New Technology

“Open up it’s the police! . . . And Jeff Bezos?”

Noah Cozad, MJLST Staffer

Amazon’s Ring company posted a series of Instagram posts around Halloween, including a video of children trick or treating, and statistics about how many doorbells were rang on the night.  What was probably conceived as a cute marketing idea, quickly received backlash. It turns out people were not enamored by the thought of Ring watching their children trick or treat.  This is not the first time Ring’s ads have drawn criticism. In June of this year, social media users noticed that Ring was using images and footage from their cameras in advertisements. The posts included pictures of suspects, as well as details of their alleged crimes. Ring called these “Community Alerts.” Customers, it seems, have agreed to exactly this use of data. In Ring’s terms of service agreement, customers grant Ring the ability to “use, distribute, store .  . . and create derivative works from such Content that you share through our Service.”

The backlash to Ring’s ads gets to a deeper concern about the Amazon company and its technology: the creation of a massive, privately owned surveillance network. Consumers have good reason to be wary of this. It’s not fully understood what exactly Ring does with the images and videos this network creates. Earlier this year, it was reported that Ring allegedly gave their Ukrainian R&D team unlimited access to every video and image created by any Ring camera. And Ring allegedly allowed engineers and executives unlimited access to some customers cameras as well, including Ring’s security cameras made for indoor use. Ring has denied these allegations. There are not many specifics, but the company is said to have “minimum security standards” in general, and appears not to encrypt the storage of customer data. Though data is now encrypted “in transit.”

The legal and civil rights concerns from this technology all seem to come to a head with Ring’s partnerships with local police departments. Six hundred plus police departments, including the Plymouth and Rochester departments, have partnered with Ring. Police departments encourage members of their community to buy Ring, and Ring gives police forces potential access to camera footage. The footage is accessed through a request to the customer, which can be denied, otherwise, police usually require a warrant to force Ring to hand over the footage. California departments though allege they have been able to sidestep the customer, and simply threaten Ring with a subpoena for the footage. If true, there is effectively little stopping Ring from sharing footage with police. Ring has claimed to be working hard to protect consumers privacy but has not answered exactly how often they give police footage without the approval of the customer or a warrant.

How legislatures and regulators handle this massive surveillance network and its partnerships with law enforcement is up in the air at this point. Despite continual backlash to their services, and 30 civil rights groups speaking out against Ring’s corporate practices, there has been little movement on the Federal level it seems, besides a letter from Senator Markey (D-Mass) to Amazon demanding more information on their services. Recently, Amazon replied to Senator Markey, which shed some light on how police can receive and use the data. Amazon stated that police can request 12 hours of footage from any device within a 0.5 mile radius of the crime. Amazon further stated that it does not require police to meet any evidentiary standard before asking for footage.

Despite the relative lack of governmental action currently, it is almost assured some level of government will act on these issues in the near future. For now, though, Ring continues to expand its network, and along with it, concerns over due process, privacy, and law enforcement overreach.


Information Sharing: Tesla and the Open Patent Framework

Bernard Cryan, MJLST Staffer

Information Sharing: Tesla and the Open Patent Framework

By Bernard Cryan

Patents offer powerful protection of intellectual property, i.e., inventions. Patents confer the patent owner the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented invention for a limited time. In return for a limited monopoly, the inventor must disclose the invention. This is the classic quid pro quo of the patent system—a limited monopoly granted by the government to an inventor in exchange for revealing helpful information to society. Tesla owns many patents on its electric vehicle technology. Under Elon Musk’s direction, Tesla has decided to allow others to use its patented technologies to “accelerate sustainable transport.”

The Patent System

The patent system often works as expected—the patent owner practices the patented invention and prevents others from doing so. Sometimes, however, the patent system can behave oddly. For example, contrary to popular belief, patents do not grant the patent owner automatic permission to practice the invention. This situation can occur in the pharmaceutical industry. For instance, a drug maker can acquire a patent on a pharmaceutical not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, the drug company cannot itself make, use, or sell the drug—even though it owns a patent on the drug. Therefore, a patent alone is insufficient to practice the invention. An additional inquiry is required, i.e., is the patent owner allowed to make, use, or sell the patented invention?

An opposite oddity can also occur. One can practice an invention that is patented by another. This occurs through either a formal license agreement or an open patent framework. A license, in the patent context, is simply an agreement between the patent owner and another party granting legal permission to use the patented invention. The more interesting framework, however, is the use of an open patent system. An open patent is a patent that is intentionally not enforced. In other words, the owner of the patent allows others to use the invention and actively avoids filing an infringement lawsuit—which is the main platform to enforce patent rights.

