Blawgs: A Reader’s Guide for IT Lawyers

Laurence Eastham reviews the blogs that might help you keep informed, sharpen up your opinions or just help fill the slack working days which so many IT lawyers complain about.

We first covered blogging in these pages in 2003. Sean MacCann’s wonderfully frank article was not all that positive about the idea of lawyers having blogs and described the idea of blogs creating commercial advantage as ‘a fallacy built on an impossibility’; the impossibility in question stemming ‘from the flawed assumption that po-faced law firms, even the self-consciously "wacky" ones (drop the act, guys - golf is about as wacky as you get) are capable of producing interesting blogs in the first place. That's why they're lawyers’.

There is so much in Sean’s article that is still arresting and true (go and read it here) – indeed I agree with 90% of what he had to say. One catch is that the 10% that he did not get right has, in reality, left him almost totally wrong in practice – there are interesting blogs out there written by lawyers. One problem, for which I might accept some personal responsibility, is that the approach to blogs has been based on the warped view that readers want to know about how to write them. It is as if the Sunday Times book review supplement was entirely devoted to how to write a good novel rather than which ones are worth reading,

The problem now is not that there are insufficient interesting blogs by lawyers, the problem has become ‘so many blogs, so little time’. A former schoolmate said to me after a boring French class ‘I could have spent that time sleeping with all of Pan’s People’ and the principle holds good with blogs, the minor blog branch, blawgs, and even the twig on the branch, vaguely IT-law related blogs. There are so many that you really cannot spend time with them all – at least you cannot do so and work as well - so this is my guide to help you prioritise. It is also my opportunity to contribute to the debate about what makes a good blog – and what makes a bad one.

Criteria

I had better start with a personal definition of a blog. The mere fact that there is a page connected to the Internet and the software driving the page is blogging software does not make the page in question a blog. A number of small firms are using blogs as their firm’s Web site and, given the ease with which designs can be created and the stunning simplicity of content management, I think that can be an excellent idea. But that is not a blog.

One of the things that Sean MacCann got 100% right was that a blog in any area needs to be more than a newsletter. A blog that touches on law might just get away without an opinion to provoke, engage or enrage, but it needs at a minimum to have a perspective and a twist that is personal. So my list does not include ‘blogs’ that are really just signposts to sources – I do not really recognise them as blogs at all. Reading blogs is not the best way to keep yourself informed but it should be a great way to combine being kept informed, especially in areas on the edge of your expertise, with being stimulated.

It should also be pointed out that there are many other online sources that are a bit like blogs but are not even pretending to be blogs. Driven by content management software, they are as easily updated as blogs and share many of their characteristics but often pre-date the whole blogging phenomenon. The SCL Web site is one and Outlaw is another. They are probably crucial elements in the IT lawyers’ updating strategy, but there not dealt with here because they are not blogs. (Do you all stand rounds for Pinsent Masons partners when you meet them?)

What follows is not a list of my favourite or most regularly read blogs. I have a number of favourite blogs and many have nothing to do with technology or law. But then even some of the better blawgs have precious little to do with law. You may wish to enjoy tales of Rioja and chambers shenanigans but that’s pure entertainment not professionally informative.

I am not here seeking to identify all blogs that are informative and relevant to SCL’s world. Charles Christian’s Orange Rag blog (http://www.theorangerag.com/) and the Binary Law blog from Nick Holmes (http://www.binarylaw.co.uk/) are regularly visited by me, Chris Dale Lawyer Support (http://chrisdale.wordpress.com/) has everything that you need to know about e-disclosure and the like and there are a number of other legal technology blogs from the USA that you may find useful. But I am looking here just at IT-law related blogs and blogs dealing with very closely related subjects.

I will inevitably have omitted blogs that have sprung up just lately and blogs of which I remain in perfect ignorance. Having said that, I would have finished this review in half the time if it were not for regularly discovering new blogs to check out. Next week, my diary says, I am painting the Forth Bridge – it should be a doddle in comparison.

Moans

Four things make reading blogs hard work.

First, many blogs cover such a wide range of subject areas that you have to wade through mountains of material that are of no interest to pick up the gems. Even the wonderful IPKat will cover areas that bore me silly, although to be fair the coverage of Lithuanian accession to the treaty on cheese copyright is probably a gem when viewed from the perspective of the Lithuanian Cheese Board.

