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Professor Julie Cohen Installed as Mamolen Professor of Law and Technology

April 2, 2015 —

The relationship between information technology and the law, according to Professor Julie Cohen, is often incorrectly viewed as an irresistible force (technology) meeting an immovable object (the law). But technology can be shaped by interested parties, and the law in this seemingly novel relationship is neither stationary nor neutral; instead, it is one of the moving parts. 

Cohen — an expert on communications and technology, intellectual property and privacy law — was formally installed as the inaugural Mark Claster Mamolen Professor of Law and Technology on April 1. Her inaugural address, “Information Technology and the Future of Law,” explored how technology is shaping our daily lives; emerging patterns in this new landscape (including surveillance, the consumer data economy and censorship); and how the law is already responding to these developments.   

How information-based activities should be regulated is not always clear, Cohen noted. Nevertheless, the law must be mobilized and realigned in areas including privacy and data protection to ensure accountability — much like liability for defective products and the modern administrative state emerged to deal with the rise of modern consumer capitalism. 

“As we participate in the ongoing process of adaptation, we should be thinking really hard about these previous eras" in which the development of effective legal institutions to protect ordinary people lagged behind economic transformation, she urged. Yet we cannot simply look backward; legal institutions developed for a previous economic era are “ripe for reimagining.” 

“If we are to make the law do more than simply serve the needs of the new information plutocrats, we must be willing to interrogate the possible futures of a legal system that we have come to take for granted,” she said.

Professor Rebecca Tushnet and Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor praised Cohen as a dedicated professor and a visionary scholar. “Julie recognized so early where the law was going [with respect to technology] and where we, as an institution, should be going,” Treanor said.

Cohen, a faculty director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, joined the Law Center faculty in 1999. She teaches and writes about copyright, information privacy regulation and the governance of information and communication networks. She is the author of Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice (Yale University Press, 2012), which was awarded the 2013 Association of Internet Researchers Book Award and was shortlisted for the Surveillance & Society Journal’s 2013 book prize. 

The professorship was created with a gift from the estate of the late Mark Claster Mamolen, who attended Georgetown Law in the 1970s. Treanor described at the event how a persistent Mamolen had persuaded Jerry Patterson, then Georgetown’s director of admissions, to give him a chance.

The decision, Mamolen later said, changed the course of his life; in addition to the professorship, he also created the Mamolen-Patterson Opportunity Scholarships. “He wanted to open doors and help others because he knew that doors had been opened for him,” Treanor said.

A webcast may be viewed here.

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