PROJECTS

COURSE OFFERED | TECH LAW LAB (ALSO CALLED INSTITUTE FOR INFORMATION LAW CAPSTONE)

OFFERED 2002-2008

PROJECTS LISTED ARE FROM 2006-07, 2007-08

SOME PROJECTS COACHED BY PROFESSORS DAVID R. JOHNSON, RICHARD 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, you will work in small group teams. Each team will have a faculty mentor as well as a client. These are all real projects with serious, real-world impact. We have committed to clients to work with them as professionals. It will be up to you to define the scope of the project and see it through. To that end, you are required to attend weekly project meetings, to participate actively and complete the group project assignment. At the end of each term, you will prepare an in-class and public presentation of your work in addition to completing the deliverables agreed to by the team.  No prior knowledge of or experience with technology is required.  Harlan scholars in the 3rd or 4th year are required to take the class for two semesters.  Non-Harlans may apply to take the class (non-Harlans enroll in the Tech Law Lab) for two semesters

CLIENT/MENTOR

PROJECT: Virtual Company

OFFERED IN: 2007-2008

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: 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.

PROJECT: Open Access Law

OFFERED IN: 2007-2008

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: 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. 

PROJECT: New York Law School Living Law History Project

OFFERED IN: 2007-2008

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: 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.

PROJECT: IP Matrix Project

OFFERED IN: 2007-2008

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: 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?

PROJECT: Media Coverage of the Law; Taking a Critical View

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The Program in Law and Journalism is designed to educate law students and lawyers about the complex laws affecting journalists; to train students and journalists to write in a clear, accurate and engaging way about the law; and to encourage students and lawyers to use blogs and other formats to write about the issues they work on in order to advocate their causes, promote their practice and showcase their expertise to potential clients and the general public. As part of that mission, we want to create a dynamic website that, among other things, casts a critical eye on the media and how it covers important legal issues. 

For this capstone project, PLJ will collaborate with the New York-based media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), which will provide guidance to students on how to monitor the media, and may report some of the students’ findings on its radio show, on its web site and/or in its reports to the public.  Each student in the team will choose one major legal issue that regularly makes the news, and one form of media (print, online, TV or radio). The student will be responsible for monitoring how each of the issues chosen is covered by the medium of their choice. The students will meet weekly and share information about the coverage of one another’s issues, and discuss what they’ve found. Each student will then write a weekly column, to be posted on the PLJ web site, taking a critical look at how the issue of their choice was covered by the media that week. For example, if one student is monitoring the coverage of government surveillance in the war on terrorism, that student will write weekly on how the media – print, online, radio and television – addressed that issue. The goal is for each member of the team to learn to read the news with a critical eye, and to alert the public, other journalists and students to problems with the accuracy and fairness of reporting on major issues in the law. 

PROJECT: Peer to Patent Community Patent Review: Patent Law Education

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: USPTO, Corporate patent counsel at IBM, Microsoft

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The patent system needs our help. The United States Patent Office is actively seeking ways to bring greater expertise to bear on the review of patent applications and ensure that only worthwhile inventions receive the patent monopoly. Currently, underpaid and overwhelmed examiners struggle under the backlog of one million applications. Under pressure to expedite review, patents for unmerited inventions are approved. Sponsored by IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Red Hat, the Community Patent Review Project is creating an online system that connects scientific experts to the United States Patent Office. This “open peer review” system will introduce more information into the process to aid the examiner in making a determination of patentability thereby producing better quality patents.  The United States Patent Office has adopted the Community Patent Review Project as one its major strategic initiatives and will pilot the process in 2007.   The aim of the pilot is to test open review and assess its impact on the patent process. One of the key challenges to enabling public participation in the patent process is the ability to convey to non-IP experts, how the patent system works, what the rules of patentability are and how to assess the merit of an application.  Working with the United States Patent Office and patent counsel from IBM, Microsoft, HP, Red Hat and other organizations, our aim will be to design the tutorials and IP-educational material for the Community Patent Review pilot.  These online tutorials will explain the patent system as well as how to participate in community patent review.  Participation in this project is recommended for those students with a particular interest in patent and intellectual property law as well as those students interested in learning how to translate complex legal material into various presentation media, including web, audio, video and print. 