Tesla’s Pledge

Elon Musk believes the carbon crisis calls for joint efforts amongst all automakers to build electric vehicles. In 2014, Tesla pledged that it would not file patent infringement lawsuits against companies that use, in good faith, Tesla’s electric vehicle patented technology. In Tesla’s words:

“What this pledge means is that as long as someone uses our patents for electric vehicles and doesn’t do bad things, such as knocking off our products or using our patents and then suing us for intellectual property infringement, they should have no fear of Tesla asserting its patents against them.”

The Good

Another car company can use Tesla’s patented technology instead of spending resources developing similar electric vehicle technology. Tesla is the leading seller of electric vehicles and has sold more than 380,000 electric vehicles (as of April 2019). There is still opportunity for electric vehicle development as the electric vehicle market share is small (1.8% as of March 2019). As a result, Tesla’s pledge is significant because it encourages the sharing and use of powerful information in the auto industry, which should accelerate society’s move toward electric vehicles. The use of proven technology can facilitate a start-up company’s path to success or focus an established automaker’s efforts to develop electric vehicles. Further, Toyota has followed Tesla’s approach with respect to its hydrogen fuel cell technology. This open patent framework is not limited to only the auto industry. Google, for example, has pledged to open some of its patents directed at encryption technologies.

The Bad

While Tesla’s pledge may appear revolutionary, it has drawbacks. Some companies may fear the legal tools to enforce Tesla’s pledge are insufficient. As a result, automakers may be reluctant to use the patented technology out of fear that Tesla will not follow through on its promise. While a formal license agreement to use patented technology is enforceable through reliable legal tools, an informal pledge posted in blog format by a CEO on the company website may not carry the force of law. Is Tesla required to follow through with its pledge? Maybe, under the legal doctrine of estoppel. Will Tesla withdraw its pledge? It is unlikely as Elon Musk recently reminded the world of Tesla’s pledge. Nevertheless, Tesla’s pledge may have only limited impact if other automakers lack confidence to legally enforce the pledge.

The Takeaway

This open patent framework has enormous potential to facilitate innovation by concentrating companies’ efforts to build on each other’s prior work, rather than around it. Time will reveal the true impact of open patent pledges like Tesla’s. Most recently, XPeng, a Chinese automaker inspired by Tesla, has secured a $400M investment.

Perhaps the biggest impact of Tesla’s pledge is not the acceleration of the electric vehicle use, but rather teaching the world that openly sharing valuable information is priceless. This reminder may encourage other industries to adopt similar pledges, thereby accelerating all kinds of innovation.


When It Comes to Running Shoes, How Fast Is Too Fast?

Molly Woodford, MJLST Staffer

On October 12, 2019, Eliud Kipchoge made headlines for running a marathon in 1:59:41 in Vienna. A day later, Brigid Kosgei broke Paula Radcliffe’s long-standing women’s marathon world record by over a minute, recording a time of 2:14:04 at the Chicago Marathon. Nike sponsors both athletes. Kipchoge’s run does not count as an official world record for a number of reasons, including a rotating phalanx of pacemakers and a pace car, but he holds the official world record of 2:01:39 set at the Berlin Marathon in 2018. Two weeks before Kipchoge’s historic sub-two-hour run, Kenenisa Bekele, the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m, missed Kipchoge’s world record by a mere two seconds at the 2019 Berlin Marathon. Nike also sponsors Bekele. All of these record-setting athletes wore some version of the Nike VaporFly during their races.

This spate of record-setting performances has reinvigorated a debate in the running community about whether these shoes confer an unfair advantage to competitors who wear them and should, therefore, be banned. The first iteration of the Nike VaporFly, later dubbed the 4%, first appeared on the feet of elite athletes in early 2016, at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. The shoe became available to the public in July 2017, retailing at $250. Several studies (1, 2) have shown that, true to its name, the Nike VaporFly 4% makes wearers approximately 4% more efficient compared to other racing shoes (which make the wearers ~1.9% faster). Nike has since released an updated version, the Next%, which was worn by Kosgei in Chicago and Bekele in Berlin, as well as by Kipchoge’s entire rotating phalanx of pacers in his sub-2 attempt. Next%, now also available to the public for $250, is certainly intended to, and based on recent performances may actually, confer a benefit of more than 4% to its wearers. But is that fair? Other companies are racing to compete, but none appear to have caught up to Nike just yet. And, whether or not it is fair, is it legal?

