Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible for representation by the clinic?

The clinic can represent currently-enrolled undergraduate or graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Boston University, or entities who have a currently-enrolled MIT or BU student as part of their core team.

What sorts of legal work do you do?

We strive to provide a wide range of legal services for students who are working on innovative academic and extracurricular projects. We’re here to answer the question “Can I do [X] with my research?,” where X can be “fly this drone,” “scrape this website,” “disclose this information,” “run this script,” or any other question that you may confront . We also work with students who need to interface with the law as part of their research, including through public records requests or access to court filings. And, of course, we help students who have already received legal threats related to their projects and need help responding to them.

We have made a list of legal practice areas we address, but in general our work covers intellectual property, computer crimes, data privacy, media law, communications law, and civil liberties. We also connect students to other attorneys if they need legal help and we are not able to serve them.

Do you work with clients when they are still designing projects, or only after they’ve received a legal threat?

We love to work with students when they are still designing their research, experiments, or publications. In general, we can do more for student clients when they are still in the design stage, as we can help them identify potential issues and brainstorm ways to avoid them while still achieving the desired results for the project. We can also work with students to coordinate disclosure of sensitive information or broaching sensitive topics with others, if the student wants to do so.

That said, we also work with students who have already done some activity and are now receiving a legal threat. If you’re reading this because you have received some form of threat, we’d encourage you fill out an intake questionnaire right away. Waiting to respond once a threat has been made, a subpoena has been issued, or a lawsuit has been filed can jeopardize your case.

How do I know when I have a legal issue?

There’s no easy answer to this question, but if you have read this far because you’re worried about a particular project or incident, go ahead and fill out our questionnaire we can help you make that determination.

Here are some other times where it’s probably a good idea to contact us:

  • If you’re worried that something about your venture, project, or publication might make someone else upset or angry, or might cause someone else trouble or harm.
  • If you’re using content created by someone else as part of a public project.
  • If you’re running code that will access others’ computers or websites, such as scraping or vulnerability testing.
  • If you’re planning to reverse engineer software or software-enabled devices.
  • If you’re collecting data from the general public as part of your research, especially if done online or if it involves sensitive medical or financial information.
  • If you’re planning on publishing something that could be used to break the law, cause harm to others, or reveals private or confidential information.
  • If you’ve received a legal threat, cease and desist letter, subpoena, or court complaint.

There are two BU/MIT clinics. How do I know which one to contact?

The Technology Law Clinic is the second of two clinics that are part BU Law’s partnership with MIT to create legal resources for MIT and BU students. The first clinic, the Startup Law Clinic, launched in Fall 2015 as the Entrepreneurship & IP Clinic. Students often ask us which clinic they should contact with their legal questions.

The short answer is if you are ever confused you can always fill out our questionnaire, and we can route you to the right clinic. We routinely refer students to each other, and sometimes both clinics will work with the same client, if the client has multiple issues that require the attention of both clinics.

But if you’d like to contact one of the two clinics in particular, or would just like to understand which sorts of issues are handled by the two clinics, here’s a good way to tell us apart:

  • The Technology Law Clinic, formerly known as the Technology & Cyberlaw Clinic, advises MIT and BU students with questions about how the law impacts your research and other innovative projects, and helps respond when their projects are threatened by others. We work on things like advising as to the legal risk around a planned project, working with students who need to obtain permission from a company or government to do the project, or responding to threats made concerning the project.
  • The Startup Law Clinic, formerly known as the Entrepreneurship & IP Clinic, advises the startup businesses and other ventures that come out of MIT and BU with the legal issues they face as they get established and off the ground. They work with clients on founders agreements, corporate selection and formation, and intellectual property ownership and transfer.

Do you represent MIT or BU? When should I contact you and when should I contact MIT/BU’s attorneys?

The Technology Law Clinic does not represent MIT or BU; we represent students at those universities. When a student is doing work for the university and has a legal issue they should instead raise it internally – usually by first raising the issue with their supervising professor or manager, who can then contact the Office of the General Counsel. We can also help you contact the university counsel’s office if needed.

The line between what’s a “student” project and what’s a “university” project can be confusing, but as a general rule:

  • We can normally help you with the independent work you do outside of your normal coursework, or if you want to take your coursework and expand on it separately.
  • We can normally help you with the projects, groups, and ventures you form outside of MIT or BU, and any issues that they have.
  • Work that is done directly as part of a professor’s research or a project of the university is more likely to be handled by university attorney.
  • We may be able to work with you on projects related to university student groups or your coursework, but that often depends on the particular facts. Feel free to contact us, and we can introduce you to your university’s counsel if we determine that they should handle the matter instead.

This can be a little confusing, but if you have an issue and you’re not sure if it should go to the university attorneys or outside counsel feel free to contact us and we can route you to the right place. MIT students can also access the great collection of FAQs and resources that are provided by MIT’s Office of the General Counsel.

How much does this cost?

We do not charge for our legal services. Depending on the particular issue you’re facing, there may be some out-of-pocket expenses that you will need to cover (for example, to file paperwork with a government agency or to pay for a third-party service), but we will try to let you know if we anticipate any expenses coming up.

I’m not a BU/MIT student but I think this is really cool. How can I support you?

We welcome your support! Contact our director, Andy Sellars, at sellars@bu.edu, and he can talk more about that.

I am a BU/MIT student and I think this is really cool. How can I support you?

Tell your friends about us! We’re trying to make sure that all MIT and BU students are aware that this resource is here for them, and that they can always contact us if they need help. You can also follow us on Twitter for the very latest news and updates from the clinic.