PROJECT: Project in Law and Information: Amateur Content, Intellectual Property and Cultural Policy 

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: Various grant-making foundations

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: There is a profound shift underway in the creation and dissemination of information, media and content.  Amateur content creators are challenging market share of all manner of professional content providers: from open source software and the games-modding community, through non-professional news service providers like Ohmynews.com and craigslist, and onto the wikipedia, amateur content providers have embraced the possibilities of the general purpose computer and the internet to generate an enormously important alternative to the mass media and mass content industries. Although the amateur content movement is, by now, old news the laws in most countries have not responded particularly quickly.  This project seeks to generate a series of reports about the legal environment for amateur content creation in a number of countries.  Each team will choose one country to study and will analyze a number of features of that country to determine how amateur content might best be fostered within that country.  This will include studying the laws that affect the creation and distribution of amateur content, as well as what types of amateur content are, or might be, produced within that country.  These studies will be posted to a NYLS-hosted site, and students will be expected to come up with ways of generating feedback for their study.Finally, students will work with Professor Hunter to write and pitch a small number of grant proposals to philanthropic bodies to expand the studies and generate specific policy recommendation for a number of countries. 

PROJECT: Virtual Visual Company

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: : Gruter Institute, the State of Vermont, the Chittenden Bank 

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Working with the Gruter Institute, the State of Vermont, the Chittenden Bank (large highly respected Vermont financial institution and Second Life), our goal will be to to make it easier to form and operate a company online.  The Internet has been used to create markets. But not (really) to make it easier for people collaborating to create valuable things (software, wikipedias, etc) or provide services, online, to collectively own  their shared work product and enter into transactions with third parties (as a group). Many people are starting "companies" in virtual worlds -- but these are at risk of being re-characterized as partnerships – rather than being treated as corporations by law. What's needed is a fast, easy, cheap way for groups that want to work together online to 1. find each other, 2. agree on rules for decision-making and sharing of net proceeds, and become entitled (under real law) to open a bank account, own property (including intellectual property), sue and be sued. This is essential for those cooperating online to be able to work and create value together. 

If this project succeeds, no area in the world with Internet connectivity will lack ample employment opportunities! 

The team that accepts this challenge will decide how to achieve that goal. 

PROJECT: Online CRA Training Manual and HMDA Data Analysis Tool

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: Various grant-making foundations

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: In the early 1970s, community groups discovered that banks had adopted policies of refusing to lend (also known as “redlining”) in inner city neighborhoods.  Banks felt that these neighborhoods represented poor credit risks, and rather than evaluating the creditworthiness of residents of these neighborhoods for loans on an individual basis, drew “red lines” on maps around these neighborhoods and refused to lend there.  Banks redlined despite holding the deposits of residents of these neighborhoods.  Redlining had a deleterious effect, contributing to the decline of inner city areas. By the mid-1970s, community groups brought the problem of redlining to the attention of Congress, and Congress passed two pieces of legislation intending to end it.  The first, in 1975, was the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (“HMDA”).  HMDA requires most lenders to report information about their home mortgage lending.  The second law, passed in 1977, was the Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”).  This law requires banks to meet the credit needs of their local communities. The federal government has not effectively enforced the CRA or HMDA.  Instead, the laws have been “enforced from below” by community groups who have publicized bank lending data and opposed bank merger applications.  Despite their hard work, the CRA and HMDA remain difficult to understand and use.  The purpose of this capstone project is to make these laws more accessible to community groups. Students working on this capstone will help design an online CRA training manual and a HMDA data analysis tool.  They will be working with graduate students in NYU’s computer technology program.  Work will include drafting descriptions of the CRA and HMDA, describing how to use the statutes, incorporating links into these descriptions that will assist groups in using the laws and investigating banks, learning how community groups have used the laws and preparing case studies, and developing methodologies for evaluating HMDA data.  The goal of the capstone will be to develop an interactive website that community groups can use to learn how to use the CRA and HMDA, to gather information about banks in their communities, and to analyze bank lending data.     

