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LawMeme Website Offers Legal Bricolage of News

What is LawMeme?

The name itself implies a function related to the transmission of legal ideas. A glance at the LawMeme website (www.lawmeme.com) reveals gleaming red graphics and a slick insignia--as well as a whole lot of written content.

The site describes itself as a "legal bricolage" and is composed of succinct stories about developing legal topics--particularly those where law and technology intersect. Each article is laden with links to other sites and online news sources--which both exploit the web's interconnectivity and allow readers to investigate further on their own. The site is sponsored by three YLS organizations: the Information Society Project, the Yale Law and Technology Society, and the Yale Journal of Law and Technology.

Ernest Miller, a resident fellow at the Information Society Project, explained how the project started. "Lam Nguyen and I . . . developed this idea as a way to create law-related content for the Internet in a very fast-paced way."

He describes LawMeme stories as "nuggets of information," with disparate sources and accumulating developments synthesized into one tight paragraph. Each can be read and evaluated quickly. And, as Miller points out, because they are publishing on the web, LawMeme can put a story up the same day as events occur and update it whenever necessary.

LawMeme is young, however--Miller and others developed the site over the summer, and it has only been live for a few weeks--and some of its features have not fully developed yet. For instance, the site allows for reader comments on each story, and Miller hopes that these will become a significant part of what LawMeme offers. They also plan to conduct interviews with important figures in the field of law and technology by soliciting questions from their audience. YLS graduate and former chair of the FCC Reed Hundt is scheduled to be the first interviewee.

So far, LawMeme's most popular story has been one called "US Wields $ Not Law to Censor Satellites," which incorporated more original reporting than any of their previous pieces. The story describes the movement by an office within the Department of Defense to purchase exclusive rights to commercial satellite images of Afghanistan and surrounding areas. Current U.S. law allows the secretary of commerce to invoke "shutter control" over commercial satellites in consideration of national security. The LawMeme article considers in depth how the commercial contract circumvents the legal restraints and checks that law places on "shutter control." Not only did this one story receive thousands of hits, but it was mentioned and linked to by other websites, such as infoAnarchy and NewsForge.

Miller says that LawMeme strives to be fair in its coverage. "Trying to be completely objective is foolish," he maintains, but they do try to present both sides of an issue--while allowing their editors to add some color. In addition, Miller says, "we want a slight irreverence" to keep the stories "snappy" and "witty." He points to the tongue-in-cheek "department" labels applied to each story. For example, a piece titled "ABC, NBC, CBS Sue ReplayTV" is from the "who-didn't-see-this-coming? dept."

Hopefully, this unique style of both delivery and snappy content will help LawMeme spread. Miller is working on deals to syndicate the service, allowing other law school technology-related sites to display LawMeme's headlines. He admits he hopes to see the LawMeme name popping up all over the Internet, as a "ubiquitous web service."

And he plans to be even more helpful by using the engine that powers his site as an already-assembled template for other law school journals to post their content. LawMeme uses an openly available program called Slashcode to run its website. They have made custom modifications to it and are creating documentation about how to use it. Then they'll offer all of this together to organizations that need it.

This all seems like a coherent explanation of the site and its goals, but Miller may have let a more honest admission slip. After they get the syndication working, he said, "then we'll try to take over the world." Was this more of the LawMeme style of irreverence? Was Miller slyly commenting on the grandiosity of his own ambitions, or was it something more sinister? The reader will have to judge.

"If you want to find out what's happening in the world of law and technology," Miller helpfully suggests, "we're your one-stop shop." Of course, if LawMeme manages to "take over the world," they'll be the only shop around.

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