In April 2017, the IAAF significantly modified its rule regarding shoes, apparently due to “speculation and the increased interest in the development” of the 4% and other shoes. Before the rule change, “[a]ll types of competition shoes [had to] be approved by IAAF.” After the change IAAF appears to approve the shoes post hoc, and only “[w]here evidence is provided to the IAAF that a type of shoe being used in competition does not comply with the Rules or the spirit of them” at which point “it may refer the shoe for study and if there is non-compliance may prohibit such shoes from being used in competition.” In response to the advantage conferred by the Nike VaporFly, IAAF released a statement in mid-October stating that its technical committee had established a working group to look into the issue.

Even if IAAF eventually determines that Nike’s technological advances are too advantageous, Nike seems to be the main beneficiary, thus far, of IAAF’s rule change. Nike has received an enormous amount of free press, this blog included, because of the recent spate of record-breaking performances, and the surrounding controversy. However, a group that could benefit are up-and-coming, innovative, shoe manufacturers. In the late aughts, a company called Spira built a marketing campaign around being banned by USATF and IAAF because of springs in their shoes. Whether or not Spira was ever actually banned appears to be an open question—USATF repeatedly stated that Spira was not banned, and three runners wore Spira shoes in the 2008 Olympics. However, Spira filed a lawsuit against USATF and IAAF, alleging that the organizations had violated antitrust laws. Spira voluntarily dismissed the suit. Although there is other evidence that USATF believed that Spira did not comply with the IAAF shoe rules.

Spira still exists today, though they never took off as a serious running shoe brand. Whether the Spira controversy was completely authentic or drummed up for publicity, the next Spira could benefit from IAAF’s rule change. Instead of worrying about when and if they’ll receive IAAF approval, a new company and its shoe will only be scrutinized by IAAF if “evidence is provided to the IAAF that a type of shoe being used in competition does not comply with the Rules or the spirit of them.”


The Environmental Costs of Amazon

Christina Petsoulis, MJLST Staffer 

Amazon. One of the 21st century’s most novel inventions. Amazon now dominates e-commerce, with 43% of money spent online coming from Amazon sales. The online retail giant has, without a doubt, changed the way society operates – in some ways, for the better, while in others, for the worse.

Amazon’s carbon footprint is nothing short of concerning, especially with its continued expansion of Prime services. Expedited shipping means more cars and trucks on the road for delivery services, and increased waste from packages that are not as consolidated as they could be. Amazon packaging demands billions of boxes each year, with over 5 billion Amazon Prime packages alone sent worldwide in 2017. In fact, 64% of American households have Amazon Prime, and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are closing down in every market as a result of the shift toward online retail shopping.

Some experts argue that having individual consumers drive to, and shop at, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers is more inefficient than consolidating packages for delivery. I find this argument unpersuasive, as consumers tend to make small purchases each time they shop online, requiring multiple shipments per week per consumer. Moreover, while online retail continues to gain dominance, traditional retail still exists and has shipping and packaging demands of its own. This situation, in essence, doubles consumer ‘demands.’

But most of Amazon packaging is recyclable, so we’re good, right? Not exactly. First, just 34% of solid waste is recycled (attributable to both consumer behavior and access to municipal recycling services). 80% of solid waste is recyclable with just 28% of it actually being recycled. Second, the vast majority of U.S. recyclables are sent to China for processing, which is problematic because China has announced that it will no longer import foreign garbage. In fact, China has banned importation of particular paper and plastic products, leaving the U.S. to deal with its own trash. With increased waste management demand and decreased capacity to deal with it, big questions remain as to how federal, state and local government will fare the storm.

Is Amazon liable for the vast quantities of trash it introduces into the market? Will Amazon be asked to alter business behavior, such as cut down on its packaging materials or enforce package consolidation policies? These types of requirements counter Amazon’s business interests, as the dominant draw of Amazon is individualized, convenient, fast shipping. Amazon’s model facilitates individual gain (i.e. $7.99 water bottle shipped day-of-order for free) at the expense of our environment’s health (i.e. one over-sized cardboard box ending up in a landfill). The epitome of a negative externality. It seems unlikely that any sort of regulation on packaging, shipping, and handling would stand a chance in light of consumer gravitation toward online shopping.

