SXSW 2018: The Hot Legal Topics We’ll Be Keeping an Eye On

As February zooms past, we’re taking a look forward to the biggest technology event in the Spring Calendar – SXSW 2018. Taking place from 9th – 18th March in Austin, Texas, SXSW will as ever be the talk of the tech, film, music and media worlds as an array of experts, innovators and artists come together to explore the future of human creation and ideas. As Obelisk Support steps firmly into the legal tech sphere with an upcoming app and smart software release, we’ll be keeping an eye on here in The Attic as the conferences and festivals unfold…

The changing nature of our shared existence also draws some interesting legal questions – here are some of the key subjects .

Smart Contracts to Replace Lawyers?

A panel discussion including blockchain expert and founder of the Digital Chamber of Commerce Perianne Boring will take on one of the biggest concerns for lawyers in 2018: What will smart contracts mean for their jobs in the future?

While much of the discussion has been framed around the assumption that smart contracts will inevitably replace lawyers – we are starting to see more measured analysis that may calm fears in the legal industry, for now at least. As is the case with AI, the other major innovation of our age, we are still far away from a time where the technology is ready to completely replace the complex and multi-faceted roles of the human lawyer. For those unfamiliar, smart contract technology consists of a self executing code stored on a public blockchain facilitating the negotiation and performance of a contract. However, the name ‘smart contract’ is misleading, as it only does what it is programmed by us to do, rather than being able to analyse data and come to decisions by itself. So while it seems the answer to the above question is currently no, it will be interesting to hear the thoughts of the panel about where the technology may take us, and how it will enable the function of the lawyer to evolve.

The Legal Implications of AR Going Mainstream

Augmented and virtual reality will be a key feature of this year’s festival with many talks and interactive events planned, but as AR and VR becomes a bigger part of our lives, how will lawyers need to update their knowledge and expertise to deal with the legal implications of our virtual existence? There will be numerous events touching upon this topic at SXSW 2018, including Avoiding Privacy/Security Legal Snafus in VR/AR, and Mo Reality, Mo Problems.

The most pressing concern is of course privacy and security. Data collection methods don’t differ much to other digital applications, however the volume and types of data being collected are much more extensive and detailed, building up a more complete picture of a user and their physical movements, habits, purchases, interactions, etc. AR/VR companies and companies adopting the technology will need to have stringent training and procedural protocols in place to ensure users are equipped with the knowledge to keep their own data safe in practice, and have the sufficient legal protections in place should a data breach occur.

Some of the problems that will arise as AR and VR becomes more widely adopted relate to intellectual property (IP). North American Copyright laws and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (and their European equivalents) may have to be reexamined in this context, and it is important that lawyers dealing with clients who have or are likely to adopt AR/VR are strengthening their knowledge. Then there is the issue of brand interaction – how AR technology developers will ensure that brands that are interacted with have given permission for their brand to be used in this way and to be associated with the technology creators.

Individual Governing of Data

The blockchain, AI and machine learning is also creating far reaching change in the way that data is held and managed. A Game Changing Shift in the Control of Personal Data is part of the IEEE Tech for Humanity Series, and  the introduction declares that an ‘extinction-level event is occurring in the digital economy. Power will soon shift from organisations to people as legal, social and market forces give citizens new rights.’

Covering pertinent regulatory topics such as GDPR, the overarching issue remains that the legal industry across the world is still playing catch up as individuals rapidly gain sovereign control over their personal data. While much of the change may be welcome and liberating, there is still a responsibility to protect citizens and organisations from cyber security threats and the consequences of data breach. The expert view on a potential ticking time bomb will be welcome to all data and corporate lawyers. Panel speakers at the event are Doc Sears of Project VRM, Berkman Klein Centre and Harvard University, Karen McCabe of IEEE, and Nicky Hickman of Inglis Jane Ltd.

CLE Track: Cyber Extortion, Social Media Musics Rights and More

SXSW’s Continuing Legal Education programme brings together legal experts from Twitter, Sundance Institute, Sony Music, Facebook and others to discuss the most pertinent legal issues in music, film and interactive digital worlds. Some of the highlights include a discussion on cyber extortion – including advice on negotiating with and taking the decision to pay the crooks, and the perfect storm of music licensing on social media. There will also be a free ethics session for SXSW registrants and other ethics focused events such as Ethics in VR/AR Journalism and When Programmers Are Asked To Do The Unethical.

One Eighty – a Short Film on Undertrials in India

A screening of a fascinating new short film will highlight a major flaw in India’s legal system. A shocking figure from Prison Statistics India 2015 report suggests that two thirds (67%) of prisoners in the country are those on undertrial – individuals on remand, held in custody without conviction awaiting the outcome of a trial. One could be forgiven for thinking these custodies are short term, but prisoners can be left to languish for many years while trials are delayed and drawn out. Ajoy Gosh was one example of a long term undertrial prisoner, jailed in 1962 only to languish for the next four decades as he was certified unfit to stand trial after being arrested for the murder of his brother.

To further put a human slant on the issue which still affects so many in India, One Eighty tells the story of a mother, Vijai Kumari, who spent 20 years behind bars, and her son, Kanhaiya Kumari. Once released from prison at the age of 6, he began a relentless quest to save his mother from being punished from a crime she never committed. The project is part of the Oculus VR for Good Creators Lab, pairing filmmakers and nonprofits to make great VR in the name of social good.