Monthly Archives: April 2019

Discovery, Cannibalization, or Both: How Digitization Affects Demand for Physical Copies

Abhishek Nagaraj & Imke Reimers, Digitization and the Demand for Physical Works: Evidence from the Google Books Project (2019), available at SSRN.

From 2004 until 2009, the Google Books Project (GBP) digitized thousands of books from the collection of Harvard University’s library and made them available online. According to Google and proponents of the GBP, digitization would introduce readers to books that they otherwise couldn’t find or obtain, increasing access to and interest in the digitized works. But according to some authors and publishers, the creation of free digital copies would usurp the demand for print copies, undermining an important industry. This dispute was at the heart of a decade of litigation over GBP’s legality. After all of that, who was right?

According to a recent empirical study by economists Abhishek Nagaraj and Imke Reimers, the answer is: both of them. The paper, Digitization and the Demand for Physical Works: Evidence from the Google Books Project, combines data from several sources to reveal some key features about the effects of digitization on dead-tree versions of books. The story they tell suggests that neither of the simple narratives is entirely correct. Continue reading "Discovery, Cannibalization, or Both: How Digitization Affects Demand for Physical Copies"

Erosions of the Work/Non-Work Divide

Leora Eisenstadt, Data Analytics and the Erosion of the Work/Non-Work Divide, __ Am. Bus. L.J. __ (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN.

Much has been written in recent years about how technology that is designed to make us all better connected has blurred the line between work and non-work time. For example, in an age in which many non-exempt workers check work email after work hours, on vacation, or on sick leave, defense lawyers have warned their clients about the potential for claims for overtime pay pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Likewise, much has been written about the erosion of employee privacy in an age in which employers increasingly have the ability to use new technology to monitor their employees’ activities.

Professor Leora Eisenstadt’s forthcoming article, Data Analytics and the Erosion of the Work/Non-Work Divide, discusses these same issues, but with a focus on how the ability of employers to collect employees’ off-duty data impacts the erosion of the work/non-work divide. The article examines employers’ “non-transparent use of data analytics to monitor employee behavior, thoughts, and emotions when they are not working and [their ability] to use this data to make decisions about their workplace success” (P. 18). Continue reading "Erosions of the Work/Non-Work Divide"

Righting Wrongful Birth

Discussions of limits on women’s reproductive choice these days most often focus on legislative efforts to curtail that choice by narrowly limiting abortion access. Sofia Yakren’s new article reminds us that medical malfeasance in failing to provide accurate information about the fetus may also limit a woman’s choice regarding her pregnancy. Yakren’s article considers how tort law’s existing remedy for that malfeasance—the “wrongful birth” cause of action—is anti-therapeutic, harming the woman who seeks redress (and potentially her child) and stigmatizing people with disabilities. Drawing on legal scholarship, disability studies, feminist theory, psychological research, and journalistic accounts, the article is an important read for those interested in bioethics, torts, and feminist or disability studies.

Reproductive torts are sometimes characterized as embodying an inevitable tension between the interests of a disabled child (and disability advocates more broadly) and the interests of a woman (and feminists more broadly), but Yakren resists that smooth path. Her article criticizes how existing wrongful birth jurisprudence requires a mother to claim in court that, had she received accurate information from her doctor prenatally, she would have terminated her pregnancy. According to Yakren, this requirement leads to mothers being blamed and shamed—by courts and the media—for cold-heartedly rejecting their disabled children and being criticized—by disability advocates—for stigmatizing disabled lives as harmful. Yakren’s goal is to “shift[] blame from mothers to the legal system.” (P. 583.) In other words, the problem is not that mothers are cold-hearted, it is that the legal system forces them to act that way to recover resources needed for child rearing. To accomplish this goal, she offers a nuanced and contextual consideration of the emotional and financial experiences of plaintiff-mothers. Continue reading "Righting Wrongful Birth"

Purchasing Race; or, The Pursuit of White Sperm and Eggs

Camille Gear Rich, Contracting Our Way to Inequality: Race, Reproductive Freedom and the Quest for the Perfect Child, __ Minnesota L. Rev. __ (forthcoming, 2019), available at SSRN.

