Issue 2004 (3)
By Ronan Deazley
The 19th annual BILETA Conference was held on 25th and 26th March 2004. Hosted by the Institute for Commercial and Corporate Law, a research centre within the Department of Law at the University of Durham, the conference was convened at Collingwood College, within the picturesque surrounding that is Durham City. For those unfamiliar with BILETA or, to give it its full title, the British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association, the organisation was founded in April 1986 in order to promote the use of technology in legal education throughout Britain and Ireland. BILETA is actively involved in the field of technology-in-law through such activities as supporting the development and distribution of software, and supporting relevant publications such as the Journal of Law, Information & Technology. The organisation also represents the legal academic community through the production of written reports, and liaises with the Association of Law Teachers, the Society of Legal Scholars, and other academic and professional organisations such as the Society for Computers and Law. While BILETA remains nominally a British and Irish-based organisation, recent years have seen it become an increasingly international concern. The annual conference, the high-point of the BILETA year, now regularly attracts speakers not only from all over Europe but also from as far afield as the US and New Zealand, of which more anon. Moreover, BILETA now also regularly liaises with such international entities as CALI in the USA and JURIX in the Netherlands.
The theme for this year's conference was designed to be as open-textured as possible. 'Out of the Box' offered numerous variegated resonances, invoking issues concerning the manner in which recent technologies have moved beyond the traditional threshold of the computer itself, the exponential growth of the digital environment, and the social, legal and political strategies for addressing the various Pandoran horrors (and gifts) such developments promise to release. More importantly, it sought to throw open a challenge to the attending delegates to consider creatively the manner in which to best navigate these unsettled and unsettling times.
As was mentioned in the conference report (2004 (1) JILT) there were two keynote presentations, the first from Prof Stephen Heppell, the Director of ULTRALAB, and the second from Prof Colin Tapper, of Magdalen College, Oxford. In addition, there were forty-five papers presented from a truly international field, including papers by legal academics, practitioners, librarians and members of the judiciary from a range of diverse jurisdictions. These papers were given in streamed sessions organised under four (very) broad headings: Education; Society and the Individual; E-Commerce and Competition; and Intellectual Property Rights.
One of the highlights of this year's conference was that so many of these papers were delivered by postgraduate students, from the UK and abroad. This was in part a result of the instigation of the BILETA Postgraduate Award Scheme (for details of which see HYPERLINK 'http://www.bileta.ac.uk'; www.bileta.ac.uk) which allowed for full and free attendance at the conference for those students receiving awards (four were made this year). In addition, ten further postgraduate students received bursaries to attend the conference, while all other students attending were able to do so at cost price. Given that postgraduate participation at BILETA this year exhibited such considerable strength and depth, and that the papers delivered were of such a high standard, it was decided that JILT should dedicate part of this special issue to articles by a selection of those postgraduate students. It is difficult enough for those established in their academic careers to secure publications in refereed journals (especially when writing in the shadow of a looming RAE exercise); for those taking their first steps in academia, it is doubly so, and not for want of quality of writing or thought. For a referred journal such as JILT to dedicate space to showcase and encourage nascent academic talent is a development that I for one welcome and applaud.
Of the various papers delivered by postgraduates at the conference, six have been selected for publication here. Those articles by Alan Cunningham, Susan Schiavetta, Istvan Erdos, Luca Egitto, Gill Hague, and Nicholas Gervassis address a wide array of topics and interests; one might jump from the relevance of the work of Carl Menger and David Hume in assessing the philosophical justifications for rights management systems, to consumer arbitration issues within the EU, to the various issues that arise when considering the legal and moral regulation of online electronic personae, and so on. This eclecticism proved to be one of the strengths of the conference, and one can just as well capture it within a sentence as within an extended (and often dull) introductory ramble. As such, I leave it to the articles themselves to draw in the reader.
Ronan Deazley is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Durham.
He can be reached at email@example.com
This is an Special Editorial published on 15 December 2004.
Citation: Special Editorial 2004 (3). The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT).