Computer Law & Security Report
Facilitator: Could you talk a little bit about the journal and how it began?
Prof. Steve Saxby: In 1983, I went to teach Comparative Computer Law at Arizona State University. It was a very entrepreneurial place. Students working in the silicon desert in the evenings for money. The law school was a good one. It was very active. I remember my first lecture to the students where I thought it was sensible to tell them what a computer was and I was aware that there were few titters going around the room, students were giggling. Of course, I rapidly realized they knew far more about the subject than I did because they were designing silicon chips, for heaven’s sake. So we quickly got into some legal stuff which they found more stimulating, because they were fully conversant with what the technology was at that time. So when I returned to Southampton that led me to want to reach out. The only way one could reach out in those days was to create some sort of publication. There were no blogs, there was no internet. So I set up a company of my own and I launched a journal with Frank Cass Publishers, called ‘Computer Law & Practice’. But I felt a bit constrained by the way in which that journal was produced and published and I wanted really to branch out. So I used my new found company to find a little bit of capital from a couple of friends to start a journal called ‘Computer Law & Security Report’. It began really as a newsletter, but 32 years later we are in volume 33 and I’m heading for my 200th issue in 2018, which will mark a third of a century of building the journal up. For me, the journal is the story of the subject from its early roots having established basic jurisprudence to what it is today. This is an enormous subject with very wide fields of interest, very wide fields of research and interdisciplinary research in web science – drawing folk over from the science side and from the legal side. It’s now the leading publication of its kind, in terms of its rankings in the Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge Social Science Citation Inde and Journal Citation Report..
Facilitator: In the early years, was it totally self-published? How did you distribute it?
Prof. Steve Saxby: Yes, for the first two or three years it was literally me and my two mates who were providing a bit of capital. We had to find printers, we had to find contributors, we had to design it, we had to get it into envelopes and post it, and we had to run the subscriptions. I have fond memories of being up at 1‘o clock in the morning filling envelopes and taking them down to the post office the next day. Then dealing with the subscribers and banking the money. Of course, in the early years, the early year, we made a hefty loss. But within two years we’d broken even and it was at that point that publishers began to identify us. Ultimately, in 1991, Elsevier acquired the intellectual property in the journal and appointed me as Editor. And I am, I think, the longest serving editor that Elsevier has on its books amongst the 4000 journals in academic fields that it publishes.
So it’s an interesting history that in those days there was no journal or publisher that I felt comfortable working with. I had to form my own in order to be able to produce the kind of journal, and the kind of content that I wanted, which has ultimately proved to be the model that worked because it’s still here.
Facilitator: Do you think that it was a meeting point for practitioners and academics?
Prof. Steve Saxby: Yes. It is one of the key things. So many journals these days are one or the other. Most of them being purely academic and to some extent taking a slightly pompous view about practitioners being academic writers. But some of the best writing can come from the practitioner community. Just because they choose to practice doesn’t mean to say that they can’t have academic thoughts in their mind.
So from the very beginning I wanted to create a journal that sat in the middle, that attracted both the practitioner and the academic contributor. And it’s a model that has clearly worked. The big change came in volume 25, when we decided that we needed to remove the word ‘Report’. That was because in the citation indexes they didn’t seem to recognise the journal as anything other than a newsletter. So it became “Computer Law & Security Review”. The International Journal of Technology Law and Practice’. So it enabled both the professionals and the academics to contribute. We have a professional board and an editorial board. And of course, peer review. I’ve talked about the high status it has in the rankings. And in the last two or three years, since it’s received an impact factor and has really taken off. It’s a good job I’ve now retired from my academic post at Southampton University after 39 years because it’s become a full-time job in itself.
Facilitator: Did you always keep to the same structure like academic papers?
Prof. Steve Saxby: In last few years we’ve introduced the opportunity for folk to offer comments, which are not full academic papers, fully researched and fully referenced but stimulating thoughts and comments where people want to offer something to stimulate further ideas. So it’s evolving all the time, but the key thing you can’t do if you are going to succeed is to simply be complacent and have the same model all the time. So it has evolved in many different directions over the years, and no doubt will continue to evolve well in the future when I cease to be the Editor. I’m certainly not planning to proceed beyond two centuries of the journal. It’s time that new folk came in to take it over, but I’ll be leaving it in very good hands, I think.
Facilitator: You were telling me before that you’ve decided not to have any advertisements.
Prof. Steve Saxby: Yes. I’ve always regarded that as utterly inappropriate. It’s almost like a Member of Parliament being paid a consultancy fee by parties that have an interest in whatever Parliament is debating. How can that person be independent? I’ve never wanted what I call advertorial material. These days of course, I get many authors writing to me saying, “How much does it cost to put a paper in your journal?” Well, of course, it doesn’t cost anything. There are open access opportunities where individuals can make a contribution towards broadening the open access. But one of the key things with ‘Computer Law & Security Review’ is that any author can publish the final transcript of their paper online, anywhere they wish to do so. There is no restriction.
Facilitator: Has the frequency of publication changed?
Prof. Steve Saxby: No. It’s always been six issues a year. Some journals come out twice a year, some four times a year. I’ve always maintained six issues a year. I’ve always worried as Editor that I won’t have enough copy, but we’re up to about a 195 issues now and never once have I been late or not had copy. And that is something to be proud of. But it also demonstrates that the very specific subject of Technology Law, particularly IT Law, Computer Law, whatever you wish to call it, attracts writers. It attracts controversy. It raises important issues. It attracts interdisciplinary contributions from people who aren’t necessarily lawyers, but can see connections between the law and the subject, and sometimes collaborate with lawyers in terms of writing material. So it’s never been short of copy and in fact, every year for the last 20 years the page numbers have risen. I think we’re at over 900 pages now. But it has become unwieldy for one person to be sole editor. So I think when it get to 200 issues, there will be a new team taking over from me, and good luck to them.
Facilitator: In retrospect, what do you think that has been the most significant change in the field from the 70’s until today?
Prof. Steve Saxby: Well, the most significant change has been predicated by the arrival of the “Information Society”. We used to call it the “Postindustrial Society” and then we called it the “Information Society” and now we have this digital half-life, where half of our time is spent in the online world and the other half not. It’s even got to a point when we are having to talk about etiquette for looking at your iPhone, in a social context and how perhaps conversation, the art of communication has ceased. So the biggest change has been taking Alan Turing’s discovery of the Entscheidungsproblem. His 1936 paper where he talks about the capability to convert information into digital form. I mean who would have thought that the discovery of electricity would do more than power lights, but it would power iPhones and ovens and heaters? So it has flourished and therein lies the change in the law. How can the law accommodate the ever increasing scope and power of digitalisation to introduce new forms of machinery, new techniques, new methodologies, and new mechanisms of data processing and communication? That’s were the biggest challenge lies.
Computer Law & Security Report