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Penn Law Global Research Seminar connects students to Internet experts in Europe and the U.S.

March 10, 2014

As part of an innovative seminar that extends learning beyond the classroom and across international borders, a group of Penn Law students studying comparative Internet law are meeting face-to-face this semester with policymakers, regulators and telecommunications executives in Washington, DC, Berlin, Bonn, and Brussels.

The seminar on “Global Perspectives on Emerging Issues in Internet Law and Policy: US and EU” is led by Professor Christopher Yoo, a leading authority on law and technology. It is the most recent of the Law School’s Global Research Seminar (GRS) courses, which were launched in 2010 to engage students with the international dimensions of a wide range of pressing legal issues.

GRS courses are organized around overseas field research visits. Over the years, those trips have taken students to India, Malaysia, Japan, Germany, Belgrium, and Italy to study topics as diverse as Islamic finance, international bankruptcy law, and the globalization of corporate governance. Two GRS courses in the 2014-15 academic year will include research trips to China and Brazil.

The travel familiarizes students with global legal concerns, while providing them with the first-hand perspective of people around the world actively engaged in dealing with those issues on a day-to-day basis.

“What many students find is that going out to meet judges, legislators, people working in administrative agencies, as well as lawyers litigating before and lobbying these agencies, brings the law to life in a very fundamental way,” Yoo said.

In comparing divergent U.S. and European approaches to Internet regulation, Yoo’s seminar asks students to consider which policies work best and introduces them to EU institutions and lawmaking process. 

During spring break this week the class is in Europe,  meeting in Berlin with members of the German parliament and a judge on the Supreme Court for administrative decisions, and in Bonn with network regulators and antitrust officials, then traveling to Brussels to meet with EU regulators and a member of the European Parliament.

During winter break in January, the class traveled to Washington, DC, for meetings Yoo arranged with a wide array of federal administrators, congressional staffers, and a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The DC trip showed me an entire realm of legal work that I would not have known about otherwise,” said Yasman Rahmani-Givi, a second-year student from the San Francisco Bay Area. “Throughout the trip, we discussed the vast difference in the way in which Americans and Europeans view the same issues, particularly in regards to Internet privacy.”

“We were able to get behind-the-scenes perspectives on Internet governance from lawyers at the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice,”added James Park, a third-year student whose focus is administrative law. “We also spoke with experts in major corporations, such as Comcast, Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Microsoft, and Intel.”

James W. Wiley III L’13, a recent Penn Law graduate, took the course as a student and is now an attorney in the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission. “I use the knowledge gained through that course in my everyday practice,” he said in response to an email. “My experience in the course marks the inflection point in my legal career, where I decided to stop being a generalist and focus intensively on telecommunications law.”

Yoo developed the course in partnership with Thomas Fetzer, a professor at the University of Mannheim and a visiting professor at Penn Law. During their overseas visit this week, Penn students will meet with Fetzer’s German students, encounters that Yoo considers a highlight of the program. “That exposure is as important as anything we do,” he said.

The knowledge acquired through the field visits and meetings are reflected in the seminar papers the students write comparing some aspect of U.S. and European Internet and telecom policies. “It gives them a level of sophistication and understanding that they would not have if they did not actually meet these people face-to-face,” Yoo said.