Law & Social Change: Torts and Technology

Quick Info
(2751K.03)  Course
Professor D. Priel
3 credit(s)  3 hour(s);
Lecture, discussion
Upper Year Research & Writing Requirement

Tort law is one of the law’s oldest areas of law, where one still encounters such Latin tags as “sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas” and “volenti non fit injuria,” where some cases printed in the casebooks are a century older than printed books. Can this area of law be of any relevance to the brave new world of large language models in the metaverse? Perhaps. In 2023, Epic Games, the studio that developed the enormously popular video game “Fortnite,” was sued in both Quebec and British Columbia on the charge that their game was too addictive. Snapchat was sued in the United States after a traffic collision for allegedly encouraging its users to earn a “badge” by driving at excessive speeds. The leading Canadian case on invasion of privacy did not involve snooping into someone else’s bedroom but accessing their bank account details. Social media is full of statements that could be seen as defamatory, and more recently chatbots have added their voice, with one of them calling their interlocutor “worse than Hitler.”

The course aims to see what tort law can do to deal with these questions. It will start by considering the impact of technology on our lives; it will then turn to the question of the interrelationship between technological change and legal (especially tort) doctrine: how technological change influenced doctrine and whether doctrine can affect technological change. The main bulk of the course will be devoted to examining the law of defamation, harassment, and invasions of privacy. These areas of law are not new, but new technology has both given them greater urgency while maybe also exposing the limits of tort law for dealing with them.