“But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind.” —Herman Melville1

Consider this breezy narrative published a few years ago in the New York Times: “I chose my son by clicking and unclicking a series of boxes, not unlike online dating. Some days, I’d scroll through all of the redheads. Other days, all of the Jude Law look-alikes….There was no easy way for me to choose from so many flawless (but relatively indistinguishable) men, particularly when this choice would have such a profound impact on both my life and my child’s. [¶] One of them looked like Tom Brady and had a Ph.D. I added him to my cart.”2 Stories like this are increasingly commonplace and seemingly innocuous. That is, until something goes wrong. For Jennifer Cramblett, that moment came when, already pregnant, she decided to order more sperm from a sperm bank so that, down the road, she and her partner could give their baby a biologically related sibling.3 While on the phone placing her order, she encountered a mixup regarding the donor’s identification number: did Cramblett really mean donor number 380, not 330, the receptionist asked? Did Cramblett request an African American donor? Cramblett replied, “‘No, why would I do that? My partner and I are Caucasian.’”4 As it dawned on her that she was likely pregnant with a mixed-race child, Cramblett’s “excitement and anticipation of her pregnancy was replaced with anger, disappointment and fear.”5 Cramblett ultimately sued the sperm bank alleging harms stemming from the sperm bank’s racial mistake.

Cramblett’s personal misfortune reveals an unremarked trait shared by the pool of “flawless,” “relatively indistinguishable,” Jude-Law- and Tom-Brady-like sperm donors in the New York Times story: their whiteness. Some people may see nothing wrong with the practice of selecting sperm or eggs because of the perceived race of the donor. Others may be troubled by the prospect of racially motivated gamete selection but view it as an unfortunate side effect of respecting individual autonomy.6 In her thoughtful and provocative new article, Contracting Our Way to Inequality: Race, Reproductive Freedom and the Quest for the Perfect Child, Professor Camille Gear Rich challenges these views. She uses Cramblett’s lawsuit against the sperm bank as a jumping-off point to show how the Assisted Reproductive Technology (“ART”) market packages race and produces the discriminatory preferences that ultimately lead to racial subordination. By detailing the market framework for the exercise of supposedly private preferences, Rich calls attention to the ways in which the law can subsidize or alternatively dismantle private discrimination. Continue reading "Purchasing Race; or, The Pursuit of White Sperm and Eggs"

Celebrating Four Unruly Women

In 1846, prison administrators at the Kingston Penitentiary replaced the daily whipping and flogging of prisoners with a new form punishment – The Box. The Box, as Ted McCoy describes it in his new book, Four Unruly Women: Stories of Incarceration and Resistance from Canada’s Most Notorious Prison, was a six foot tall, three foot deep coffin used to impose a form of extreme isolation on unruly prisoners. The Box became the primary form of severe punishment for women prisons at Kingston when flogging was abolished.

Four Unruly Women depicts a shocking portrait of the cruelty and inhumanity imposed upon the women imprisoned in Kingston Penitentiary between 1835 and 1935. McCoy also tells a powerful story about the incredible courage exhibited by women prisoners who resisted the practices of system oppression and patriarchy relied upon to structure the carceral environment in which they were imprisoned. In addition to floggings and extreme isolation these women were placed in dungeons, starved and, of course, sexually assaulted. Continue reading "Celebrating Four Unruly Women"

Plea Bargaining with Juveniles

Erika N. Fountain & Jennifer L. Woolard, How Defense Attorneys Consult With Juvenile Clients About Plea Bargains, 24 Psych. Pub. Pol’y & L. 192 (2017).

