Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

February 2016 Archives

A legal dispute over the motion detector technology that brought you the Benjamin Button and Harry Potter films could end up preventing the distribution of future animation-enhanced movies. The technology, called Mova, allows filmmakers to capture an actors' performance, then digitally edit it "in post."

Now, a lawsuit over ownership of the technology has led a San Francisco-based tech incubator, Rearden, to seek an injunction against the distribution of films it claims are made by allegedly infringing its patents and trademarks, which include films like Deadpool, Terminator Genisys, and Guardians of the Galaxy. It's a legal drama fit for the silver screen.

Snowden's Lawyer: The Constitution Is Meant to Limit the Government

ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner is best known for representing Edward Snowden. In a recent discussion with ArsTechnica, Wizner discussed the current state of the government surveillance.

Wizner has been doing his part to educate the public about the state of state surveillance. From his vantage point, the struggle between surveillance and privacy is really a grand struggle between government authoritarianism and democracy.

The Internet is a fickle beast. The collective power of just a tiny fraction of the Internet's 3.2 billion users can make your cat famous in a minute, as it did with Grumpy Cat, whose net worth is estimated to be as high as $100 million dollars.

But the Internet's attention can also destroy lives, or unleash torrents of anonymous online hate and harassment. And when faceless Internet hoards target someone for harassment, the law often does little to stop them, according to a recent report by The Washington Post.

It's not often that Hollywood influences national policy. We have still not prepared for the dino-disaster foretold by Jurassic Park, for example, and The Martian has yet to inspire dramatically increased NASA funding. (Not to mention Roman Polanksi and those stubborn extradition laws.)

Which is why this recent bit of trivia from Fred Kaplan, author of a soon-to-be-released history of "cyber war," is so surprising: apparently, Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, and 1983's hit film "WarGames" had a major impact on early U.S. cybersecurity measures.

Boost Productivity by Using Digital Documents

For a profession that is pretty much defined by documentation, it's a bit mystifying to see the legal profession's continued resistance to the digitization of legal documentation. Your can boost productivity by digitizing a large percentage of your documentation. You'll be doing your office a favor.

What's Next for the Supremes?

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Within moments of the untimely passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the political posturing began in terms of what should happen next with respect to the open seat on the high court. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, came out of the box immediately, stating that President Obama should defer selecting a Supreme Court candidate, so that the next elected President could handle that responsibility in accordance the apparent wishes of the electorate as part of the upcoming Presidential election.

President Obama, on the other hand, followed up quickly by stating that it is his full intention to carry out his presidential responsibilities during his presidency by naming a Supreme Court candidate to be considered by the Senate. So, now what?

Legal Tech Is Swarming With Non-Lawyers. Should You Be Worried?

If you were to take a wild guess as to how many people in legal tech had a legal education, what percentage would you come up with? 75 percent? 70?

How about nine percent? Well, according to a study put together by case management software company Smokeball, that's how low the numbers are. Practically nobody has first hand knowledge about how to practice law in the legal-tech world.

A trademark dispute in Florida has resulted in a decidedly curious court order. To prevent confusion between Uber Promotions, a Gainesville area limo service, and Uber, the controversial ride sharing company, a federal judge in the Sunshine State says Uber the ride sharing company has to control just what comes up in Google, Yahoo, or Bing search engine results.

That, however, is not as easy as it sounds. It's not even possible.

Cloud computing is becoming increasingly common in the legal world. A recent survey found that 68 percent of corporate legal departments are using cloud-based tools, with 80 percent open to adopting more in the next year. The cloud is becoming increasingly popular among private firms as well, with almost a third of attorneys turning to cloud services for law-related tasks.

But the "cloud" is just a convenient metaphor: your information is really being stored on someone else's computer, raising security and ethics risks for attorneys. To help mitigate those risks, a legal association is proposing new standards for cloud computing security.

Tim Cook Opposes Federal Order to Unlock iPhones

Tim Cook, CEO and leader of Apple, has drawn a line in the sand, declaring that his company does not have and ought not create a skeleton key that would give the company access to iPhones. There has been mounting pressure by law enforcement for the giant tech companies to create such a mechanism because smart phones are seen as enabling terrorist plots.

The letter by Tim Cook is as much about marketing and political sabre-rattling as it is about taking a stand. We notice that the company fell just short of making a vow.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

An appellate court in Paris has ruled recently that Facebook can be sued in France and a case thus can proceed against the social media giant in France with respect to Facebook's decision to remove the account of a user in France who posted a well-known 19th century nude painting, according to Reuters.

This legal decision could be of concern to Facebook, as it has more than 30 million users in France, and because the French appellate court rejected the clause contained in Facebook's terms and conditions, that requires worldwide lawsuits to be heard in Santa Clara, California, as "unfair." Facebook still has the option to seek review by the highest appellate court in France.

