Ashley Hurst of Osborne Clarke on Law, tech and reputation

Chancery Lane Chats

26-10-2020 • 26 mins

With eyes glued to Netflix and Zoom meetings replacing office space, this ‘lockdown’ has accelerated a ‘digital transformation’ across the world. At the intersection of this new online society is the tech industry, which this week’s guest, Ashley Hurst, International Head of Technology, Media and Comms at Osborne Clarke, says is one of the ‘winning sectors’ of the pandemic.

As a commercial litigator specialising in internet, data and reputation issues, Ashley is an authority on the media sector, cyber security, and internet regulation, including in relation to attempts to regulate "online harms" such as fake news, extreme content and child exploitation.

Netflix domination

Prior to Covid-19, Netflix was already giving the traditional broadcasting industry a run for its money. But, now, with health and safety concerns halting live television and film production, the battle has intensified.

“It is going to be a very interesting space to watch as to whether there will be a consolidation” in the European market, Ashley says.

New opportunities?

Drawing on his considerable tech experience, Ashley tells Montfort Communications that law firms needn’t consult the oracle as to what will be the next ground-breaking technological invention that drives demand for legal services.

“A lot of the opportunities are right under our noses; we don’t always have to be thinking of the next complicated technology,"” Ashley advises. In particular, he points out how the increased adoption of software platforms to streamline processes is driving much of the work done by lawyers.

Much of the challenge in the adoption of these platforms is training people to change their old-fashioned practices. Ashley says lockdown has forced businesses to accelerate that process.

Cyber security

Yes, there are security issues surrounding video conferencing, however, Ashley suggests that this has been overhyped and most privacy concerns in relation to such platforms are down to sloppy password control and link oversharing.

“It is mainly around human behaviours rather than tech failure,” he suggests.

UK regulatory landscape

With lives moving online, data, content and privacy have become the most pressing internet issues to date triggering an explosion of internet law in the past five years in the US and Europe.

Ashley discusses the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Platforms to Business Regulation and a new Online Harms Bill, which is in the process of being drafted to tackle harmful online content.

“So, the internet is becoming crowded in regulatory terms. It is becoming difficult to keep track of it all and the overlaps between various forms of legislation,” he explains.

US immunity defences

Meanwhile in the US, online platforms are having their immunity defences under Section 230 of the US Communication Decency Act challenged and are facing regulatory and political wrath for their efforts or lack of them to minimise hate speech and protect children.

But when it comes to online content, Ashley warns that any regulation needs to tread carefully to avoid a liability tsunami by effectively making ‘platforms liable at the point of publication’.

Instead, with his wealth of knowledge, he advises policy makers on the right track by aiming for a ‘code of conduct regime’ and putting the onus on the industry to self-regulate.

Discussed in this podcast episode:

  • Introduction to Ashley Hurst, Head of Technology, Media and Comms at Osborne Clarke
  • How Netflix has put traditional media under threat
  • The next big technological opportunity
  • Video conferencing cycle security
  • Internet legislation in the EU and the UK
  • Immunity defence erosion in the US
  • A code of conduct regime suggestion


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