Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the legislation that protects internet companies like Google from liability over info that third parties publish and later show up in searches, was an issue that popped up in a host of interesting spats last year. And, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Andrew Crocker, 2019 is looking to be another hot year for internet immunity. “ “We’re going to continue to see pushing back on the immunity granted on these platforms,” he said.. “We’ll see first amendment challenges to the platforms themselves, which is certainly novel legal theory in a lot of cases, but not going away. So that sort of bundle of issues is sort of the biggest right now.
Biometrics technology is likely to have a bigger presence in the courts this year. J. But Eli Wade Scott, an associate at Edelson PC — the firm that brought a class action against Facebook under Illinois’ biometrics law — said the biggest challenge with the technology will be “coming up with sensible regulation.” “Legislators across the country are paying more attention to this. The question is just how do you approach it in a way that allows biometrics to be used?” he said. “I don’t think any legislative body is thinking this should be prevented entirely. The question is how do we regulate this, and what does enforcement look like? That’s going to be something that state’s are grappling with more and more.”
‘Crypto Development.’ One of the key issues in cryptocurrency for 2019 may go beyond how courts and regulators tackle the security status of ICOs. James Parker, UCLA school of law professor, says that “the big issue for the next year or so” will be how future offerings will be developed: “Is it gonna be developed through big companies who are certainly using blockchain and will continue to use it? Or is there more room for smaller, decentralized projects and entrepreneurs who can build things that are not in the corporate context? That to me is kind of the big issue for the next year or so.
‘Bots’ Breaking, Boggling and Using the Law. Sometimes automation shakes things up for the worse. Just consider last summer’s stir over an automated bot used to send bunk, yet effective Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to sites not actually infringing any copyrights. As University of Idaho’s Annemarie Bridy told me in August, things could get worse as “the market takes a while to discipline bad actors.” But there’s also “automation” for registering copyrights and trademarks. That’s the approach of PatentBot, which according to its site uses chat bots to help users check and register trademarks, as well as “timestamp” copyright on a blockchain (another tech in law whose hype is coming to fruition). Interestingly, the company announced its latest launch in December, this time in China — an arena not known for its stringent IP protection.
Automation Woes. Bots are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to automation issues. Just consider the injuries caused by self-driving cars in 2018. And, by the looks of things, these cars are already looking to make their return to the road. In the opinion of Stanford’s Mark Lemley, a foremost expert on both IP and tech, “AI and robotics” in general are “the biggest coming issue in the courts.” He said: “Courts are increasingly going to confront issues of legal responsibility for injury, discrimination, and privacy violations committed not by people but by AIs. How they resolve those issues will have a significant impact on how AI is developed and deployed.”
Technology tested legal’s hand quite a few times this year in ways both familiar and novel. And by the looks of things, 2019 seems even more poised for futuristic foibles. Here are a few issues that every legal professional should keep an eye on in the coming months.