April 2012

Naomi Cahn on the digital afterlife

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Naomi Cahn, John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law at George Washington University, discusses her new paper entitled, “Postmortem Life Online.” Cahn first discusses what could happen to online accounts like Facebook once a person dies. According to Cahn, technology is outpacing the law in this area and it isn’t very clear what can happen to an online presence once the account holder passes away. She discusses the various problems family members face when trying to access a deceased loved one’s account, and also the problems online companies face in trying to balance the deceased’s privacy rights with the need to settle an estate. Cahn claims that terms of service often dictate what will happen to an online account after death, but these terms may not be in line with account holder wishes. She then suggests some steps to take in making sure online accounts are taken care of after death, including taking inventory of all online accounts and determining who should have access to those accounts after death.

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Spencer Weber Waller on Facebook and antitrust

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Spencer Weber Waller, Professor and Director at the Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, discusses his new paper entitled, Antitrust and Social Networking. The discussion centers on the likelihood of Facebook being charged by the government as having a monopoly over the social networking market. Waller first explains antitrust law, which, among other things, prohibits monopolization to protect competition. Waller then discusses the difficulty of defining the market for social networks. He claims that Facebook is dominant in the market, but he also says there are multiple markets for Facebook’s participation, like consumer use and advertising. Waller goes on to explain how a court would analyze an antitrust violation. According to Waller, there is a two-step process involved where courts ask whether there is market power, and whether a company is doing anything with that power to interfere with competition. Waller ends the discussion by analyzing the likelihood of Facebook ever being charged with antitrust violations. Waller also briefly gives his thoughts on the recent antitrust suit filed by the DOJ against Apple.

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Adam Lashinsky on how Apple works

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Adam Lashinsky, author and editor-at-large for Fortune, discusses his new book, Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–and Secretive–Company Really Works. Lashinsky begins by discussing Apple’s obsession with secrecy to the point that employees do not discuss what they are working on with other employees. According to Lashinsky, secrecy is tied to focus and achievement, so Apple employees obtain a depth and expertise on one area, rather than being exposed to different areas of the company. He then discusses how secrecy impacts employee morale and how employees view accomplishment and achievement as a tradeoff for happiness and morale. Lashinsky then explains how other corporations can emulate Apple’s secretive style and reap the benefits.

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Christina Mulligan on patent scalability

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Christina Mulligan, Visiting Fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, discusses Her new paper, co-authored with Tim Lee, entitled, Scaling the Patent System. Mulligan begins by describing the policy behind patents: to give temporary exclusive rights to inventors so they can benefit monetarily for their inventions. She then explains the thesis of the paper, which argues that the patent system is failing because it is too large to scale. Mulligan claims that some industries are ignoring patents when they develop new products because it is nearly impossible to discover whether a new product will infringe on an existing patent. She then highlights industries where patents are effective, like the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. According to Mulligan, these industries rarely infringe on patents because existing patents are “indexable,” meaning they are easy to look up. The discussion concludes with Mulligan offering solutions for the current problem, which includes restricting the subject matter of patents to indexable matters.

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