Community in Cyberspace, 29 years later

photo of the audience at the law and technology association symposium from 1995

A couple weeks back, I returned to my law school alma mater to celebrate the 30th issue of the law journal I co-founded, the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology. (The law school recorded an interview with me while I was on campus; that video is at the bottom of the post if you’re interested.)

At the reception for JOLT that evening, Prof. Cotropia asked me about our first issue, published in April, 1995. “Didn’t Dan Burk publish in that issue?” I said he had; Prof. Cotropia asked a follow-up: “Didn’t Dan speak at the symposium you held earlier that year?”

Though I didn’t know why he was asking, I said that yes, Dan was one of the keynote presenters at that event. A group of us had organized a ~day-long symposium to explore what were, at the time, novel questions: was it possible that “cyberspace” could be said to be a “community”? What would the legal implications be if “cyberspace” was somehow different from the community we lived in?

It’s hard, in 2024, to remember just how weird these questions were to people who were not spending most of their waking hours online. (At the time of the symposium, there were just 40M people worldwide who had access to the Internet, or less than 1% of the world’s population. Today, that number is 5.2B people, or ~65% of the world’s population.)

The symposium served two purposes, as I (vaguely) recall: a group of us were genuinely interested in the legal questions, and saw an event as a way not only to convene people we admired, but to network. We were, after all, law students, who’d eventually need jobs.

And we offered to our speakers that if they were amenable, we could publish their presentations in JOLT’s first issue later that spring. We needed to demonstrate that the Journal would be a legitimate home for true scholarship, and getting established experts to commit to publishing with us was not exactly easy. (Would tenure committees even consider an article published in a digital journal as “real” scholarship? At the time, we had no idea.)

All of which is to say: we needed some people to gamble on us. And two people who did – who both published in JOLT’s first issue, and who presented at the symposium we held in February, 1995 – were Prof. Trotter Hardy at William & Mary, and Dan Burk, who at the time was at George Mason Law School.

Back to Prof. Cotropia: he was asking about Dan because earlier this month, Dan tragically passed away. He wondered whether I might have a recording of that symposium – if I did, he wanted to share it with Dan’s family and colleagues.

I vaguely recalled that at some point, I did have a VHS tape (!) of the symposium, that followed me from home to home as we moved jobs. When I got home, I looked around, and realized that I’d actually sent the VHS tape to a service to transfer it to several DVDs (6h of recording in all), and then completely forgotten about it. Spurred by Prof. Cotropia’s request, I ripped those DVDs and uploaded them to YouTube over the weekend.

While it’s wild to see 23 year-old me on video after nearly 30 years, I nevertheless was thrilled to put these videos online where they can be shared more broadly. Dan was ahead of his time – asking questions in 1995 that were years ahead of when most others in the profession were. That he would go on to, in the words of UCI’s memoriam linked above, “leav[e] behind a profound and worldwide legacy on issues related to high technology, including the areas of patent, copyright, electronic commerce, and biotechnology law” is hardly surprising when you listen to how thoughtful he was back then. I’m forever grateful to Dan (and the other speakers) that they took time out of their schedules and took a risk on us – without their contributions, we might never have been able to get JOLT off the ground. I was so sorry to learn of his passing, at such a young age.

With that, I present to you the recording of the February 4, 1995 symposium held by the Richmond Law & Technology Association, “Community in Cyberspace: The emerging law of technology”:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

I also found a scanned copy of the program from the event, which I’m including below:

Miraculously, I even have some (grainy, blurry, sigh) photos from the event:

And last but not least, here’s that interview I recorded while on campus a couple weeks ago:

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