Criminal cases—or for that matter civil ones—don’t go to trial any longer. For a variety of reasons, in criminal matters, plea bargaining has replaced trials. This has occurred in both juvenile and adult cases.

Most juvenile and adult cases differ significantly, however. The justification is the alleged purpose of juvenile courts to rehabilitate youth. This rehabilitation supposedly involves the judge as an understanding, parent-like mentor to the child.

Because plea bargaining effectively bypasses this process, the study of plea bargaining’s effect on youth is particularly important. Currently, the special procedures in juvenile court—such as confidentiality—have led to little check on the prosecution of youth. This has resulted in some bad consequences including the false detention of children, as illustrated in the Kids for Cash documentary.

Erika Fountain and Jennifer Woolard have endeavored to study the plea-bargaining process for juveniles. Their article is part of a series of work, some of which is included in a dissertation. Continue reading "Plea Bargaining with Juveniles"

Give Prisoners a Voice to Increase Prison Accountability

Demetria D. Frank, Prisoner-to-Public Communication, 84 Brook. L. Rev. 115 (2018).

If prisons are about keeping prisoners locked in, it is safe to say that they do an equally good job of keeping the public out. Professor Demetria D. Frank’s article, Prisoner-to-Public Communication, explores how prison mail policy does both: The practice of censoring outgoing prisoner mail keeps some speech from ever escaping the prison, and by default, the public is made more ignorant about prison life and conditions. As a result of this censorship, there is less public knowledge and less motivation for greater public oversight of corrections facilities. Frank’s remedy for these twin harms is to provide prisoners with an “unqualified and unfettered prisoner-to-public communication” right as a means of validating prisoner voices and increasing the accountability of the executive branch of government.

The issue Frank raises is critical in the age of mass incarceration, where state and federal penal systems rely on prison as a mainstay punishment for felony crimes. This reliance has made the U.S. a world leader in incarceration. With such wide-scale deprivations of human liberty, one might suspect that prisons would be subject to rigorous external accountability, perhaps more so than any other government institution or agency. After all, prisons are total institutions that govern 100% of an inmate’s existence and make them 100% dependent on the prison. With so many lives in the hands of government institutions, one might think that prisons would be subject to the most stringent regulatory standards—yet this is not the reality. Instead, prison regulatory standards have been declining, and actual monitoring of them is practically non-existent. Continue reading "Give Prisoners a Voice to Increase Prison Accountability"

Responsibility for Flawed Corporate Cultures

Jennifer Hill, Legal Personhood and Liability for Flawed Corporate Cultures, European Corporate Governance Institute Law Working Paper No. 413/2018 (2018), available at SSRN.

In Legal Personhood and Liability for Flawed Corporate Cultures, Jennifer Hill provides a thought-provoking, comparative perspective on corporate accountability for misconduct arising from defective culture. Recent scandals involving Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, Uber, Fox News, CBS, and others make clear that culture can contribute to malfeasance that damages both company and societal bottom lines. Such scandals raise key corporate governance questions: (i) how should the law address widespread intra-firm wrongdoing as a matter of criminal and civil liability?; and (ii) should the law target the organization, the senior executives and directors, or the individuals (i.e., “bad apples”) who commit wrongful acts?

The paper compares US, UK, and Australian approaches to two types of liability: (i) entity criminal liability and (ii) individual director and officer liability for breach of duty. The analysis highlights jurisdictional differences and similarities that determine each regime’s ability to promote accountability for misconduct arising from flawed corporate cultures. It also examines the influence of the theoretical lens through which scholars view liability for flawed corporate cultures. Aggregation theories (e.g., nexus of contracts), viewing the corporation as a legal fiction composed of natural persons, create barriers to entity liability. (Pp. 9-14.) By contrast, entity-based theories, viewing the corporation as a separate legal person, can be used to secure legal rights for corporations on the one hand and impose duties on the other. This analysis finds that entity-based theories are better-suited to address accountability for flawed corporate cultures than aggregation theories of the corporation because they: (i) can overcome accountability problems where it is difficult to identify individual wrongdoers; (ii) address diffuse, opaque, and complex operations more effectively; (iii) minimize scapegoating of lower-level employees to protect senior management; and (iv) incentivize self-regulation to avoid liability. Continue reading "Responsibility for Flawed Corporate Cultures"

Our Unconscionable Contract Casebooks

Jacob Hale Russell, Unconscionability’s Greatly Exaggerated Death, 53 U.C. Davis L. Rev. __ (forthcoming), available on SSRN.

