Of Michigan, Law & Other Things

University of Michigan
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After almost three weeks of procrastination stemming from post Ann Arbor hangover, being bit under the weather, deluge of professional commitments and amidst birthday and thanksgiving festivities, the deafening silence on my part had to be curtailed (not to mention my acute blogging inactivity last month).  Hence, pulling up an all nighter after drafting a case comment seemed inevitable.

Though many of you are aware, just to reiterate, I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan for Web Archives 2015 : Capture, Curate,  Analyze  organised by the University of Michigan. My colleague Dan Chudnov, Vakil Smallen and I were presenting at the conference wherein I spoke on the ” Legal and Ethical Issues in Building Social Media Collections”. (See here for an introductory glimpse into the topic)

While I can write a travelogue on my Ann Arbor experience, I will restrain myself for I do not intend to be violating the common law legal doctrine of “forum non conveniens” (in an abstract sense). However, having a strong penchant for artsy library spaces, I can’t help but mention about the sheer magnificence of UMich’s libraries particularly the Law School’s library. It’s reading room is nothing short of an architectural marvel, with it’s super imposing gothic inspired architecture surpassing my otherwise unusual fondness for New York Public Library’s Reading Room. 

UMich Law Library
University of Michigan Law School Library’s Reading Room. Image Courtesy : www.wikipedia.com

I had five minutes at my disposal for an otherwise thesis worthy topic. Hence, I spoke at the speed of a maglev bullet train giving a cursory glimpse into copyright, privacy and access. ( Look here for my part of the presentation running from slide number 13 to 19).

During the Q & A session, Nicholas Taylor of Stanford raised a noteworthy question to me. His inquisitiveness revolved around Copyright Office’s refusal to register a tweet and whether this had any affect on our assessment for determining copyright liability for harvesting tweets. Gladly, my in-depth research into this topic came handy. I answered in the affirmative and elaborated that we had taken into account Gabriel J. Michael’s   attempt to register a tweet which was subsequently turned down by the Copyright Office. ( Read here for further details).

On the basis of this refusal, I’ve argued in our draft legal framework that tweets being mundane, everyday statement of facts have thin copyright protection and hence placing us on a strong legal footing from the perspective of copyright.  However, not to say,  highly creative and original tweets will be copyrightable subject matter. (For an in-depth analysis on copyrightability of tweets under US and Indian law, read my published paper here).

Overall, the Conference was a strong converging platform for the internet archiving community to deliberate upon contemporary issues and best practices involved in creating web archives.  Being the sole lawyer at the Conference, the  attendee’s strong inclination to view privacy and access from an ethical rather than a legal prism was rather surprising.  Neither being a Philosophy major nor being professionally trained in ethics, I do not consider myself worthy to be commenting upon this seemingly debatable issue. A clear consensus seemed to be emerging on the dire need to hold a conference on ethical and legal issues in building web based collections.

Perhaps, not too distant in future, all stakeholders of the web archiving community will sit under one roof and brainstorm on the ethical paradigms for creating web based collections. I see the SAA 2016 as an apt platform.

From the far flung terrains of East’s Truly Asia, I’ll keep an eye on the developments at this front. Until then, I’ll keep up with the lawyering  in the hope that law and ethics are nothing but commingled doctrines.

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