On the SYLFF Research Grant, ICT law, and doctoral studies with Dr. Jana Soukupová
On the SYLFF Research Grant, ICT law, and doctoral studies with Dr. Jana Soukupová
Dr. Jana Soukupová, an internal PhD student of the Department of Legal Skills, was awarded the prestigious SYLFF scholarship last year. She is a member of our faculty within the ICT Law section and teaches several courses. She has been involved in ICT law since her studies at Oslo Law School. He is currently writing his dissertation on: Access to Digital Assets. In her thesis she is looking at the legal framework of "things" that exist online.
First of all, let me congratulate you on receiving the prestigious SYLFF Research Grant, which we will discuss later on in the interview. But before that, I’d like to ask about your studies at the Faculty of Law of CU. Which department do you work and do your research in?
At the ICT Law Section (Information and Communication Technologies – editor's note) – there are four of us in total. Formally, we are a part of the Department of Legal Skills, so not a separate organisational unit. But we do organise our teaching activities independently, and cooperate with the Department mostly on the administrative level.
So you are a doctoral student at the moment?
Yes, I’m in the third year of my doctoral studies. I teach several courses on ICT law, specifically the subjects Data Protection, ICT Law – Private Law Aspects, and the Law of New Technologies in the spring semester.
What led you to study and research law and technology?
When I was on Erasmus in Oslo, I attended a course on law and technology. It was something totally new for me at that time, and I had no idea these two areas go together. What really caught my attention was the combination of law and artificial intelligence. When I got back home, I wanted to know whether there was a similar subject at our Faculty of Law.
And was there?
There was basically only one optional subject taught by my current supervisor Dr. Zdeněk Kučera from the Department of Legal Studies. Other than that, the only faculty of law which teaches ICT law in the Czech Republic is in Brno. There is a specialised Institute of Law and Technology. Our colleagues from Brno really moved this field to a whole new level, we could even say a European level. They organise conferences, publish their own journal, etc. However, over the years, the situation also improved at the Charles University Faculty of Law, there are more people studying the field, and also more subjects, but progress is slow.
Could you explain what this area of study covers? I can imagine that the uninitiated think of the internet, disinformation, and similar topics.
Yes, these topics are covered as well. In ICT Law – Private Law Aspects, for the better part of the semester, we look into illegal content online, and the liability of the platform providers, such as Facebook or Instagram. However, banal issues including electronic contracts, software agreements, or electronic signatures are also studied in this field. Another broad area is, of course, the protection of personal data. Last but not least, we should not forget cybercrime.
Was the fact that this field might be widely discussed and used in the near future something that you found attractive?
Definitely, although you can’t really study the field much yet, but the demand will surely grow. Companies employing different technologies are on the rise, and cyberspace is already more of a question for the present than the future.
A very modern field of study indeed. Have you ever been interested in any of the traditional branches of law, let’s say constitutional law?
Well, no, not at all (laughter). However, ICT law is closely linked to the traditional legal branches. In this particular case, both these areas involve fundamental human rights.
I’d like to ask about your dissertation. So you’ve been working on it for three years? And a related question – the SYLFF Grant that we already mentioned. If I understand correctly, the SYLFF supports Ph.D. candidates who are working on their dissertation. Can you tell us more about it?
I applied for the SYLFF (Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund – editor’s note) Research Grant last year in the spring. I received it for the period from October 2022 to September 2023, but it is possible to extend it for another entire year. The purpose of the grant is to support my research. The reasoning behind the grant is to provide funding to Ph.D. students, so that they can focus on their dissertation as much as possible, and don’t have to work full-time. This Japanese grant also serves for obtaining literature, participating in conferences, language certificates, and, last but not least, a student visit abroad.
This is actually one of the requirements, right?
Yes, originally the grant was used only for financing the stay abroad. Now, it covers the expenses of the student visit, as well as the financial costs related to the research/dissertation. Even though the grant is very generous, some awardees still work part-time because there is simply no other way with the inflation and the economic situation today. Also, a big part of the grant is used to cover the costs of the student visit.
I assume that you work as well.
Yes, but not full-time.
So you have been awarded the SYLFF grant, you receive the doctoral bursary, and you also work. In theory, would it be feasible to live only on the grant and the bursary?
Barely. If I lived only in the Czech Republic, then yes, but you use most of the grant for the stay abroad which lasts several months, so it’d be really difficult.
The Japanese grant is 12,500 dollars, right?
Yes, about 300,000 crowns.
What was your main motivation to apply for this prestigious grant? Support for your dissertation, or the student visit?
I definitely wanted to pursue my studies and research abroad. Also, it is an unwritten rule at our faculty that Ph.D. candidates should spend some time abroad. At first, I didn’t know what the grant was really about, but after I found out the details, I thought it would be a shame not to try. I also really liked the fact that the grant gives students freedom.
Did you ask other students about the grant? Or do you know any others who received it?
There are a few of us. Dr. Lukáš Lev Červinka from the Department of Constitutional Law and Mgr. Zuzana Löbling from the Department of Legal History.
