic state of nature that animates contracts, torts, and restitution is one that assumes that people are always and inevitably embarking on relationships, sometimes on purpose sometimes accidentally.  But whether they mean to get involved with each other or not, whether they set out to affect other people or not, people connect.  Connection is basic.  Then the question becomes, which sort of connections engender which sorts of obligations?

Obviously, one can argue for thinner and thicker versions of legal obligation and sometimes such arguments rely on philosophical theories like liberalism (neo or otherwise) or conservativism (neo or otherwise).  But it is interesting to note that reflective legal scholars and lawyers engaged (knowingly or not) in normative jurisprudence regarding the law of obligations actually tend not to invoke the usual political philosophies that undergird and drive so much of the discourse about the Constitution.  A hypothesis about what why that’s so: if our starting point for thinking about and creating law is connection – the inevitable ties that will arise among social creatures – our starting point is already complicated and textured in ways that cry out for more particularistic arguments than those generated by wholesale political theories of any stripe.  Political theories that start from the individual rather than the connectedness of individuals can be more general and less nuanced because it is easier to oversimplify the individual than it is to oversimplify connection.  Likewise, areas of legal discourse and practice that answer to broad political theories tend to obscure particularities that matter tremendously in the course of actual lived experiences.

Mary Anne Franks’s discussion of creepshots and outing anonymous bloggers reveals the significance of starting from assumptions of connection rather than assumptions of individuality.  In our culture, the rhetoric of free speech and consent is premised on a particular Constitutional background.  The minute somebody invokes the phrase “free speech” they will be heard as invoking the First Amendment and the entire kit and caboodle of the Constitution.  This then spills over to and colors how “consent” and “privacy” get discussed – they are understood as subordinate matters, less important than and bounded by the explicitly Constitutionally acknowledged good of free speech.  It is ironic that these are the terms of the debate about an episode in an environment so often characterized as thoroughgoingly social – the web and websites where people go to interact.  If we all forgot about the Constitution, very different first questions might come to mind when thinking about creepshots. Namely, who is affected by the site and how?  What sort of connections does it foster or stunt?  Are these connections we collectively should concern ourselves with? Should we use law to structure the connections that inevitably arise from activity on the web?  If so, what do the parties (intended or unintended)  in  these connections owe to one another, morally, ethically, and legally?

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Some more on ISPs and 6 Strikes – Where’s The Citizen Policing?

I wrote about the Six Strikes plan earlier today. I wanted to add a call for transparency on download speeds so the average citizen could police the penalties. The Wired report noted that responses “might include reducing internet speeds.” Given the problems with ISPs providing clear and consistent speeds, it seems to me that if they can reduce speeds in the name of copyright enforcement, they should also be open about what those speeds are. Google’s speed test may be useful and its M-Lab may play a role (M-Lab claims “Measurement Lab (M-Lab) is an open, distributed server platform for researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools. The goal of M-Lab is to advance network research and empower the public with useful information about their broadband connections. By enhancing Internet transparency, M-Lab helps sustain a healthy, innovative Internet.” Hmm. I wonder whether Google’s foray into broadband will not only show the speeds easily but jump onto the ISP copyright enforcement bandwagon. I suppose that would be a consistent approach given the copyright/search results policy, but it may be one that starts to indicate that the alleged tech industry/online activist solidarity is well, alleged.

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In case you missed it, ISPs now have a 6 Strikes Plan, A Whiff of ICANN?

Ah yes the ever-vigilant Internet democracy must have been watching, or maybe it agreed to ISP policing for copyright sort of like Google’s decision to take down search results for copyright issues. Who knows? The Shadow? Anyway, ISPs are now going to monitor usage to police copyright scofflaws. According to Wired, it is a six strikes plan

backed by the Obama administration and pushed by Hollywood and the major record labels to disrupt and possibly terminate internet access for online copyright scofflaws. … The plan, now four years in the making, [will trigger with] four offenses, [participating] residential internet providers {including AT&T, Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon] [will] initiate so-called “mitigation measures” (.pdf) that might include reducing internet speeds and redirecting a subscriber’s service to an “educational” landing page about infringement. The internet companies may eliminate service altogether for repeat file-sharing offenders, although the plan does not directly call for such drastic action.

