Jan 052009

“It’s funny,” I twittered to @CharonQC recently, “That you are developing an interest in US law just as I’m developing an interest in UK law.”

“CharonQC,” the nom de plume for an inimitable London legal figure, has taken to blogs and twitters with incomparable relish and purpose, using them as effective tools to stoke his developing interest in the American legal terrain. Towards that end he’s composed a “pageflake” of US blogs, and this week hosts the latest Blawg Review (that happily includes my law and technology post).

Meanwhile I, for my part, am also using these technology tools to stoke my ever-burgeoning interest in UK law, an interest that has me once again making my way across the pond.

While I normally don’t telegraph where I’m going to be, in this case I’m making an exception because I would very much welcome meeting with my UK legal compatriots. I’ll be there the 6th through 11th, and apart from trying to gatecrash the RSC production of Hamlet to satisfy my traditional theater requirement, my schedule is fairly open. Please drop me a line and let’s see if we can arrange a rendezvous. I still don’t have a UK cell phone, but the hotel promises free WiFi, so hopefully my trip won’t be the information technology nightmare the last one was

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Jan 032009

At the Copyright History conference I attended in London last March I had the extraordinary privilege of seeing with my own eyes, mere inches away, the original copy of the Statute of Anne.

The Statute of Anne is one of the founding pillars of modern US and UK copyright law, reflecting a sea change in attitude about how the copy right should be handled. Before it came along, English law (not to be confused with Scottish law, whose own system already bore modern copyright features) granted monopoly in the copy right to a printing monopoly. It was fitting, in fact, that the Copyright History symposium took place in a hall of the Stationers’ Company, a powerful company of the 17th century that then had near-exclusive license to print.

But it wasn’t just that there was a printing monopoly: it was that this monopoly was granted by the government. Consequently the government could impose a kind of censorship by controlling, through the printing license, what ideas could be published. Naturally such control limited discourse, and by 1695, under political pressure, it finally gave way for good. In 1710 the Statute of Anne came into being instead, which, while preserving a few characteristics of the earlier licensing system, mostly turned it entirely on its head. Now, instead of using printing licenses as a means of controlling discourse, by its very design the Statute of Anne was meant to stimulate it.

And it did. Right away newspapers proliferated, public houses exploded with popularity (as they had during earlier periods when licensing statutes had lapsed) and democratic ideals flourished as tight government control over ideas yielded. But while the structure of modern copyright law today looks much as it did following the Statute of Anne, its limiting effects on discourse now seem more similar to the period that preceded it.
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 Posted by at 12:18 pm
Jan 012009

In early December I attended the “Program for the Future,” celebrating the 40th anniversary of a seminal event in technological history: Doug Engelbart’smother of all demos.” While today the technologies he showed off in his 1968 presentation must seem ordinary and quaint, back then they were revolutionary and laid the foundation for what we now take for granted.

While perhaps most widely known for being the world debut of the mouse, which he invented, Engelbart’s presentation is most notable for how it advanced collective intelligence. What made the presentation so important weren’t the technologies themselves but the human problems they stood to solve.

So in celebration of Engelbart’s important contribution to the world, a group of futurists and technologists gathered together at The Tech museum in San Jose to contemplate the future innovations yet to come. Personally, for me, the event was a bit nostalgic. Before law school, as a technologist in Silicon Valley, I often attended such events. Sometimes they got a bit silly, as there’d be so much “blue skying” and thinking about what could be done that nothing would actually get done. But these kinds of events were still important and because they fostered an environment where the bolts of inspiration could be seized upon and fanned into exciting innovations.

I still gravitate towards technology-related events, only today they are invariably legally-related. At these events technology is always considered in the context of regulatory frameworks, and the people doing the thinking are always lawyers and policy makers. Whereas at this event I was only one out of maybe a handful attendees who was a lawyer. And therein lies the disconnect.
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 Posted by at 9:45 am