Remembering Greg Lastowka (1968-2015)
On the same day I lost my mom, I also lost a close colleague: Greg Lastowka, a law professor at Rutgers-Camden Law School. Greg was one of the leading Internet Law scholars in the world, and our paths crossed countless times. I always enjoyed seeing him in person and exchanging emails with him, and I’ve cited his works many times. More recently, we bonded over having our respective lives rocked by cancer.
I first encountered Greg in the early 2000s. We exchanged emails about his work on Intel v. Hamidi, an online trespass to chattels case, where he helped his client prevail despite long odds–and established a key legal precedent in the process. Around that time, doing research for my own paper, I discovered Greg’s student note on search engines and trademark law, “Search Engines, HTML, and Trademarks: What’s the Meta For?” It was a thoughtful and well-crafted work that demanded a serious response, and I always loved the title’s pun.
Greg’s paper with Dan Hunter, The Law of the Virtual Worlds, was a massive hit that ranks in the top 250 most downloaded papers ever at SSRN. It’s a paper that I and many other professors aspire to write: a thoughtful and provocative treatment of a cutting-edge topic just as the topic was exploding in the literature. Greg continued the discussion at the high profile blog Terra Nova, a site I secretly envied (so much so that I added a virtual worlds category to my blog as a nod to trendiness).
Greg attended prior Internet Law Works-in-Progress conferences but couldn’t attend the 2015 event at SCU. He was on our minds, though. Attendees signed a “thinking of you” card and left video messages for him. It was a small way for the Internet Law community to send good wishes to another community member suffering major health troubles.
Because of my wife’s health, I don’t travel very much any more. However, a business trip took me to Philadelphia last October. When my meeting ended unexpectedly early, I had a couple of extra hours in Philadelphia. This gave me time to visit Greg at his house in Swarthmore before heading to the airport. It was a lovely Fall day, and we sat outside on the patio enjoying a light breeze, watching his cats and talking about health (his and my wife’s), careers, the state of legal education and more. Physically he didn’t look the same, but his mind was sharp as ever. It was an ordinary social visit, the kind we might have had in better times–even though we might not have made the time because there always seem to be more pressing priorities. I had hoped our visit wouldn’t be our last, though I feared it would be, and I soaked up every detail so the memories would remain strong.
Others have described Greg as a “mensch” and a “gentle man,” and I think those are perfect descriptors. Greg kept an even keel in everything he did, but his calm demeanor masked a great intellectual fire raging below. Seeing that fire extinguished, especially so prematurely, is tragic for me and all of us. I’m saddened by his death, and I’m sending my love and sympathy to Carol, Adam, Daniel and all of Greg’s family.
* Greg’s self-written obituary
* Rutgers Today: Rutgers Law Professor, Internationally Recognized Cyberlaw Scholar Dies of Cancer
* Derek Bambauer
* James Grimmelmann
* Dean John Oberdiek