Government has tried to regulate Amazon, but not necessarily for environmental reasons. For example, the Federal Trade Commission has probed Amazon’s pricing practices as it expands its markets beyond e-commerce, threatening companies such as Netflix and Apple with its video services.

Surely, Amazon is not the only actor in the issue of environmental costs associated with e-commerce. But with 43% of online purchases coming from Amazon, it’s hard not to point fingers at a company so heavily dominating the marketplace.


Virtual Reality in Education & the ADA: More Accessibility or Less Accessibility?

Yvie Yao, MJLST Staffer 

Imagine that students no longer need to go to a lab to have a lab experience or go to France to visit the Eiffel Tower. Though sounding impossible, edtech companies that integrate virtual reality (“VR”) technology into the classroom learning experience have enabled these activities.

Copenhagen-based company, Labster, plans to use VR to create virtual labs that will allow students to perform experiments and hone their skills in a risk-free environment. U.S.-based companies, like Nearpod and Alchemy Learning, can take students on virtual field trips to learn about everything from the Amazon rainforest to ancient Roman ruins.

While kids love VR technologies, edtech companies ought to be careful about creating content or products within legal boundaries. After edX’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), edtech companies may face increased scrutiny under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). DOJ claimed that edX’s website, as well as the open online courses offered on its platform, were not fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, thus violating the ADA.

“Massive open online courses have the potential to increase access to high-quality education for people facing income, distance, and other barriers, but only if they are truly open to everyone” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Gupta.

The same can be said for VR applications in education. Courses with the aid of VR technology provide access to high-quality education for students facing different barriers. Yet, the technology itself is less accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision, who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accomodations, which include places of education and requires these places to take necessary steps to ensure individuals with disabilities are not treated differently. In the edX settlement, DOJ appeared to interpret edX itself as a place of education within the ADA’s definition of public accommodation. This has two implications. First, purely online educational entities without any physical location qualify as places of education. Second, other web-based education-related service providers might fit the definition of a place of education.

With the law in mind, edtech companies providing online learning content using VR that integrate the content into school curriculums, should be aware of the implications of the ADA and take necessary steps to provide auxiliary aids and services sufficient to enable disabled students to fully participate in the technology.


Who Gets to Speak for Earth? Thoughts on the Anniversary of the Arecibo Message

Will Dooling, MJLST Staffer

November 16th marks the 43rd anniversary of the Arecibo message, an attempt to broadcast a powerful radio signal from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico to the heart of the Messier 13 galaxy, more than 25,000 light years away. The Arecibo message was largely ceremonial, or experimental, no one seriously expects to hear back. However, the experiment posed interesting questions about how, exactly, humans ought to go about broadcasting messages to extraterrestrials, and who gets to speak for humanity.

If these questions seem far-fetched, that is only because we, as a society, have grown less ambitious in our hopes for space exploration. In the heady days of the early space race, these questions were seriously considered by NASA and the UN. The Arecibo Message was not a lone experiment: both the Pioneer and Voyager space probes, launched at about the same time as the Arecibo message, carried plaques designed to be easily deciphered by whoever, or whatever, would happen upon them in the future. Four decades later, well into the 21st century, we have the first signs of a robust private space industry and serious proposals in place for mining asteroids and lunar tourism but we still have not resolved the questions posed by the Arecibo Message. Who gets to speak for humanity? Should we even be broadcasting right now?

Currently, several large-scale projects are in place with the primary purpose of locating extraterrestrial life in solar systems beyond our own. By far the most ambitious are the continuing efforts of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute. SETI is a United States nonprofit organization funded almost entirely by private charitable donations. Some of its largest donors include tech giants William Hewlitt, David Packard, and Paul Allen. SETI largely devotes its time to hunting for radio signals using telescope arrays all over the world. SETI uses this approach because it is relatively easy to hunt for unusual radio signals. A few nations have tried more direct attempts: NASA’s space-based Kepler telescope, and a related French mission called COROT, both launched in part to analyze the chemical composition of planets in nearby solar systems, to see if they could detect chemical compounds that could only form on planets with complex biospheres. FAST (the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope), completed in 2016, is the largest conventional radio receiver on earth, it was built by China in part to hunt for extraterrestrial radio sources in a manner similar to the US’s SETI.

