Like-Minded Studio presents… Amanda Conley
At last month’s Creative Commons salon, I met Amanda Conley — self-professed radical feminist and lawyer-to-be at NYU Law. Amanda brings an interesting legal perspective to the “free culture” debates. After all, the very notion of “property” — physical or intellectual — is grounded in complex histories of common law. Amanda is also a privacy law researcher for an NSF-funded grant on digitized court documents.
We sat down for $3 pints at Commonwealth Bar in Park Slope and talked about culture, copyright, and — dun-dun! — the law.
Me: Good puppy! What’s your dog’s name?
Amanda: This is Gus. He’s a Tibetan terrier. It’s a misnomer though, they’re not truly terriers. I’ll let him explore. [Gus wanders, unleashed.]
Me: So you’re a rebellious lawyer!
Amanda: Well, I recently attended Reblaw 2009 at Yale, a conference for rebellious lawyers and social change. It made me realize I don’t want to be an activist. I want to be the person asking different questions about using the legal system to achieve different ends. What you learn in law school is that the way you frame your question is everything.
Me: I internet-stalked you and saw you were a fan of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Amanda: It’s not stalking if I post the information publicly to the internet. Yes, the EFF attracts laywers who aren’t in a corporate gig. It’s law for the people. There is this annoying dichotomy in law school that you are either corporate or public interest. I prefer to sidestep the binary.
Amanda: Yes, Fred went from women’s interests to IP law, back in the 90’s when the internet was young. He’s interested in both gender and the law. There are more women lawyers now and they’re more into theory. Fred talked to us about his conversion moment, when he decided “I want to be a public interest copyright lawyer.”
Me: Why do you think feminist scholars are attracted to intellectual property law?
Amanda: IP law is all about theory, and theoretical questions. In IP law, the questions are like “What is a person’s identity?”
Me: It’s like an intellectual challenge, or philosophy.
Amanda: There was this interesting case where the International News Service was taking news from the AP wire and publishing it first. The questions that come from that are “Is news copyrightable? When does news have value?” News is something that has value the moment it is shared and, upon sharing, loses value.
Me: How else do you intersect with copyright or privacy issues in law school?
Amanda: I’m also doing research in privacy law and court documents that are public on the internet.
Me: Like the sex offenders registry maps online?
Amanda: Right. For example, divorce documents are becoming more public in higher courts. Nothing’s redacted. But there’s a big difference between looking up something on the internet, versus physically walking down to the courthouse. The internet is creating in-depth profiles of people. But people are supposed to know the law and have access to judicial information. In that sense, we should make things available to the public.
Me: What was your favorite part of the Creative Commons salon?
Amanda: I really liked Thingiverse. I loved the idea of “What if every object was shareable?”
[Ed. note: Thingiverse is a website where people can upload digital designs for physical objects — kind of like architect blueprints for buildings. Anyone can upload a design, and anyone else can create the object, or modify it and make it better. In an ideal Thingiverse universe, every physical object — like the chair you are sitting on — would have a URL, and anyone could look up the design of that chair, and create it, or improve on the design so others could have a better chair.]
Amanda: Sometimes it’s easy to poo-poo the internet and say “Why would anyone want to build a plastic rocket? We want to build things for a useful future!” But what Thingiverse does is make more concrete the value of building on other’s work, instead of starting fresh. The internet shows there are lots of smart people out there. It illustrates the power of working together.