When you need to look up a state code, where do you turn? Westlaw? FindLaw? (Our California and New York state codes are excellent and newly updated, by the way!) The state's website?

For some states, like Georgia, where you turn for state laws depends on who has the exclusive rights to publish those laws, but a new court battle between legal publishers is putting those agreements in question.

If you missed your flight to NYC for this year's Legaltech New York conference, there's no need to miss out on some of the legal innovations that were presented there. In one of the more interesting Legaltech events, nine startups gathered for "Legal Disruption Lightning Rounds." (Think "Shark Tank" but without the proprietary content.)

These start ups seek to change how we we settle disputes, draft contracts, and record fulfillments. Here are three that stand out to us.

Google's Newest Patent Is a Bot-Box on Wheels

No, we're not talking abot Google's self-driving vehicles that are becoming ubiquitous in Silicon Valley. We're talking about the "mobile delivery receptacle," a vehicle specifically designed to accept and deliver packages shuttled to it by the company's hoards of courier-drones.

It's a good thing that Google got this one patented, too. Who knows what the prior art on this concept is.

When it comes to protecting your financial information -- and your cash -- hackers aren't the only risk.

Bank tellers and bank managers have instant access to your Social Security number, your signature, leading to rampant abuse, according to prosecutors and security experts.

We're not sure what in house lawyer drafted the new terms of service for Amazon's Lumberyard product, but we like their style. Amazon's Lumberyard is a free game engine that gives designers a host of orc-killing, mine-crafting, princess-in-the-castle-freeing tools, should they agree to some simple terms of service.

And those terms include a hidden zombie clause, relaxing restrictions on Lumberyard should the world be overrun by brain-eating reanimated corpses.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, aka the TPP, has been approved recently by 12 member states. If the published text of the treaty next is ratified by each state (a process that could take some time), then various important provisions will regulate trade between these member states.

The member states are the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Brunei.

When you're a corporate behemoth trying to look hip, you bring Pharrell to your corporate campus, as Apple did last April. When you're trying to look all-American, you bring in Clint Eastwood, as the GOP did for Mitt Romney's nomination. And when you're a data nerd, you bring in Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight and arguably the most famous statistician in human history.

So Silver was on hand last week when Thomson Reuters debuted its new eDiscovery product, eDiscovery Point.

The blockchain is the technology behind "cryptocurrencies" like Bitcoin and it could quickly make its way into the legal tech sphere. No, don't worry, blockchains aren't another "robots will replace lawyers" fad. Nor are they another way to ease your eDiscovery woes.

Instead, blockchains are being touted as a way to aid encryption and authentication in legal documents and within firms. And that could have a significant impact on how you actually practice law.

Will the U.S. Approve Babies With Three Genetic Parents?

In what could be an historic event in the history of American medicine, it appears that the Food and Drug Administration stands poised to approve the controversial procedures of mitochondrial replacement therapy, otherwise known as MRT, reports the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Babies who are born of this procedure inherit the genes of three parents -- a fact that troubles some.

The technique has already been legalized in the UK. But what has been the hold-up in America? Federal Law.

Four current and former University of California, Berkeley students are suing Google, alleging that the tech company scanned Cal students' university emails for more than four years -- all while claiming that academic emails were not processed by Google's advertising system. Google's privacy violations affected millions of college students across the U.S, according to the suit.

If that sounds familiar, it is. A similar class action lawsuit was rejected in 2014. But this time, the students think they have a viable workaround.

If you want to protect your data, privacy, and communications from corporations, government snoops, or hackers, end-to-end encryption is a great way to start. It's the type of encryption Apple and Google added to their mobile devices and smartphones over a year ago, leading to government claims that such encryption will be used to protect terrorists and kidnappers.

But according to a new report by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, end-to-end encryption and other data protection methods aren't enough to actually ensure that data is kept private, now and in the future. Here's why.

Facebook Is All Over the News

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Facebook is the largest "nation" in the world, with more than 1.65 billion users across the globe. Not surprisingly then, with such global reach, Facebook is in the headlines fairly often.

In terms of Facebook news items, a recent example includes a Thai criminal court putting a man in prison for six years because he posted comments on Facebook that were construed to be insulting to the king of Thailand. The court so ruled because the law of Thailand criminalizes statements that are defamatory, insulting or threatening to the Thai royalty.

Last October, the European Union's Court of Justice ruled that European citizens' data isn't safe when stored in the U.S., cutting some 4,500 American companies off from the benefits of the E.U.'s "Safe Harbor" system. That meant that American businesses could be forced to comply with complicated restrictions on sending personal data out of Europe, limiting the transfer of everything from consumers' favorite websites to employees' birthdates.

That is, unless Europe and the United States could come to a compromise before the new restrictions came into effect. They couldn't. The deadline for reaching an agreement over data privacy came and went Sunday night, with neither side nearing a compromise.