It has been nearly 100 days since our colleague and friend Ian Kerr passed away. During that time, scarcely a day goes by where I don’t think about Ian. Whether it is resisting the urge to send him a message seeking his advice or counsel, thinking about how he would have reacted to emerging developments, or passing by the closed door to his office, his presence is still strongly felt by the entire University of Ottawa and technology law communities. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve run into someone who I haven’t seen in awhile and their first response is to express their condolences and admiration for Ian. Indeed, seemingly everyone has a story of how Ian touched them or had a positive impact on their lives.
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This past week there were two notable celebrations of the life and work of Ian Kerr. First, Jotwell published a remarkable tribute featuring 12 short reviews of some of Ian’s most notable scholarship. The collection speaks both to Ian’s breadth of scholarship covering privacy, copyright, e-commerce, robots, and AI as well as his incredible impact with contributors from around the world. I was privileged to wrote about Ian’s 2005 chapter on digital rights management and anti-circumvention laws.
On Friday, September 27th, the University of Ottawa gathered together for a community celebration of Ian. The full video is embedded below. The event included musical performances and speeches from former students, colleagues, collaborators, and admirers. I was honoured to speak and I have posted my remarks below. The event also provided an opportunity to formally launch the Ian R. Kerr Memorial Fund, which will support students, events, and research. More information on the fund and how to contribute can be found here.
The first episode of the new season of the Lawbytes podcast is dedicated to my good friend and colleague Ian Kerr, a giant in the law and technology field, who passed away on August 27th after battling complications arising from cancer. Ian’s generosity, warmth, and good humour touched the lives of thousands of people. Whether national privacy commissioners or first-year law students, he made time for everyone, offering encouragement, insight, and a deeply held view that everyone had an opportunity and responsibility to help shape our collective digital future. The Faculty of Law plans to celebrate Ian in an event scheduled for Friday, September 27th at 11:30 am. There is also an Ian R. Kerr Memorial Fund that will support scholarships, fellowships, activities and initiatives honouring his legacy.
Nearly twenty years ago, Ian Kerr was a rising star in the law and technology field at the University of Western Ontario. He had already published on the role of computers as intelligent agents in the nascent world of electronic commerce and was crafting new courses examining the legal and ethical challenges posed by machines and the law. In the fall of 1999 – about a year after I had arrived at Ottawa – he agreed to a visit to consider coming to help build a leading program focused on law and tech. I spent the day trying to convince Ian to come, offering tours of the law school, the city’s foodie hot spots, and a dinner at my house. My closing argument was that no matter his decision, this was going to happen since Ottawa was ideally situated to lead on tech law and policy and that there was no better place for him, personally or professionally.
I’m heartened that Ian told me during my last visit with him at the Ottawa Hospital that the decision was one of the best he ever made. But I was wrong. This wasn’t just going to happen. It happened because Ian – my colleague, friend, advisor, and professional partner – made it so.
Ian passed away last night after months of battling complications from cancer. He was a singular talent, whose impact not just on the field, but on everyone he worked with, taught, mentored, or lectured will be felt for decades to come.