Attorneys had the opportunity to learn about new trends and topics in the law at many sessions at South by Southwest March 10-19. Here we provide a recap of some of the panels.

Read some of our past coverage about others involving crowdsourcing for access to justice, privacy and the Fourth Amendment in an evolving digital age, copyright infringement and music policy, and the possibility of law on Mars.

Legal challenges to ‘fairness bots’

University of Michigan Professor Christian Sandvig opened the panel “We Sued for Your Bots” on March 14 with a thought-provoking question: If you were being treated unfairly by an online platform, how could you tell?

Sandvig and other researchers, activists, and journalists aim to answer the query by using so-called “fairness bots” to test online platforms and websites—such as those involving housing, credit, and employment—for any possible discrimination against certain types of users.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Sandvig and many other researchers in a lawsuit with the federal government targeting a narrow part of the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act, attorneys on the panel said, that allows for the government to prosecute researchers or journalists for violating the terms of service of websites or online platforms.

The government is largely not pursuing such cases, ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari said, but they believe the law should be limited to preclude the possibility.

Sandvig, Bhandari, and ACLU attorney Rachel Goodman discussed the importance of technology companies addressing possible unintentional discrimination in software in the beginning of the development stages.

“It is likely that certain types of discrimination issues are going to crop up and it’s worth it to think about it early in the process,” Goodman said.

Trade secret protection

Anyone can have an idea about a product or a service, but it’s the execution of that idea that constitutes a trade secret that may be in need of protection, said experts on the March 16 South by Southwest panel “Trade Secret Protection and Cybersecurity Risks.”

Panelist Adam Gislason, an attorney with Fox Rothschild, told attendees that trade secrets are difficult to establish under the law. While it may seem a bit simple, a key to protecting a trade secret is that it has to be a secret. If a business owner doesn’t take steps to protect the “secret sauce,” it’s hard to prove later that it was actually a key component of the business and proprietary information, he said.

Ryan Tabloff, managing partner of Avantgarde Partners, said don’t toss around non-disclosure agreements loosely, however, innovators need to make sure they have appropriate agreements and contracts in place covering their employees.

“You have to assume they (employees) are going to go work for the competition tomorrow,” Tabloff said.

Building brands in film and television

The growth of reality television and new technology have introduced new opportunities for celebrities, influencers, and advertisers to build their brands, Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney Jody Simon said at the March 16 South by Southwest panel “Building Brands in Film & Television is the New Normal.”

Toward the end of the 19th century with the increase in massed produced consumer goods, advertisers started to partner with celebrities to create brand identities and associations through product endorsements, said Simon, a partner in Fox Rothschild.

Disney was an early leader in branding, Simon said, building off of its films with merchandising, live shows, theme park attractions, and remakes.

Reality TV and new technology, such as DVRs, have increased opportunities for product integration—like the Coca Cola products prevalent in American Idol, Simon said.

Celebrities and online personalities have capitalized on the proliferation of social media to enhance their brands and build large followings, he said.

“The critical thing for social media personalities in particular is their brand—and they have to be true to (it),” Simon said.