July 15, 2024

Lawyers, Lawyers Everywhere

Frank Field points to an upcoming symposium at Seton Hall on “Peer to Peer at the Crossroads: New Developments and New Directions for the Law and Business of Peer-to-Peer Networking”. Here’s a summary from the symposium announcement:

This Symposium will review recent developments in the law and business of peer-to-peer networks, with a view to determining where the law is going and where it should go. We will examine both the theoretical and practical implications of recent decisions and legislative initiatives, and will offer different perspectives on where the intersection between P2P technology and the law should lie. Our panelists include scholars and practitioners as well as representative from the U.S. Copyright Office.

This sounded pretty good. But reading the announcement more carefully, I noticied something odd: the speakers are all lawyers. If you’re having a conference whose scope includes business and technology, it seems reasonable to have at least some representation from the technology or business communities. Maybe on the panel about “Business Models, Technology, and Trends”?

Now I have nothing against lawyers. Some lawyers really understand technology. A few even understand it deeply. But if I were running a conference on law and technology, and I invited only technologists to speak, this would be seen, rightly, as a big problem. It wouldn’t be much of an excuse for me to say that those technologists know a lot about the law. If I’m inviting ten speakers for a conference on technology and the law, surely I have one slot for somebody whose primary expertise is in the law.

Yet the same argument, running in the other direction, seems not to apply sometimes. Why not?


  1. It’s a law school; what do you expect?

  2. Copyright and Cultural Policy

    James Grimmelmann offers another nice conference report, this time from the Seton Hall symposium on “Peer to Peer at the Crossroads”. I had expressed concern earlier about the lack of technologists on the program at the symposium, but James reports tha…

  3. Finding playmates

    Seth Finkelstein comments on Ed Felten’s blog that perhaps one reason why we don’t see much mixing of people from legal and technical backgrounds at conferences is that neither lawyers nor technologists get points within their own communiti…

  4. I think it’s a bit short-sighted to think lawyers can’t get points even within their own community for attending conferences with people from other fields. At a good meeting one has the opportunity to meet new people, hear new arguments, learn new information and these can improve one’s work down the road, not to mention the potential for future collaboration. A great example of a conference that brings together legal scholars, economists, other social scientists and gov’t representatives is TPRC. I think there are a few days to go until the deadline for this year’s submissions. The representation of tech experts is less common although most scholars who show up do tend to know what they’re talking about. Submission is certainly open to all.

  5. I’m the person responsible for organizing this conference. First let me say I hope everyone who’s been raising these concerns attends and gives us the benefit of their insights! A symposium is supposed to be a discussion of ideas, and we welcome insights from non-lawyers who maybe know more about the technology than us. And it will be great of some of those in attendance blog it.

    I did try to get some non-lawyers to attend, but for various reasons, none could make it. Maybe it’s because it’s a small law school symposium. One well known tech industry consultant, for example, asked me for a $10K speaking fee, which is unheard of in my world. Or maybe I just didn’t cast my net wide enough. But I never intended to exclude non-lawyers from the conversation. Ed, I’d welcome your participation, and if you’re interested, even thought it’s a bit late, let me know and I’ll see about including you in that second panel.

    As far as the balance on the panels, it probably does lean a bit to the copyleft, but I think you’ll find that Steve Tepp from the U.S. Copyright Office, as well as some of the practitioners on Panel 2, will have a different take. Again, I had invited some others who would call themselves copyright realists, but none could make it.

    That said, Seth’s hypothesis is well taken. Lawyers who are academics — i.e., law professors — get professional points for speaking at these conferences. Equally importantly, though, the law schools that sponsor them get a reputational boost from having well-known legal academics come and give presentations. So, there is a bit of a cultural loop that consipires to keep some of these academic law school symposia from becoming too “practical.” I hope our conference won’t be entirely in that mold.

    Finally, let me solicit your ideas for a future conference. If there is interest in the technology community in a conference on P2P, the DMCA, or related issues that truly brings legal academics and technolgists together in a bigger way, I would be happy to find a way to sponsor it at Seton Hall Law.

    ~Prof. David Opderbeck, Seton Hall Law School

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  7. My hypothesis: Lawyers get professional points, again, in their profession, for talking about technology with other lawyers. They do not get the same amount of professional points from talking about technology with technologists. Moreover, technologists get no points at all in their profession for talking about technology with lawyers.

    It’s “Christmas every day” for lawyers now. The techs had their party (and a wonderful bubble it was, too, I miss it). But now all we have is a hang-over.

  8. I’m planning to attend and to blog my observations. There may not be much I can do from the audience, but I’ll also try to supply reality checks so far as I’m able.

  9. Not only is everyone invited a lawyer, only Tim Wu has a reputation for swimming with the critics of the DMCA and other recent maximalizing moves in global copyrights.

    This is a pretty one-sided conference.

    I guess they figured some of us alive a little too far from Seton Hall!