PROJECT: Contract Commons in Public Education

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: Stupski Foundation

PROJECT DESCRIPTION:  The Contract Commons Project will build an online system to assist government procurement officials with negotiating and drafting technology and software agreements.  The goal of Contract Commons is to make it easier for public institutions to obtain better technology and to help vendors elicit the requirements of public sector clients more effectively. Through a partnership with the Stupski Foundation, the first area of focus in the public sector will be K-12 Education.

Appropriate technology can help public education institutions serve our communities’ students.  Effective contracts can improve upon the quality, reliability and performance of that technology by creating more specific and attainable goals and agreements, as well as by focusing negotiations on critical issues early, to prevent project failure during implementation. Contract Commons will offer support for the procurement of both open and closed source software, hardware systems and technology services and support.

We intend to make it easier and more cost-effective for vendors and clients to think through relevant issues, memorialize them in cogent and legal agreements and build balanced, ongoing relationships.

PROJECT: Cairns Project

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: Various grant-making foundations

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: In the decade leading up to the Revolution, the colonies organized Committees of Correspondence to communicate their practices of self-governance and opposition to the British. These Committees enabled the colonies to benefit from each other’s experience and fortified their resolve to pursue the revolutionary path Through the exchange of ideas about successful ways of working, they coordinated decentralized efforts at resistance. Even in the absence of immediate gain, hikers in the American West stop and take the time to contribute to the “cairn,” a mound of rocks which marks the path for the next hiker to come along. Each hiker considers himself to be part of a community of practice and participates in showing the way to the next comer. Like the Framers and the hikers, individuals and organizations in government, civic, corporate and cultural life engage in collaborative methods as a way to govern themselves and solve problems. These participative approaches generally adhere to one or more democratic principles, such as inclusion, equality and fairness, that impart legitimacy to decisions taken and transform participative practices into democratic ones. Now with the spread of Internet-based communications technologies and distributed means of creative production, there is an explosion of such collaborative and participatory practices across all domains. The technology is enabling more inclusive, less hierarchical, more mutual ways of working and solving problems. There is an emerging consensus that the “peer production of governance” is not only more informed, legitimate and democratic but can be more productive and effective. The Cairns Project offers a high impact visual interface for users to describe their own work rather than relying on third-parties to do so. The success of the Project therefore depends on as many people contributing to it as possible. It provides a mechanism for “translating” collaborative and participative practices across domains so that people in civic, governmental, business and other worlds can learn from each other’s experiences. The project is both a tool for idea exchange and a place for networking among members of this community of interest worldwide. It also helps match those engaged in participation to those studying and documenting participatory practices.

The Cairns Project captures descriptions of projects with experience solving common problems of collective action using democratic approaches. Building on an early prototype, the eventual interface will be designed to solicit experiences across domains with five core activities of public life:

1) Publicizing and disseminating information

2) Consulting stakeholders

3) Organizing collaborative decision-making

4) Managing and organizing stakeholder participation

5) Resolving disputes

By developing a conceptual mapping of these practices across domains and measuring the assets that enable them, the tool will capture and organize information about best practices, what made them successful and what changed as a result. As an open source project, the tool can be modified during the course of development to capture information about other activities.