Secondly, some blogs begin with a stellar burst of activity – first to comment, engaging opinions and provoking valuable comment - and then dribble away, neglected with only occasional postings. The catch with such blogs is that one spends time visiting them, perhaps in hope or perhaps in the expectation that something surely must be wrong with the RSS feed.

Thirdly, there is a real danger that you will find that you have identified a number of relevant blogs and then read almost the same thing on all. Of course, there are some developments which nobody engaged in commenting in the IT field is going to want to ignore but usually the blogs manage to say something different about the big things. There are however slack times when all seize on the same case or report and tell you exactly the same thing – blaa, blaa, blawg sheep. At its worst, this effect will compel each blogger to point to the post of another (invariably saying how wonderful it is); you follow links in the hope of enlightenment, only to find it is the same threadbare material yet again.

Fourthly, bloggers sometimes think they are members of some secret society - the Secret Seven meeting in a cyber garden shed. It is as if they are a chosen few, knowing the secrets of blogging which mere readers of books, web sites or newspapers could never hope to grasp. That can lead them to talk among themselves rather to any target audience. In this mode, bloggers are intensely annoying and about as cool as the skateboarders outside Calne Sainsburys. Perhaps snowboarders will strike a chord with those beyond SN11 –snowboarders are another group that are not as cool as they think they are. For the record, blogging will not make anyone ‘book’, or 20, or special – it is, to stretch my snowboarding comparison, just another way to deal with the mountain. The recommended blogs mentioned below have all got past the stage of hugging themselves at their cleverness in blogging.


Recommended

• IMPACT (http://impact.freethcartwright.com/). This blog is the product of the technology and IP team based at Freeth Cartwright. It describes itself as ‘where we set out thoughts on all things to do with intellectual property and IT law. The bods behind IMPACT are pragmatic types, so we give practical tips and thoughts for a lot of the news and stories we discuss’. That paints a pretty fair and accurate picture. What I like about IMPACT, which is a real favourite, is that you really do gain insight as a result of the wide reading of the team members and it is regularly updated – in January 2008, it had 20 posts and most of those are IT-related. It has a good mix of approaches: lead poster Alex Newson is clearly a dyed-in-the-wool techie who revels in the new; the occasional rant from Deryck Houghton usually combines humour with world weariness in a very entertaining way, and is clearly written while sitting back puffing a cigar. I also like the way in which most of the posts here are written in a way that invites thought on the issue covered.
• IPKat (http://ipkitten.blogspot.com/). This blog has been around for five years or so and has become the information hub for anyone interested in intellectual property issues. It describes itself as covering ‘copyright, patent, trade mark and privacy/confidentiality issues from a mainly UK and European perspective’ and is produced by a five-person team (counting the cat). It seems to spot all the developments in IP that relate to computers, software and the Internet; not only does its team have excellent skills and sources when it comes to identifying such developments but it has built such a terrific reputation that it has informants around the world directing IPKat’s attention to things it might have missed. Its other great advantage is that it is written with a lightness of touch that can only come from a very deep knowledge of the subject-matter and usually includes a view, often sufficient to provoke debate. Since Jeremy Phillips can fairly be described as its prime mover, its expertise is scarcely surprising. It is a classic example of the advantages of blogs – you often get double value since the comments can rival the post for lucidity and pertinence. Its downside is that there is so much of it that you may find that you are trawling through a vast amount of material of no relevance to an IT lawyer – the Lithuanian cheese copyright syndrome mentioned earlier. My more constructive criticism is to suggest that it is time to drop the detailed description of the contents of the latest IP journal, even if Jeremy is on the Editorial Board, as there is just so much else happening that it looks a bit lame.

