At the beginning of the month, the Centre for IT & IP Law (CiTiP), part of the Faculty of Law of the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium, celebrated 30 years of existence. Although their newsletters are only occasionally in English, I have been following their activity for a few years now and I was impressed of their expertise in the areas of data privacy, information rights management and intellectual property rights.
One aspect that I really appreciate at all these conferences organised in Belgium (or nearby) is the wide range of participants: postgraduate students and academic researchers, lawyers from law firms, magistrates from national courts, representatives from industry (Microsoft, Google, Facebook etc), from organisations representing the rights of authors and publishers, from national governments and various EU bodies. These participants come from an area that is within a 2-3 hours train journey from Brussels – this means Benelux, western Germany and northern France. Personally, I find the diverse background of participants and the cultural differences fascinating.
The programme of the conference was really packed with three key-speakers (morning, lunchtime and late afternoon) intertwined with two parallel sessions of four panels each.
The most interesting presentation amongst the key speakers was that of Karen Yeung (Birmingham Law School) about Regulation and technological innovation: Myths, memes and the marginalisation of law. She encouraged the participants to abandon the romantic infatuation with 21st century technological innovation in favour of a more level-headed, clear-eyed view of public policy and regulation vis-à-vis technological innovation. She (successfully, in my opinion) argued against some of the current myths:
|All innovation is intrinsically ‘good’||Not all innovation is good. Even beneficial innovation may have damaging side effects.|
|The tech entrepreneur is a moral hero||They (usually male and white) take risks with the rights and interests of others.|
|The equivalence of old v new technology||Comparisons must attend to ALL effects, not merely functional performance.|
|Regulation stifles innovation||Regulation also stimulate and accelerate innovation.|
|The law cannot keep up with the pace with technological innovation||Over-simplification – problems arise due to uncertainty in effects and identification of appropriate norms.|
|The governance of the tech innovation should be left to the markets||Markets are undemocratic. Reliance on post litigation is inadequate.|
Tech “ethics” will fix any problems
|Ethics cannot provide legitimate and effective social protection against impacts of tech innovation.|
Her conclusion was that “innovation is not only a technological process, but a profoundly human and socially embedded one” and therefore it is crucially important to bring the law into the heart of discussions about how to govern technological innovation responsibly as it cannot be left to the market. Even if it means swimming against the tide.
The morning parallel sessions were about a) Security, b) AI and GDPR, c) Content moderation and d) Personalised medicine. I choose to attend the one about ‘Content moderation’. The first part of the session was dedicated to ‘Content regulation & illegal and harmful content’ where an interesting debate developed between an in house counsel representing Facebook and everybody else in the room a representative of an NGO active in the fields of intermediary liability and surveillance policies including law enforcement access to data. In the second part of the session, the discussion was centred around ‘Content regulation & copyright’ with Google’s European IP manager, a Leuven IP academic, a representative from an artists’ management organisation and another person from a media company as panel members. The discussion floated around art. 17 (former art. 13) of the European Copyright Directive and its implications on the royalties paid by YouTube to artists and on YouTube copyright policy and so on. Already under pressure from the other speakers and the audience, Google IP manager tried to get some respite with a (misjudged) joke about lawyers which, considering the audience and (cultural) circumstances, just added more gas on his pyre and – surprisingly – I found myself agreeing with one of Disney lawyers, who was sitting next to me.
The afternoon sessions were a) Data markets, b) Smart cities, c) Food and sustainable development goals and d) From paper to bits – the legal development of electronic evidence. I decided to attend the Smart cities session as I presumed that they will talk about face recognition software, smart lampposts etc and I was not disappointed. The speakers talked about SPECTRE project (no relation with the evil organisation from Bond movie, it merely means Smart-city Privacy: Enhancing Collaborative Transparency in the Regulatory Ecosystem) and ‘Googlization of urban infrastructure’ and about Smart Public Spaces.
It was another hugely worthwhile conference, with a great variety of interesting topics relevant for my field but also for my colleagues. Congratulations to CiTiP researchers and collaborators for three decades of work at the forefront of IP, ICT and Law!
KU Leuven: Library (Bibliotheek)