Ownership, Control, and Other Legal Issues

AuthorDennis Kennedy - Tom Mighell
Ownership, Control, and
Other Legal Issues
Collaboration technologies surface many issues that gener-
ally were not given much thought in the days of paper-only
practice of law. Ownership, intellectual property, and “right
to use” issues traditionally arose only when lawyers left a firm
and took files, copies of forms, or other materials with them.
The maxim that “the client owns the file” resolved most issues
or disputes over who owned or had control over paper files.
Even the question of who was responsible for turning around
the next draft in a negotiation often turned on actual physical
possession of the draft document. Locked doors, drawers, file
cabinets, or even tying the strings on a Redweld folder were
used to handle many security issues. Shredders disposed of
paper documents. The onslaught of electronic documents and
their attendant issues now make the days of paper seem like
much simpler times.
The ability to easily create copies of digital files of any
type and electronically move them around may well be one
of the most important advances of our time. We have moved
from buying physical objects—books, tapes, CDs—to licensing
intellectual property rights wrapped in the form of digital files
and are well on our way to seeing “streaming” replacing the
notion of owning and storing digital files. Nicholas Negroponte
famously referred to this as the movement from “atoms” (stuff)
to “bits” (electrons).1 The copying of data has raised different,
1. Nicholas Negroponte, “Bits and Atoms,” January 1, 1995. Available at https://

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