The action reminds me a little of Stanford University policy on file sharing where three strikes means you are shut out of Internet access and must pay $1,000 to reactivate. As more and more of life is online, I wonder about such a broad stroke for copyright violators. Then again some countries take away driver’s licenses for drunk driving. The U.S.A. is more lax on that front, I think. I am surprised to see that the Center for Copyright Information has a mix of members including Gigi Sohn; as Tim Lee put it “The picks suggest that the architects of the “Copyright Alert” system may be making a serious effort to strike a balance between the interests of copyright holders and the rights of users.”

Tim explained, however, that the board “has little direct authority over the Copyright Alerts system. The real power lies in the hands of the CCI’s executive board, which is stocked with content companies and ISPs.” He has some faith that the advisory roles give the noisy exit power to “public interest advocates like Berman and Sohn some leverage” who “can always resign in protest, giving the CCI a black eye in the press.” I am not so sure that anyone will give a damn in a way that can change the system even if such an exit is needed.

I also wonder whther this is a whiff of ICANN. Tim explained (he is rather good isn’t he?) that “The Copyright Alerts system will provide users with an opportunity to appeal “alerts” to an independent entity. That independent review process will be overseen by the American Arbitration Association. The AAA will train independent reviewers who will, in turn, hear appeals by individual users.” Given the numbers needed and the way ICANN and the UDRP has operated, I am again a bit wary of how this will all play out.

Given the folks involved, I hope my concerns do not pan out. But I would say keep an eye on this one before someone has to say “Help me Obi Wan, err Google? You’re my only hope.” They may not be up for the battle either.

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My Brand Journey, Part III, and another conference

And as I argue in my piece From Trademarks to Brands which just came out in the Florida Law Review, brands are not the same thing as the legal conception of trademarks. They are much more. The idea started to percolate as I worked on my paper with Spencer Waller. As I followed cites and fell in love with Princeton’s library, I found a rich set of scholarship by folks such as Marcel Danesi, Paul Duguid, Naomi Klein, Celia Lury, Liz Moor, Susan Strasser, Tilde Heding, and many others who have dug into brands and branding. The focus on the distinction between brands and trademarks seems to be growing. While I was at Google, I presented my paper at UC Davis. It turns out that Mario Biagioli, Anupam Chander, and Madhavi Sunder are into the investigation. In fact, they have a conference called Brand New World: Distinguishing Oneself in the Global Flow coming up October 4-5 at UC Davis. I love the way the meeting brings scholars from a range fo fields together. When Shubha Ghosh and I built the Intergenerational Equity and Intellectual Property Symposium, we strove to get a mix of speakers so that disciplines were thrown together in a way that might yield some new perspectives. Shubha was a great partner in kicking ideas for panels and names around. I think this conference takes a similar approach. You can see the full descriptions of panels at the web site but here is a shorter version just so you can see the different perspectives that will be there. Hope to see folks at the event. But please RSVP.

Tactics of Distinction in the Global Flow
Barton Beebe (Law, NYU), Dev Gangjee (Law, London School of Economics), Sonia Katyal (Law, Fordham), James Leach (Anthropology, University of Aberdeen), Cori Hayden (Anthropology, UC Berkeley), Celia Lury (Sociology, University of London), Madhavi Sunder (Law, UC Davis)

Feeling Good by Buying Good(s): From Dolphin-Safe to Do No Evil
Nicole Aylwin (York University), Rosemary Coombe (York University), Evelyn Lincoln (Art History, Brown University), Maggie Chon (Law, Seattle University), Haochen Sun (Law, University of Hong Kong), Kriss Ravetto (Technocultural Studies, UC Davis)

From Signatures to Trademarks: Seals, Stamps, Brands
Gary Richardson (Economics & NBER, UC Irvine), Dagmar Schäfer (History of Science, Max Planck Institute), Heinrich von Staden (History,Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), Paul Duguid (School of Information, UC Berkeley), Colin Milburn (English, UC Davis)

Function Creep: Hybrids at the Borders of Trademarks
Alain Pottage (Law, London School of Economics), Lionel Bentley (Law, Cambridge University)
Mark Lemley (Law, Stanford), Stacey Dogan (Law, Boston University), Mario Biagioli (STS & Law, UC Davis)

The Medium is the Brand
Deven Desai (Law, Thomas Jefferson), Graeme Dinwoodie (Law, Oxford University), Peter Menell (Law, UC Berkeley), Anupam Chander (Law, UC Davis)

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The Correct Word is Desource, Not Outsource.

