Reflections on the Inaugural Internet Law Works-in-Progress Event

Last month, we held the inaugural Internet Law Works-in-Progress event at Santa Clara University. Over three dozen Internet law scholars participated in the event. A few observations:

Insatiable Demand for WIP Events. I was nervous about launching a new works-in-progress event. After all, our community has so many of them already! I feared the market was getting saturated, so professors would question the value of attending a new one.

Fortunately, our healthy turnout for this event suggests otherwise. We had a nice mix of established and emerging scholars from all over the country.

Some of this may reflect the limits of the presentation time lengths at the mass-market works-in-progress events. The short time slots at IPSC serve a purpose–the talk becomes a form of marketing for the professor, and it prompts individualized feedback at the breaks or by email. However, longer works-in-progress sessions have a value too. In our case, we bifurcated the fairly well-developed papers from the lesser-baked projects; we gave 30 minutes for paper presentations and 20 minutes for less-developed talks. I’m not sure this worked 100% perfectly, but we were able to reach a discourse level in the 30 minute talks that simply isn’t possible in the IPSC whirlwind.

The Cyberlaw Community Needed Its Own Discussion Space. Until the Internet law papers got kicked out of IPSC last year, I don’t think many of us thought that the Internet law scholarly community needed its own academic discussion space. Most of us were happy to piggyback on the infrastructure built for the IP community. However, as it turns out, we really did need our own discussion space, and we can derive significant benefits from a discourse among cyberlaw peers. Some examples:

1) High level of discussion. Because most participants were fairly well versed in Internet technology, we were able to have a high-level discussion without getting bogged down in technology basics. A good example of this was Marketa Trimble’s paper on what she calls “cybertravel.” The paper really is about Internet users who borrow IP addresses associated with other geographies to appear like they are in remote geographies and thereby route around geography-based content blocks. Anyone who wasn’t comfortable with IP address technology would have been easily lost. Because everyone had that common foundation, however, Marketa didn’t need to cover the technology basics and therefore was able to get much deeper into her topic.

2) Not skewed towards IP. When the Internet Law community piggybacks on the IP-oriented works-in-progress events, we tend to skew our presentation towards IP issues to increase the accessibility and appeal of our work. In contrast, in this community, no such skewing was required or expected.

3) Space for discussing cyberlaw pedagogy. When I was chair of the AALS Law & Computers section (which we renamed to the Internet and Computer Law section), I floated the idea that we might have an Internet Law pedagogy session at AALS. That idea got shot down because it was viewed as too topically narrow and thus unlikely to pull in non-section members (we did the Law & Wikis topic instead, which drew an OK audience).

However, if we can’t discuss Internet Law pedagogical issues at the AALS section, then where is a good venue to discuss pedagogy? As it turns out, we really had no home for that discussion anywhere.

This event fills that gap. We only had one pedagogical-oriented paper (from Ira Nathenson), but I anticipate we’ll have more over time. I was a little worried that participants wouldn’t be enthusiastic about discussing pedagogy, but the report was that the audience was very engaged in the paper (I was monitoring the other room, so I missed the talk, unfortunately).

Non-Academics Enriched to the Conversation. We tightly controlled the attendee list, but we did let a few policy-oriented folks participate in the event. These folks don’t normally go to works-in-progress events, but their presence was a natural extension for some attendees of the prior day’s 47 USC 230 conference. I wondered how the academic and policy crowds would interact. It turns out that the policy-oriented participants added a ton to the discussion. They had great substantive feedback based on their portfolios of interest; plus they had great suggestions about how to tailor the projects to be more appealing to policy-makers.

California is a Great Conference Destination in Early March. It’s always dicey planning conferences for early March. Most of the country is still mired in Winter, and even Northern California can get soggy at that time of the year. But Santa Clara is blessed with 300 days of sun a year, so the odds are good that we’re going to have lovely weather even in early March. The temperature was a little cooler than our norm, and we did get some rain right after the conference ended (it’s been a wet La Nina year), but it was still nice enough to enjoy the outdoor patio in the afternoon.

I can’t promise good weather for the Second Annual Internet Law Works-in-Progress event, scheduled for New York Law School some time in Spring 2012 (probably April). However, I can promise an excellent time. Hope to see you there.