lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Whither Google Law?

The lodestar in Google’s reason for being is to organize the world’s information. Why is it that such an information-driven industry such as the law has escaped the tech-giant’s gaze?

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud has taken up the challenge and points out the obvious:

Americans have grown accustomed to finding just about anything they want online fast, and free. But for those searching for federal court decisions, briefs and other legal papers, there is no Google. Instead, there is Pacer, the government-run Public Access to Court Electronic Records system designed in the bygone days of screechy telephone modems. Cumbersome, arcane and not free, it is everything that Google is not.

There is no ‘Google’ for the law. Why isn’t Google that ‘Google’?

Economist pulls issue in Thailand out of Concern for Lese-majeste Laws

In Thailand, Economist pulled again from Thailand newsstands after monarchy article citing concern for the local distributor under Thailand’s Lese majeste laws. Earlier this year, Harry Nicolaides, an Australian author who had written a novel critical of the Thai royal family, was arrested under the lese majeste laws. According to Wikipedia, the law is just about as broad as one could imagine:

“The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.”

and

“Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen or the Heir-apparent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.”

Despite pulling the magazine, the article is still available in Thailand on the internet as the site hasn’t been blocked by the government. As noted on the Thai Crisis Blog, the Thai government has shown a penchant for going after websites as well, last fall the “Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry has detected more than 1,200 websites that violated the Computer Crime Act – of which 344 had content deemed insulting to the monarchy.”

Google’s Gatekeepers

George Washington Law Prof Jeffrey Rosen has a fantastic piece in the New York Times today on Google’s Gatekeepers, chronicling the central role the company is playing, voluntarily or not, in setting a kind of global free speech policy.

In March of last year, Nicole Wong, the deputy general counsel of Google, was notified that there had been a precipitous drop in activity on YouTube in Turkey, and that the press was reporting that the Turkish government was blocking access to YouTube for virtually all Turkish Internet users. Apparently unaware that Google owns YouTube, Turkish officials didn’t tell Google about the situation: a Turkish judge had ordered the nation’s telecom providers to block access to the site in response to videos that insulted the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is a crime under Turkish law. Wong scrambled to figure out which videos provoked the court order and made the first in a series of tense telephone calls to Google’s counsel in London and Turkey, as angry protesters gathered in Istanbul. Eventually, Wong and several colleagues concluded that the video that sparked the controversy was a parody news broadcast that declared, “Today’s news: Kamal Ataturk was gay!” The clip was posted by Greek football fans looking to taunt their Turkish rivals.

Wong and her colleagues asked the Turkish authorities to reconsider their decision, pointing out that the original offending video had already been voluntarily removed by YouTube users. But after the video was taken down, Turkish prosecutors objected to dozens of other YouTube videos that they claimed insulted either Ataturk or “Turkishness.” These clips ranged from Kurdish-militia recruitment videos and Kurdish morality plays to additional videos speculating about the sexual orientation of Ataturk, including one superimposing his image on characters from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” “I remember one night, I was looking at 67 different Turkish videos at home,” Wong told me recently.

After having many of the videos translated into English, Wong and her colleagues set out to determine which ones were, in fact, illegal in Turkey; which violated YouTube’s terms of service prohibiting hate speech but allowing political speech; and which constituted expression that Google and YouTube would try to protect. There was a vigorous internal debate among Wong and her colleagues at the top of Google’s legal pyramid. Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s director of global public policy, took an aggressive civil-libertarian position, arguing that the company should protect as much speech as possible. Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, took a more pragmatic approach, expressing concern for the safety of the dozen or so employees at Google’s Turkish office. The responsibility for balancing these and other competing concerns about the controversial content fell to Wong, whose colleagues jokingly call her “the Decider,” after George W. Bush’s folksy self-description.

Google is clearly a victim of its success in the sense that we no longer care what Altavista’s free speech policies are. Google policies matter because of the de facto monopoly power its overwhelming market share gives it. I suspect we’ll continue to see some very interesting case law in this arena, particularly internationally.

Jeffrey Rosen, Google’s Gatekeepers, New York Times, November 28, 2008

The Long Tail of Book Authoring

According to Noam Cohen’s article He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work) in tomorrow’s New York Times, Philip M. Parker, a professor at Insead, has generated more than 200,000 books using computer algorithms and publicly available information. As an experiment, it’s fascinating; as commerce, less so.

The books themselves, unsurprisingly, leave something to be desired. One Amazon buyer noted “The book is more of a template for ‘generic health researching’ than anything specific to rosacea. The information is of such a generic level that a sourcebook on the next medical topic is just a search and replace away.”

Mr. Parker was willing to concede much of what Mr. Pascoe argued. “If you are good at the Internet, this book is useless,” he said, adding that Mr. Pascoe simply should not have bought it. But, Mr. Parker said, there are people who aren’t Internet savvy who have found these guides useful.

Is this a representation or omission that a reasonable book buyer would find materially deceptive under the circumstances? Here’s the description from Amazon.com:

This book has been created for patients who have decided to make education and research an integral part of the treatment process. Although it also gives information useful to doctors, caregivers and other health professionals, it tells patients where and how to look for information covering virtually all topics related to acne rosacea (also Acne Erythematosa; Adult Acne; Hypertrophic Rosacea; Rhinophyma; Rosacea), from the essentials to the most advanced areas of research. The title of this book includes the word official. This reflects the fact that the sourcebook draws from public, academic, government, and peer-reviewed research. Selected readings from various agencies are reproduced to give you some of the latest official information available to date on acne rosacea. Given patients’ increasing sophistication in using the Internet, abundant references to reliable Internet-based resources are provided throughout this sourcebook. Where possible, guidance is provided on how to obtain free-of-charge, primary research results as well as more detailed information via the Internet. E-book and electronic versions of this sourcebook are fully interactive with each of the Internet sites mentioned (clicking on a hyperlink automatically opens your browser to the site indicated). Hard-copy users of this sourcebook can type cited Web addresses directly into their browsers to obtain access to the corresponding sites. In addition to extensive references accessible via the Internet, chapters include glossaries of technical or uncommon terms.

New Forms and Directions for Law Review Websites

Doug Hass at This is where the cowboy blogs away… notes that not only are the Hoosiers good shots (see my previous post here), but they just rolled out a fantastic update to their Law Review’s website – the Indiana Law Journal Supplement.

In design and function, the Indiana Law Journal Supplement represents the best implementation I’ve seen of the rapidly converging worlds of law reviews and blog technology. (For another excellent implementation along similar lines, see the Yale Law Journal Pocket Part) Houston, we have some catching up to do.

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