Students call for tech-law classes

A group of Yale Law School students have rallied to show their interest in more classes about the junction of law and technology. Their medium, naturally: the Internet.

With the help of a Facebook group, the students’ petition has gathered 300 supporters — about half the school. Administrators are currently considering how to expand Yale’s offerings in intellectual property, cyberlaw and telecommunications law at a time when some of its peers have more developed programs.

“Yale doesn’t really have a voice yet,” said petition organizer Margot Kaminski LAW ’10.

Yale does have the Information Society Project, headed by Professor Jack Balkin, and has brought in visiting lecturers and professors to teach courses in information law. But centers at Stanford, Harvard and Berkeley, some professors said, have emerged at the forefront of the field.

“Yale has lagged behind in this respect,” said Stanford Law professor Mark Lemley, who specializes in this area. “Intellectual property and Internet law issues are among the hottest issues in law schools and in practice today.”

The variety of names — intellectual property, information law, law and technology — reflects how amorphous and dynamic the emerging field still is. That’s why, Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh said, having a formally established program might not be the best approach.

Instead, his model parallels the central feature of the study itself: the network. Yale Law School, he said, should be a place where many scholars from many places interact and collaborate to advance new ideas.

“It could be dangerously premature to conclude that one particular trend or idea or subcategory captures the speed of change,” Koh said in an interview. “The best thing is to bring as many ideas as possible in and let this network of informed people sort it out.”

Kaminski agreed that information law cannot be viewed as a traditional department because it is so interrelated with all branches of law.

“Technology taps into any kind of legal issue today,” she said, “but that contextualizing lens is currently missing from a lot of Yale professors.”

The students wanted to let the administration know that the interest for expanded offerings is there. The petition started with three students — Kaminski, Leah Belsky LAW ’09 and Nathaniel Gleicher LAW ’09 — who independently had the same idea and then teamed up, Kaminski said.

The stimulus, Kaminski said, was the departure of Yale Law professor Yochai Benkler, a leading mind in intellectual property, who moved to Harvard in 2007. There was no one to replace him, Kaminski said.

The students, she said, wanted to give the faculty appointment committee an indication of student support — “not a protest,” she said, but a way to “reorient thinking.” At Balkin’s suggestion, Kaminski said, the administration is now exploring appointments related to information law.

Kaminski said she hopes the school will consistently offer a survey course in intellectual property that does not depend on visiting faculty.

Last term, three young visiting professors taught information law courses, comprising the kind of network Koh speaks of.

One of them was Susan Crawford ’84 LAW ’89, now at the University of Michigan Law School. She said Yale should be the leader in an area in which so many of its students are interested.

“Students know that the Internet is everything about modern culture and the impact on law is enormous,” she said. “And they live online.”

Crawford said Yale should attract “a whole clump” of scholars to collaborate in this area. Otherwise, Kaminski worries, students and professors may be drawn toward more established programs at Yale’s rivals.

“If you want to be part of a stimulating community, that’s where you go,” she said.

The Law School’s size — three times smaller than Harvard — makes it hard to add many new professors at once. Money, on the other hand, is not an obstacle.

This semester, Yale has several information law courses, including Access to Knowledge and Topics in Intellectual Property Law: Trade Secrets. In the spring, Balkin will teach a course on “The Information Society.” More intellectual property instruction occurs in reading groups or lunchtime seminars run by the ISP, said Law School spokeswoman Jan Conroy.

By comparison, Stanford’s offerings include a Science, Technology, and IP Law class, a Computer Crime seminar, a Cyberlaw Clinic and a dozen other courses with “intellectual property” in the name. Harvard offers course titles including Antitrust, Technology, and Innovation; Practical Lawyering in Cyberspace; and Communications and Internet Law and Policy.

Comments