All these are attempts to locate extraterrestrial life. What should we do if we find any, and should we be sending any more messages in the meantime? The past few years have seen a renewed interest in actively contacting extraterrestrials via Arecibo-like radio broadcasts. (See for example 2017’s Tromsø broadcast from a radio observatory in Norway to the nearby red dwarf star GJ 273). There have even been proposed commercial broadcasts where customers could pay for the novel experience of having personal messages broadcast into space. This increased interest in broadcasting has provoked some controversy: In 2016, a group of prominent “futurists” including astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz and Tesla CEO Elon Musk signed and circulated a letter objecting to any active attempts to contact extraterrestrial life. The letter expressed concern that the content of any deliberate communications should result from international consensus not “a decision based upon the wishes of a few individuals with access to powerful communications equipment.” The letter called for “vigorous international debate by a broadly representative body prior to engaging further in this activity.” It opened with an even more dire observation: “We know nothing of ETI’s [Extraterrestrial Intelligence’s] intentions and capabilities, and it is impossible to predict whether ETI will be benign or hostile.”

Ultimately, active communication with extraterrestrial life is an issue rather like the militarization of space and climate change. It is an international problem that requires international regulatory solutions. Individual actors have little incentive to self-regulate: the presence of any single unregulated actor makes the regulation ineffective. Neither the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space nor the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs has taken a position on attempts to broadcast to extraterrestrial civilizations, though they could,and perhaps they should.

It is possible this is not an issue worth considering. It is possible that we are alone in the universe and there is nothing out there to hear us, through this would raise troubling questions of its own. It would mean humanity was a freak exception in an otherwise empty universe. It would mean that every other planet, around every other star, was completely devoid of life. It would be, in a word, weird. The alternative, only slightly less weird, is that something out there has the potential to hear us someday.  In the meantime, perhaps we should engage in “vigorous international debate” on this issue while it is still merely speculative.


Lime and Bird Have Tough Legal Challenges Ahead

Nick Hankins, MJLST Staffer 

The hottest trend in on-demand transportation is the emergence of electric scooters. Two of the biggest suppliers of on demand scooters, Lime and Bird, have invaded cities across the country. Scooters are a quick, easy, and cheap way to travel short distances; riders can simply find a scooter, sign into the app, and go. They also have the added benefit of servicing gaps within a city’s public transportation system. Despite the benefits that these companies can bring to a community, Lime and Bird have significant legal hurdles to overcome.

Problematically for cities, pedestrians, and probably the scooter companies, is that unlike bike sharing platforms, once a rider is done with a scooter it is simply left discarded. Both Lime and Bird encourage their users to park their scooters close to the curb, away from walkways, driveways, ramps, and fire hydrants. However, in practice, scooters tend to be left strewn across the middle of sidewalks and other undesirable places. Aside from being a public nuisance, unaware pedestrians have been injured after tripping over misplaced scooters.

These features have caused a big headache for cities especially since companies like Bird and Lime generally install their scooters in cities without seeking prior approval. However, the do-first-and-ask-forgiveness-later approach has begun to haunt companies that attempt to cut cities entirely out of the process. For example after Milwaukee tried to ban Bird’s scooters (and Bird’s subsequent refusal to remove its scooters), Milwaukee moved to seek a temporary injunction to immediately have the scooters removed. Additionally, after failing to secure the proper business licensure and vendor permitting, Bird had to settle a dispute with the City of Santa Monica  for $300,000 and an agreement to run a weeklong public safety campaign on public buses. Other cities like Saint Paul, San Francisco, and Indianapolis required scooter companies to temporarily remove their scooters until regulations could be firmly decided upon.

Aside from legal complications stemming from municipal regulation, scooter companies may soon have to defend their products in court. As the electric scooter craze is gaining traction, riders are increasingly ending up in the emergency room in horrific scooter-related accidents. The types of injuries involved in these accidents are varied. Some accidents have to do with the laissez-faire storage practice as pedestrians trip over discarded scooters. Other injuries involve user error. In one case, for example, a rider crashed into a 2 year-old  who was walking out onto a sidewalk. Likely the most problematic injuries for scooter companies, involve technical malfunctions (especially those involving the breaks). Accordingly, it’s unsurprising that personal injury lawyers are beginning to chase scooters in hopes of getting their next big payday.

In short, Lime and Bird offer a unique solution for people who need to travel short distances. However, both companies will soon have to figure out ways to work with cities and how to avoid tort exposure.

As an aside, both companies will also have to deal with whatever fall-out comes from having teens charge their scooters.