I found out that in addition to students researching interesting topics, the fund supports students with leadership potential. Could you elaborate on that?
Yes, that’s true. The aim of the Japanese fund is not only to support students working on their dissertation, but also students with leadership potential. The dissertation itself must contribute to society, and the students need to be able to present the results of their work. So the applicant’s personality is an important criterion in the selection.
Did the members of the fund interview you online when you applied? Did they want to see you?
No, I was selected at the university level.
I think it’s really great that you don’t have to create a completely new work for the grant, but you can use all your efforts for your dissertation.
Yes, I’m very lucky in that I can now dedicate one or two years to my dissertation.
Could you tell us more about it? What is it called?
Access to Digital Assets. I study the legal framework for “things” which exist online. It might sound very abstract, but people now have more and more items and values in a virtual form in which they consume and use them. They subscribe to these things, but they do not own them. For example, films used to be stored on physical media, but today, you download them, also in the form that we subscribe to various streaming and similar services. In my dissertation, I look into what the law has to say on this state of things, and whether it is ready for it. I also want to examine where we are heading with this development from the perspective of the digital economy, and whether certain traditional concepts, such as ownership, are disappearing, and whether this is good or bad news, or neither of those. And it’s not only about music, films, or books in these databases, but also our social media or email accounts because they are important and have value for us, but again, we don’t hold the rights to them, and they may be deleted at any time. I essentially look into things which are online, and to which our rights are limited to a certain degree, and regulated unilaterally by the provider.
Will you also deal with the philosophy of this phenomenon in you work? With a bit of exaggeration, will we soon not own anything because everything will be online?
I would definitely not say that we won't own anything. More and more things will be in virtual form, that’s for sure –technological development is heading in this direction. As for the philosophy behind this topic, I will definitely look into that because it is basically the point of departure for my dissertation. I also want to study virtual reality and metaverse, even though I’m not really a fan of these two concepts, but there are massive investments behind them. So the answer to your question is yes. I’d also like to look into how society is moving into the online world, and how the law is going to deal with the situation, whether the existing institutions are able to work with it, or whether we need to establish new institutions and fields of study.
It’s really great that someone has decided to research this area. I hope that your work will protect all these social media influencers and celebrities because there are thousands of them, not only in the Czech Republic. I’d also like to know in which journals you have published.
In the “Masaryk University Journal of Law and Technology”, which is published in Brno in English, and also in the journal Právník [Lawyer], published by the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. Both of them are online.
Why would you recommend applying for the SYLFF grant to your colleagues?
If they really want to put their all into their dissertation, then this grant is the obvious choice. You will receive the necessary funding, as well as the option to travel for a student visit abroad. Of course, you can also participate in many different conferences. Moreover, it gives you some flexibility because this research grant is not as strict in terms of the administration and requirements as some others. Simply put, they just want you to plan your work and complete it.
Is it really the case that the choice of grants is so rich that it’s difficult to pick one, or is it the other way around?
I don’t think the offer is that rich. At our university, we have the SYLFF, which offers quite a significant amount of money. There is also the GA of CU (Grant Agency of Charles University – editor’s note), which offers smaller amounts, and the administrative burden is quite high. To be honest, I don’t know about any other options.
How would you evaluate the doctoral programme in general? What advice would you give to your colleagues in lower years of study?
I would recommend choosing a topic you really like. I don’t think it’s necessary to have everything thought through right from the beginning when you apply. Just find an area that you are passionate about, and then narrow down the topic.
Did you know what you wanted to study from the very start? When did you decide to do a Ph.D.?
I knew that I wanted to do my research in ICT law. It was a bit more complicated when choosing a specific topic because I was interested in a couple of different areas. It was also about communication with my supervisor. ICT law is a relatively broad branch, and some of the topics are extremely popular these days, so there are many papers and works dealing with these issues. After talking with my supervisor, I narrowed it down to a topic which is not that common. As for the Ph.D., I have always been inclined to do that because I come from a family of academics. I have always been interested in the academic environment and career, and I also wanted to teach.
Is it important to be ambitious if you want a Ph.D.?
Definitely, you must be ambitious. But that’s probably the case in any field if you want to be good in it.
Are there many lawyers with a Ph.D. degree in the various legal professions?
I can’t really say if there’s many of them, but there certainly are judges, attorneys, or notaries with a Ph.D.
What I meant by the question is rather if today, some students consider having a doctoral degree to be the standard. They might have the feeling that a master’s degree in the past is something like a doctoral degree today, and so that is why they continue in their post-graduate studies.
I don’t think so. Quite on the contrary, a higher academic degree does not play a significant role in many legal professions.
Thank you very much for answering all of my questions, not only about the SYLFF Research Grant that you have received. I wish you nothing but success in the future.
Thank you very much.
Allow me to inform our readers, and in particular full-time doctoral students at the Faculty of Law of CU, about the new selection procedure launched by the SYLFF. You will find more information on the website of Charles University, or on Facebook SYLFF UK.
Author of the interview:
BcA. Pavel Nesit, editor of the Department of Public Relations