Reflections on the Internet Law Work-in-Progress Conference Series

A student reporter for our law school newspaper emailed me some questions about our Internet Law Work-in-Progress Conference. Writing up my thoughts reminded me that we lack a good historical repository for the conference. In this post, I’ll share my interview answers here, but first I’ll start with a few words about the conference’s origin.

A Short History of the Conference

The conference traces its roots to the August 2010 Intellectual Property Scholars Conference (IPSC) at Berkeley Law. A lot of new IP academics got hired in the 2000s, and as a result, the number of attendees at IP-focused works-in-progress conferences exploded–especially when the conferences were held at destination venues like Northern California in August. Due to the overwhelming demand for presentation slots, the IPSC conference organizer decided to reject all of the Internet Law presentation requests.

This was an entirely rational decision on his part, and if I had been in his shoes, I may very well have made the same decision. Nevertheless, it was a wake-up call to the Internet Law scholarly community. We had been content to piggyback on the existing work-in-progress events catering to the IP community, even though the Internet Law papers didn’t always fit those conferences very well. But when one of those IP events shut its door to the Internet Law community, it became apparent that the Internet Law community lacked its own home.

Around that time, I was chatting with Dan Hunter, then-director of New York Law School’s Institute for Information Law and Policy, about ways that our centers might collaborate. Among other ideas, he casually suggested that we could do an Internet Law work-in-progress conference series together. Initially, I was skeptical because there were several well-established work-in-progress conference series catering to IP/tech academics (e.g., IPSC, WIPIP, TPRC and many others), and several new series had just launched. I worried that the market was saturated and no one would want yet another event, making our event look like a “me too” event. Still, Dan and I thought that Internet Law scholars really did need our own home, and together Dan and I could make it happen.

We initially hoped that we could get enough participants to fill a day with a single track of presentations. Response to the first event in March 2011 vastly exceeded our expectations. We had nearly 40 participants–so many that we needed two session tracks to fit everyone.

I want to mention two innovations we’ve tried with the series:

* we have experimented with giving more presentation time if the speaker delivers a draft paper that attendees can read before the conference. This tweak creates some scheduling challenges, and it can reward papers that are so close to done that feedback on the draft isn’t actually that useful. Still, I’ve been amazed at how the lure of a few extra minutes of presentation time motivates speakers to finish up a draft. Talk about Nudges!

* the conference has become legendary for its game night festivities. It all started with an off-hand remark that Andrea Matwyshyn made over lunch at a different conference (IPSC 2012 at Stanford) that, as a kid, no one had invited her to play Dungeons & Dragons. The light bulb went off: we could give her, and everyone else, the chance they never had! Both the 2013 and 2014 conferences had “professional” dungeonmasters take participants on quests. We’ve also done PowerPoint karaoke, another suggestion from Andrea. It works by finding quirky PowerPoint slide decks on the Internet and then making each speaker present one of these slide decks “blind” without ever having seen the deck or knowing what the next slides will say. This year, we tried some new things, including a game truck (discussed below) and some board games. It turns out that Cards Against Humanity was quite popular!

The Interview

Here’s the transcript of my email interview with a reporter for The Advocate, Santa Clara Law’s student newspaper:

Q: How many attendees (presenters and non-presenters) were present?

A: We had over 50 attendees from 17 states, Washington DC and 7 other countries on 5 continents. See the map.

Q: What is the purpose of the Internet Law Works-In-Progress conference?

A: The event has two main purposes. First, the event creates a space for scholars to get peer input on their draft papers that will help improve the final version. Second, the event builds and strengthens the community of Internet Law scholars.

Q: What was the highlight of the event?

A: I thought there were two highlights. First, I loved seeing relatively new members of the Internet Law community freely interacting with more established scholars. It’s a sign that the Internet Law scholarly community welcomes newcomers and doesn’t have the hierarchical stratification we normally associate with academic communities.

Second, the conference’s real highlight is game night. As the maxim might go, scholars who play together stay together. We take our game nights seriously, and we have a lot of fun with each other.

Q: How and why was the overall theme “Truckin’ Down the Information Superhighway” chosen?

A: We try to keep game night fresh. HTLI Assistant Director Joy Peacock proposed renting a game truck–basically, a walk-in truck trailer with lots of different video games. I had no idea that such things existed (let alone patented!) but I loved it. Once we decided to rent the game truck, we fully embraced a truck theme, in part to pay homage to Sen. Ted Stevens’ famous quote (“the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes”). Further riffing on the truck theme, we reserved SCU’s new food truck (the Pony Express) for dinner and gave SCU-branded toy trucks to attendees as conference schwag.

Q: How much time was taken to put the event together? Has planning for next year’s conference already begun?

A: We planned this event for a full year. Planning for next year’s event has already begun. It will be held March 5, 2016 at the New York Law School in Manhattan.

Q: Why was a Star Wars theme chosen for the menu?

A: We tried to come up a truck-themed dinner but nothing made sense. As an alternative, we tried to think of something that our audience would enjoy, and many Internet Law folks like Star Wars (after all, who doesn’t?!). So even though it had nothing else to do with the trucking theme, Star Wars themes are a natural for this community.

[UPDATE: You can find the student newspaper’s article here.]

Links To Past Conferences

2011
* event page
* schedule
* attendees

2012
* event page
* schedule and presenters

2013
* event page
* schedule
* attendees
* photo gallery

2014 [hashtag #4ILSWIP]
* event page
* schedule
* attendees
* group photos 1 and 2

2015 [hashtag #SCUHTLI]
* event page
* schedule
* attendees
* photo gallery

2016 [hashtag #internetwip2016]
* event page
* schedule
* attendees

2017 [hashtag #InternetLawWIP]
* event page
* schedule
* attendees
* photo album and videos #1, 2 and 3

2018 [hashtag #InternetLaw]
* event page
* schedule and presenters
* Photo album