Counterfeit Products: A Growing Issue for Online Retailers

Caleb Holtz, MJLST Staffer

Two years ago, my girlfriend gave me an Amazon receipt showing she had ordered a really cool jersey from the German national soccer team. I was very excited. Not only had my girlfriend purchased for me a great jersey, but she had also found a reputable, accessible retailer for buying soccer jerseys in the United States. My excitement soon faded however. The jersey was delayed and delayed, and eventually Amazon cancelled the order and issued a refund. It turned out the jersey was sold by a popular counterfeiter hosting products on Amazon’s site through Amazon’s popular “Fulfilled by Amazon” program. Unaware that this existed prior to this experience, my girlfriend had been lured into a false sense of security that she was purchasing something from the world’s largest retailer, rather than from an obscure counterfeiter.

As it turns out, we were far from the only consumers to fall prey to counterfeit goods being sold on Amazon. Per a recent Engadget article discussing the issue, “the Counterfeit Report, an advocacy group that works with brands to detect fake goods, has found around 58,000 counterfeit products on Amazon since May 2016.” Amazon, recognizing that customers are more likely to trust counterfeits sold on its website, set a goal in 2017 to fight counterfeits.

Amazon is hardly the only retailer dealing with counterfeiting issues. The International Trademark Association said that trade in pirated and counterfeited intellectual property accounted for $461 billion in 2013. The Chinese retail giant Alibaba was at one point put on a U.S. anti-counterfeiting blacklist because of the large quantities of counterfeit goods sold on its website. Ebay, Walmart, Sears, and Newegg have also faced allegations of hosting counterfeited products. Importantly, however, for each of the retailers, there are few legal repercussions for merely hosting counterfeit goods. With the exception of a 2008 case against eBay, the aforementioned retailers have largely avoided being found liable for the counterfeit products they aided in selling.

Amazon provides the best blueprint for avoiding liability. Amazon has avoided liability by arguing that while it may host sellers, it is not a seller itself. Fortunately for Amazon, the Federal Circuit agrees that it is not a seller of the counterfeit goods, and therefore cannot be liable for copyright infringement, even if Amazon stored and shipped the products from its own warehouses. Milo & Gabby LLC v. Amazon.com, Inc., 693 Fed.Appx. 879 (Fed. Cir. 2017). As it is merely a marketplace, Amazon can continue avoiding liability so long as it appropriately responds to complaints of intellectual property infringement.

It will be interesting to see how the parties involved handle this counterfeiting issue going forward, especially as the government anticipates counterfeiting business to continue to grow. Online retailers are taking proactive steps to limit the sale of counterfeits on their websites, although those have been far from effective. Some have suggested artificial intelligence holds the key to solving this problem. Wronged intellectual property owners have not given up on forcing a remedy through the judicial system, as can be seen by the lawsuit filed by Daimler against Amazon recently. Finally, some, such as the judge in the Milo & Gabby case, see a legislative approach such as closing the marketplace loophole that allows online retailers to skate by relatively untouched. Unfortunately for consumers, it does not appear like there is an imminent solution to this problem, so it is best to be aware of how to avoid accidentally purchasing a counterfeit.


And Then AI Came For The Lawyers…?

Matt McCord, MJLST Staffer

 

Artificial intelligence’s possibility to make many roles redundant has generated no small amount of policy and legal discussion and analysis. Any number of commentators have speculated on AI’s capacity to transform the economy far more substantially than the automation boom of the last half-century; one discussion on ABC’s Q&A described the difference in today’s technology development trends as being “alinear” as opposed to predictable, like the car, a carriage with an engine, supplanting a carriage drawn by a horse.

Technological development has largely helped to streamline law practice and drive new sources of business and avenues for marketing. Yet, AI may be coming for lawyers’ jobs next. A New Zealand firm is working to develop AI augmentation for legal services. The firm, MinterEllisonRuddWatts, looks to be in the early stages of developing this system, having entered into a joint venture agreement to work on development pathways.

The firm claims that the AI would work to reduce the more mundane analytic tasks from lawyers’ workloads, such as contract analysis and document review, but would only result in the labor force having to “reduce,” not be “eliminated.” Yet, the development of law-competent AI may result in massive levels of workforce reduction and transformation: Mills & Reeve’s Paul Knight believes that the adoption will shutter many firms and vastly shrink the need for, in particular, junior lawyers.

