Institute for Information Law and Policy Tech Law Lab/Capstone Class 2007-2008
Profs. Grimmelmann, Johnson, Noveck, Sherwin
This year-long course seeks to train a new generation of lawyer: the one who can wield a wider array of tools (law, policy, technology) to solve complex social problems. The lawyer in the digital age must be able to think, not only in traditional legal terms, but also with an understanding of how information and communication work today. Put another way, the new jurist has to translate the values of law into the world of media, technology and communication. This class aims to inculcate these skills through collaborative work on real-world projects that leverage hi- tech tools to promote civil liberties and social justice, promote open access to law and legal information, foster collective action and deepen democracy. In this class, students work in small group teams. Each team has a faculty mentor as well as a client. These are all real projects with serious, real-world impact.
Descriptions for: Virtual Company (Johnson), Open Access Law (Grimmelmann), New York Law School Visual History (Sherwin) and IP Matrix (Noveck) Projects follow.
1) Virtual Company
The Virtual Company team will create a whole new type of legal "person" and change the global economy. Last year, the team drafted a proposed amendment to Vermont's Limited Liability Company Act, worked with contacts in Vermont to seek passage of the proposal (it is still pending), outlined one form of operating agreement and did preliminary design for an online company headquarters. This year's team will bring the project home with various new activities. The team will draft a new type of operating agreement for a new kind of legal entity (we need to come up with a new name -- compani?) -- an LLC created solely by sharing attention and effort, rather than investing capital -- an entity formed and operated entirely online with a transient membership that can contribute at whatever level they choose. Think “specialized wikipedia for profit.” We will have a real client to practice on -- the students in Prof. Noveck's IP class who are going to jointly draft an IP study guide and license it (as a group) to Lexis for real money. We will also design and create an operational version of the online company headquarters (using Nexo or similar social software). We will work with lawyers in Florida and Vermont to assure that this new corporate form is expressly recognized under state law. We will work with financial institutions to make sure this new type of entity can open a bank account, in compliance, inter alia, with the Patriot Act. We will do research to make sure that the interests in the virtual company will not be classified as securities under federal law. And we will experiment with different approaches to decision-making with regard to differential distribution of net profits in recognition of contributions of differing value. We will give a presentation regarding this new type of entity on Legal OnRamp, an online system founded by Cisco to bring corporate counsel and legal practitioners together. We will work with Second Life to enable them to offer company formation services to their avatars.
Faculty Mentor: Prof. Johnson
2) Open Access Law
Access to the legal system in the United States today is shockingly unequal. One reason for this disparity is that legal materials -- everything from court decisions to treatises -- are often locked up in expensive and inconvenient formats. Just finding out what the law is can be an arduous process for the general public, especially those too poor to afford expensive lawyers and WestLex's astronomical fees. We can fix this.
Our inspiration comes from Wikipedia, the Web, and other "open source" knowledge generation systems, which have proven time and again the value of combining mountains of data, standardized machine-readable formats, and a policy of open access by anyone interested. They harness the creative ferment of millions of volunteers to outperform supposed "experts." Projects like Cornell's Legal Information Institute, public.resource,org, and Altlaw have made serious inroads at opening up the world of legal materials to the public. We can go further.
Students on this project will devise and implement a strategy to rapidly increase the quality of legal materials available to the public while massively decreasing the difficulty of consulting them. They will simultaneously work to move legal materials en masse into publicly-accessible, machine-readable, well-structured forms -- and to build upon those collections to create innovative tools that assist lawyers and the public to synthesize those materials into readily comprehensible forms. We anticipate that the students will work extensively with Freebase.com (a "data commons") for the first part of this project and with other visualization and search partners for the second part. The ultimate decisions about technologies and partners, however, will be up to the student participants, with the advise and support of the advisor, Professor Grimmelmann.
Faculty Mentor: Professor Grimmelmann
3) New York Law School Living Law History Project
The NYLS Living Law History Project aims to produce a video portrait of NYLS alumni, their careers, professional accomplishments, and advice and to connect alumni to current students via visual and online media. The goal of the project is to create a visual dialogue between generations of professionals and to forge a stronger community at New York Law School. Using video production skills that we will learn together, students will design the project, conduct interviews of alumni, do the video production and editing. A growing number of lawyers are incorporating visual evidence and visual argument into their litigation and negotiation practices. Operating within the medium of audio-visual communication is rapidly becoming just another tool in the contemporary lawyer's toolkit. This capstone offers students an opportunity to cultivate visual production skills and heightened visual literacy in general. Prior digital editing experience is useful but not essential.
Faculty Mentor: Professor Sherwin
4) IP Matrix Project
This group will research the impact of intellectual property law on collaboration. For the most part, current IP law affords rights to individual authors and inventors. There are only limited circumstances (e.g. joint works) when ownership of rights by a group is contemplated. In the past, collaborative creations such as movie production were easily navigated because the convening entity also owned the distribution channel (or there were limited distributors) making the disposition of rights easier to manage. While there has been considerable recent attention focused on the role that intellectual property law, especially fair use in copyright, plays in enabling public access to creative products for re-use and re-mixing, too little attention has focused on whether and how to allow groups to act collectively to protect and exploit the products they create. The aim of this project will be to analyze how intellectual property doctrine creates legal incentives to community collaboration and identifies what should be the contractual and corporate arrangements to manage collaboration?
We will develop an “issues matrix,” surveying IP doctrine for impediments to collaboration.
Faculty Mentor: Prof. Noveck