This week we bring you an interview with Kit Walsh. Kit is a senior staff attorney at EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where she works on issues like free speech, net neutrality, copyright, coders' rights, and issues that relate to freedom of expression and access to knowledge.
Kit is part of a team of attorneys who is arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs Matthew Green and Bunny Huang to overturn parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1990s era federal anti-piracy law that, a quarter century later, is being used by device makers of all stripes to sharply curtails the ability of owners, independent repairers, artists and others to modify, service and repair all manner of devices - from toasters to tractors. The case is a key battle in the fight for the right to repair, as the DMCA provides the key legal justification that manufacturers use to limit access to their platforms.
In this conversation, Kit and I talk about that case and the burden the DMCA places on individuals, our economy and society.
A note: this interview was recorded in late 2021. Since we recorded it, a federal Appeals Court ruled against the plaintiffs in the case. The Appeals Court essentially determined that since the Justice Department said it would not pursue Mr. Green for publishing a book on strategies to circumvent software locks, he lacked standing to sue. It is unclear whether the plaintiffs will appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In this conversation, Kit and I talk about her path to becoming a lawyer who is fighting on the front lines to preserve digital freedoms including the right to repair. That’s a journey that started with an early interest in neuroscience, and a stint at MIT’s Media Lab where Kit got nerdy about cyborgs and studied computer-brain interfaces.
Kit Walsh: So I'm Kit Walsh. I'm a senior staff attorney and assistant director at EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where I specialize in a lot of things. It's still a specialty, but it is a lot of things. I work on net neutrality and artificial intelligence and copyright and free speech, and especially relevant to today is all of the ways that weird mutated forms of copyright law interfere with your ability to understand, control, and change the technology that mediates your interactions with the world.
So that involves litigation as well as working on regulatory proceedings before the Copyright Office and elsewhere, and working on legislative approaches to either fixing or mitigating the harms of these over broad laws.
Paul Roberts: And you have a really interesting background. You went to Harvard Law School and before that you were at MIT doing work on things like [00:01:00] artificial intelligence and robotics and stuff like that. Just give us a little bit of your origin story and how you came with that background to the law and how you came to be focused really around the, these issues of intellectual privacy, intellectual property, and protecting creative expression.
Kit Walsh: Yeah, I came to it in maybe an unusual way, but I was a neuroscience undergraduate and I was really interested in brain computer interfaces, and so this was at the time that researchers at Brown and elsewhere, were putting arrays of electrodes into your pre-motor cortex, and using it to control a mouse cursor.
And I was just really fascinated by that. So I was at MIT's Media Lab in what's called the Biomechatronics Lab. Where we were working on making a robot that was actuated by frog muscles. And it turns out that's something you can do. I don't know why you would, but you can. And in any event,
Paul Roberts: That's pretty cool.
Kit Walsh: That's why you do it, because it's cool.