Jacob Russell has a bone to pick with the contract professoriate, who have consigned unconscionability to a backwater in our courses, trotted out today only in 9th circuit cases that excoriate arbitration clauses before being consigned to an inevitable Supreme Court reversal. In his excellent new draft paper, Russell aims to show that true unconscionability—“rotten deal unconscionability”—didn’t die with the 1960s and 1970s but remains a vibrant part of today’s contracting landscape. The paper offers a compelling account of the functioning of an oft-derided doctrine, and even better, the grist for an enriched classroom exploration of the ways that courts deal with inequality in exchange. You should read it.

The heart of the paper is a caselaw survey, mostly of state court cases that follow the Great Recession. Hiding, as it were, in plain sight, Russell finds dozens of cases in which courts simply are rejecting deals because they were unequal: interests rates too high, foreclosures procured from vulnerable borrowers, routine overdraft fees on debit cards, and payday loans. Two common themes emerge, both remarkable given the doctrine’s repute: the cases involved “common products…sold by mainstream players in the credit industry,” and the courts themselves characterized the remedies as “routine.” Or to put it differently, unconscionability seemingly is routinely disrupting deals at the center of our credit markets. Why, then, are contract professors convinced that substantive unconscionability is a dead letter? Continue reading "Our Unconscionable Contract Casebooks"

Doctrine and Discontent

Jamal Greene, Foreword: Rights as Trumps?, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 28 (2018).

The rise of instant, personalized access has its costs and benefits. Things like time-shifting, the ability to download songs rather than whole albums, and even SSRN make each person his or her own curator. But we lose the value of communal experience: the experience of encountering an interesting document or idea together and simultaneously.

In American legal academic culture, one such event was, or is, the publication of the Foreword to the Harvard Law Review’s annual Supreme Court Issue. Mark Tushnet and Timothy Lynch’s classic study, “The Project of the Harvard Forewords,” provides one of the best (and only) accounts of both the Foreword’s importance and its “structural constraints.” The article notes the frequency with which the Foreword article, which purports to be both a definitive statement about the most recent Term of the Supreme Court and a definitive statement for each Foreword’s author, disappoints. Indeed, attempting to serve both functions may contribute to that disappointment. The time constraints involved in writing the Foreword, the expectations it carries, and the fact that its authors are often selected because they have already often written their most important work means that most Forewords read like a “set piece,” a “replay” of the author’s greatest hits “in the context of the Supreme Court’s most recent cases.” Sometimes a Foreword fulfills neither function well. Aharon Barak’s 2002 Foreword was essentially a valedictory précis of great work he had already written. Nor was it a helpful guide to the past Term of the Court. Indeed, in its 146 pages, it mentioned just one case decided that Term. Even then, it only did so in the footnotes.

Tushnet and Lynch’s article deserves an update, asking whether the Foreword (or the Supreme Court issue as a whole) can or should survive in its traditional form, given that by the time it appears, the past Term has already been hashed over in countless online discussions and SSRN drafts. In the meantime, there must still be at least a few old fogies, like me, who look forward to the Foreword every year. And although Tushnet and Lynch are right that it is systematically disappointing, the occasional Foreword remains a pleasure worth waiting for and taking notice of. This is true of the latest Foreword, Jamal Greene’s Rights as Trumps?. Continue reading "Doctrine and Discontent"

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