Everyone thinks jobs are being outsourced; they are, in fact, being desourced. When Mitt Romney claims he will create jobs, when Barak Obama claims the same, when Google, Apple, or Amazon assert they build out the economy, they all overstate. Worse, they ignore the reality that both manufacturing and service jobs are dying. Robots, artificial intelligence, and the new information-at-scale industries all but assure that outcome. The ability to build and sell without humans is already here. I am not saying that these shifts are inherently bad. They may even be inevitable. What we do next is the question. To answer that question, we need to understand the ways humans will be eliminated from manufacturing and service jobs. We need to understand what I call desourcing.

Focus on manufacturing is a distraction, a sideshow; so too is faith in service jobs. A recent New York Times article about Apple, noted that manufacturing accounts for only about eight percent of the U.S. labor force. And, The Atlantic’s Making It in America piece shows how manufacturing is being changed by robots and other automation. According to some, the real engine is service labor “and any recovery with real legs, labor experts say, will be powered and sustained by this segment of the economy.” That is where desourcing comes in. Many talk about the non-career path of service sector jobs. A future of jobs that have low pay and little room to rise is scary and a problem. Amazon explains why that world might be heaven.

The world of low wage, high stress service work is being replaced by automation. Amazon gave up its fight against state taxes, because it is moving to a model of local distribution centers so that it can deliver same-day delivery of goods. According to Slate, Amazon will spend more than $1 billion to build centers all over the U.S. and hire thousands of people for those centers. The real story is that like any company Amazon wants to reduce operation costs; it must automate or perish as Technology Review put it. It will do that, in part, by using robots to handle the goods. Self-driving cars and autonomous stocking clerks are the logical steps after ATMs and self-serve kiosks at movie theaters and grocery stores. I am always amazed at the folks who line up at movie theater ticket windows rather than use the kiosks. A friend said to me that we should walk up to the window to keep those jobs. It is a nice idea, but I think untenable. We all want to move faster and pay less. Welcome to desourcing.

Desourcing means reducing or eliminating humans from the production or service equation. Humans are friction points. More and more we can reduce those points of contact. We no longer need to send work to other humans.

There are many economic questions that are beyond what can be addressed in a short piece. But here are some ideas on which to chew. The returns from this approach are tremendous for the companies that desource. For example, by one account, Apple makes $473,000 per employee; yet “About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in this country work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year.” So we may satisfy our need for instant gratification as companies reduce their costs, but that money will go to corporate bottom lines. Whether it will really reach the rest of the economy is not so clear precisely because a smart company will invest in desourcing. I suppose at some point companies will have to realize that they need masses who can buy stuff. Yet I think some studies indicate that serving the upper end of the economy works better than serving the masses. In theory, a company may offer goods at lower prices but to do that, it will need lower production costs. And less workers means lower costs.

I am not saying I know what will solve this riddle. I offer desourcing, because I have not seen a satisfying answer to the issue. There may not be one; for we may be stil sorting what to do as the digital age takes full hold. As the computer science folks say in early training, “Hello world.”

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Is IP for People or Corporations?

Another day brings another cornucopia of exciting and important comments on my book, From Goods to a Good Life: Intellectual Property and Global Justice. I thank Professors Molly Van Houweling, Jessica Silbey, Michael Madison, and Mark McKenna, and earlier Concurring Opinions commentators —Professors Deven Desai, Lea Shaver, Laura DeNardis, Zahr Said, and Brett Frischmann—for reading my book so carefully, and engaging it so helpfully. I focus here on Professor Van Houweling’s framing of an important issue arising in the discussion.

Professor Van Houweling has provoked stimulating discussion with her astute observation of two competing visions of intellectual property within the emergent “capabilities approach” school of intellectual property we identified earlier this week. Professor Van Houweling contrasts Professor Julie Cohen’s alternative justification of copyright as a tool for promoting corporate welfare (sustaining creative industries), with my attention to intellectual property laws as tools for promoting livelihood and human welfare (sustaining human beings in their quest for a good life).

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