IT Law in Ireland (http://www.tjmcintyre.com/). This blog is from TJ McIntyre, a Lecturer in the School of Law, University College Dublin and a Consultant with Merrion Legal Solicitors. It lacks regular postings but the quality of the material makes it worth inclusion. Given that TJ McIntyre is also closely involved with Digital Rights Ireland, it is no surprise to hear that the blog focuses on data rights issues and has a clear commitment to protecting user rights. One of its major pluses is a pan-European perspective that UK-based blogs rarely rival.
• Laurence Kaye on Digital Media Law (http://laurencekaye.typepad.com/laurence_kayes_blog/). I am sure you can guess what this blog covers! It aims to ‘disentangle the issues and look at what’s really going on in the wacky world of copyright’ (‘wacky’? – oh dear). It has only a short history – it was started only in September 2007 – and there are less frequent postings than with some other blogs (just four or five a month). It is aimed more at clients in the industry than at Laurie Kaye’s peers so it is not an updating source for many SCL members, but some of the posts have been excellent and as good as an article – witness the fact that the first ‘blog taster’ on the SCL site was taken from it.
• Lex Ferenda (http://www.lexferenda.com/). This is Daithí Mac Sithigh’s blog ‘on cyberlaw and more’. Daithí is a research student at Trinity College Dublin but he also teaches and is clearly worth reading from time to time. He is one of only two IT law bloggers that I know of within the Irish jurisdiction (other bloggers touch on IT law but it is not so central) and even he often strays into other areas of interest. I like his international perspective and there is a wit and personality present so you won’t be bored.
• Naked Law (http://nakedlaw.typepad.com/naked_law/). This blog is written by technology lawyers from Mills & Reeve. They ‘write about the latest legal and regulatory developments relating to information and communication technology, e-commerce, and privacy’. It was one of my favourite blogs and a useful source but inconsistency in posting knocked it off its perch. Only a recent resurgence (15 posts in January) has made me list it. I do not doubt the quality of the talent available to post but it has been lacking meat of late and, sometimes, has been rather slow in its posts so that it is last to comment where once it was first. It probably just shows that Mills & Reeve are very busy or perhaps they have found another outlet. (After all, the Computing magazine techlaw blog has posts appearing once in a blue moon but that could be connected to the fact that Pinsent Masons (who write it) have Outlaw – and who needs to blog when you’ve got Outlaw).
• Pangloss (http://blogscript.blogspot.com/). This blog raises issues that will stretch you and has personality in spades. Lilian Edwards of the Institute for Law and the Web at the University of Southampton is the sole blogger here. She describes the blog as ‘a UK-based cyberlaw blog … specialising in online privacy and security law, cybercrime, online intermediary law …, e-commerce, digital property and whatever captures my eye’. I particularly like the fact that the blog will engage in serious legal analysis of issues affecting consumers (for example, e-bay is a regular topic for the blog) rather than being written just for IT lawyers, who are inevitably advising business clients. I also like the fact that one feels something of a relationship with the blogger, although that has its downside in that many posts are about speaking engagements and the like. The name of this blog is one thing I don’t like about it: there is confusion as it is variously known as Pangloss, Blogscript (its former name) and Lilian Edwards. While Pangloss is its true title, I have not seen it referred to by that name very often.
• Technollama (http://technollama.blogspot.com/). This blog is written by Andres Guadamuz and describes itself as ‘yet another technology Law blog’. Andres is an e-commerce lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and has a Costa Rican background. He sometimes has a different view to the commonly held one and that can be refreshing. This blog has been around since 2004 and I was not a regular visitor or a great fan until I started this review exercise – the material on my past visits seemed pretty lightweight and studenty. It has matured and improved and is now recommended. Why a man from Costa Rica, which has a richer mix of flora and fauna than any comparable place, has to name his blog after a Peruvian animal only Andres can say.

Worth a Look

Of course, it is worth trying a number of other candidates - start from the lists of approved blogs on the sites I have mentioned above. But be warned: my Forth Bridge comparison was not made lightly and you could find yourself reading blogs in perpetuity, following leads until you are back where you came from (by which time there is new material to read).

I have relied on and/or borrowed from: Spicy IP (http://spicyipindia.blogspot.com/), useful for anyone dealing with India, perhaps in an outsourcing context); a number of US-based blogs, of which the Patry Copyright blog (http://williampatry.blogspot.com/) and Peter Fleischer’s spasmodically maintained blog (http://peterfleischer.blogspot.com/) are highly rated; Fernando Barrios’ Electromate blog (http://electromate.blogspot.com/); and a number of blogs on technology that dip into law from time to time (but generally prefer Bill Thompson’s stuff for the BBC).

But if you feel that a blog would be of help to your fellow IT lawyers (or want to publicise you own blog), do let me know. I don’t guarantee to include it but the online version of this article will be regularly updated.

Laurence Eastham is a legal editor and writer. He is Editor of Computers & Law: [email protected].

Published: 2008-02-18T00:00:00

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