PROJECT: The Virtual Online Company Act: Creating a Digital Delaware

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: Various grant-making foundations

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The Internet has enabled the creation of new markets. And conversations. And social networks. But, despite this flourishing of group activity online, it has not yet facilitated the creation of  “firms,” persistent collections of collaborating individuals who can collectively own the product of their shared efforts and enter into contracts with third parties. Students and faculty of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School are seeking to address this unexploited opportunity to develop the law, policy and technology to support the creative collaboration that the Net makes possible.  The Institute addresses the challenge in three ways: (1) the drafting of a new Virtual Online Company Act that would amend Vermont’s limited liability company law to cover online collaboration; (2) the research and modeling of new intellectual property and other policy to support the work of these digital companies; and (3) the development of software tools that, in connection with suitable back-end financial systems, could be used by groups to operate a robust online organization.   To promote participatory and collaborative ways of working, learning and governing, the Institute adopts a holistic strategy that combines the design of law, policy and technology to bring about real-world, effective change and reform.

Traditional business corporation laws, however, do not support the work of collaborative online groups.  Most state corporation statutes contemplate top down forms of ownership and control that are incompatible with the emergent cooperation is typical of the Net.  Online collaborative activity is often among a dynamically changing group of people who have never met face-to-face and who may engage in collaborative effort over a shorter period of time than is typical in a corporate setting. Online groups may prefer to share the net proceeds of their activities in ways that don’t map easily to ownership of shares by financial investors, and may not want to grant powers to “officers” instead of engaging in collective decision-making.

Modern limited liability company operating agreements provide substantial flexibility in governance. But current LLCs typically contemplate the existence of a stable, named membership and require filing paper documents and holding in-person meetings. Most use local courts to resolve disputes among members (as opposed, for example, to some form of online dispute resolution

Even those who think they are forming a “corporation” inside a virtual world, operating under self-imposed rules creating shared ownership of a virtual world currency account risk that they will be re-characterized as a partnership when they encounter local law (as in a dispute with a third party). The Virtual Company Project proceeds from the argument that the best way to enable the formation of robust firms online is to enlist the active support of a local sovereign, such as byseeking the passage by Vermont or another state of legislation that would amend the limited liability company law to facilitate the formation and operation of online companies.

PROJECT: Peer to Patent

OFFERED IN: 2006-2007

PROFESSIONAL MENTOR: USPTO

THE PROBLEM: The sole patent examiner is not good at uncovering prior art, determining obviousness or utility or deciding what inventions merit a 20-year grant of monopoly rights.

How Does It Do That: By connecting the community of scientific experts to evaluate the merit of inventions for patent protection, the peer-to-patent system brings a much wider array of expertise to bear on making decisions about national innovation. This on-line system combines the technologies of collaborative filtering and reputation to offer on-line patent blue ribbon juries.

Why Is It Different: It replaces the single examiner with the group of scientific experts.

Who Will Use It: Government patent offices to reduce the burden on patent examiners and increase the quality of innovation.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The patent system is broken. The United States Patent Office, which was intended to foster innovation and the promotion of progress in the useful arts, instead, creates uncertainty and monopoly. Underpaid and overwhelmed examiners routinely approve petitions without review. They struggle under the burden of 350,000 patent applications per year. As a result, multiple patents have been given for the same invention or patents awarded for inventions discovered previously. But what if we could also make it easier to ensure that only the most worthwhile inventions got twenty years of monopoly rights? What if we could offer a way to protect the inventor’s investment while still safeguarding the marketplace of ideas from bad inventions? What if we could make informed decisions about scientifically complex problems before the fact? What if we could harness collective intelligence to replace bureaucracy? This modest proposal harnesses social reputation and collaborative filtering technology to create a peer review system of scientific experts ruling on innovation. By using social software, we can apply the “wisdom of the crowd” – or, more accurately the wisdom of the experts – to complex social and scientific problems and bring more expertise to bear. This has far reaching implications beyond the patent process. It implies a fundamental rethinking of our assumptions about governance. For a longer description, please visit PeertoPatent.org.

Team: Prof. Beth Simone Noveck with Nikitas Nicolakis, Mohammed Kashef and members of the IP Law Society of New York Law School