Knight couches this prediction in sweetening language, stating that the tasks remaining for lawyers would be “more interesting,” leading to a more efficient, more fulfilled profession engaging in new specialties and roles. Adopting AI on the firm level has clear benefits for firms looking to maximize profit per employee: current-form AI, according to one study, AI is more accurate than many human attorneys in spotting contract issues, and vastly more efficient, completing a 90-minute task in 30 seconds.

Knight, like many AI promoters, claims that the profession, and society at large, should embrace AI’s role in transforming professions by transfiguring labor force requirements, believing AI’s benefits of increasing efficiency and work fulfillment by reducing human interaction with more mundane tasks. These words will likely do little to assuage the nerves of younger, prospective market entrants and attorney specializing in these “more mundane” areas, who may be wondering if AI’s development may eliminate their role from the labor force.

While AI’s mass deployment in the law is currently limited, due in part to high costs, experimental technology, and limited current applications, machine learning, especially recursive learning and adaptation, may bring this development firmly into the forefront of the field unpredictably, quickly, and possibly in the very near future.


The Unfair Advantage of Web Television

Richard Yo, MJLST Staffer

 

Up to a certain point, ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T enjoy healthy, mutually beneficial relationships with web content companies such as Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon. That relationship remains so even when regular internet usage moves beyond emails and webpage browsing to VoIP and video streaming. To consume data-heavy content, users seek the wider bandwidth of broadband service and ISPs are more than happy to provide it at a premium. However, once one side enters the foray of the other, the relationship becomes less tenable unless it is restructured or improved upon. This problem is worse when both sides attempt to mimic the other.

 

Such a tension had clearly arisen by the time Verizon v. FCC 740 F.3d 623 (D.C. Cir. 2014) was decided. The D.C. Circuit vacated, or rather clarified, the applicability of two of the three rules that constituted the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order. The D.C. Circuit clarified that the rule of transparency was applicable to all, but the restrictions on blocking and discrimination were applicable only to common carriers. The FCC had previously classified ISPs under Title I of the Communications Act; common carriers are classified under Title II. The 2014 decision confirmed that broadband companies, not being common carriers, could choose the internet speed of websites and web-services at their discretion so long as they were transparent. So, to say that the internet’s astounding growth and development is due to light touch regulation is disingenuous. That statement in and of itself is true. Such discriminatory and blocking behavior was not in the purview of broadband providers during the early days of the internet due to the aforementioned relationship.

 

Once web content began taking on the familiar forms of broadcast television, signs of throttling were evident. Netflix began original programming in 2013 and saw its streaming speeds drop dramatically that year on both Verizon and Comcast networks. In 2014, Netflix made separate peering-interconnection agreements with both companies to secure reliably fast speeds for itself. Soon, public outcry led to the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order reclassifying broadband internet service as a “telecommunications service” subject to Title II. ISPs were now common carriers and net neutrality was in play, at least briefly (2015-2018).

 

Due to the FCC’s 2018 Restoring Internet Freedom Order, much of the features of the 2015 order have been reversed. Some now fear that ISPs will again attempt to control the traffic on their networks in all sorts of insidious ways. This is a legitimate concern but not one that necessarily spans the entire spectrum of the internet.

 

The internet has largely gone unregulated thanks to legislation and policies meant to encourage innovation and discourse. Under this incubatory setting, numerous such advancements and developments have indeed been made. One quasi-advancement is the streaming of voice and video. The internet has gone from cat videos to award-winning dramas. What began as a supplement to mainstream entertainment has now become the dominant force. Instead of Holly Hunter rushing across a busy TV station, we have Philip DeFranco booting up his iMac. Our tastes have changed, and with it, the production involved.

 

There is an imbalance here. Broadcast television has always suffered the misgivings of the FCC, even more than its cable brethren. The pragmatic reason for this has always been broadcast television’s availability, or rather its unavoidability. Censors saw to it that obscenities would never come across a child’s view, even inadvertently. But it cannot be denied that the internet is vastly more ubiquitous. Laptop, tablet, and smartphone sales outnumber those of televisions. Even TVs are now ‘smart,’ serving not only their first master but a second web master as well (no pun intended). Shows like Community and Arrested Development were network television shows (on NBC and FOX, respectively) one minute, and web content (on Yahoo! and Netflix, respectively) the next. The form and function of these programs had not substantially changed but they were suddenly free of the FCC’s reign. Virtually identical productions on different platforms are regulated differently, all due to arguments anchored by fears of stagnation.