The Legal Innovation & Technology Lab's Spot API
@ Suffolk Law School  -  Spot Version: 2022-05-21 (Build 10)

Building Trust(s)

Image of a barn raising
Barn Raising: building a collaborative community of trust

Spot is an AI-powered issue spotter built to promote access to justice. We aim to turn the use of Spot into a virtuous cycle, having it learn from the people it is helping so it may better help those facing similar issues in the future. Such continuous improvement relies on the creators of tools built on Spot and their end-user sharing data with us. Their willingness to share depends on them trusting Spot with their data. To help earn and maintain that trust, we are using trust law to make sure that the creators of tools based on Spot owe their users a legally enforceable duty. A limitation of traditional software licensing is that it creates duties only between parties to the license (e.g., the software author and those using it to deliver some service). By placing the fruits of Spot in trust, making those who build tools around them trustees, and defining end-users as beneficiaries, we can ensure that users are owed a duty and given a true say in how Spot is used.

Machine learning tools such as Spot derive much of their value from broad community involvement while impacting these same communities through their use. We have chosen a trust structure in part because of its ability to create enforceable responsibilities to this broader community. The Spot Click-Trust is an attempt to maximize access to, and so the reach of, Spot while including constraints necessary to obtain buy-in from data contributors that Spot depends on for continued improvement.

Consider that Spot can only recognize a statement of an issue that resembles those it has seen before. If Spot's training data is sourced from one population and used on a different one, there will be differences in how each group talks about issues, affecting Spot's ability to identify them. Additionally, different populations may experience issues at different rates, skewing their prevalence in training data. Our best defense against such bias is to make sure that we are using data from the populations we aim to serve. One way to do this is to create the virtuous cycle envisioned above, having users share data with Spot for future training. Such data sharing, however, is not always appropriate, and when appropriate, the choice to share such data should be based on trust. That is, those providing data to train Spot should be able to trust that their data will be used in a manner they support.

Such trust requires an understanding of how Spot will be used. It requires an understanding of what uses are permitted, what uses are prohibited, and how violations of expectations will be addressed. Hopefully, this page will help provide that understanding. First, you will see a collection of frequently asked questions, followed by the text of our standard Spot Click-Trust, the document all API users (those creating tools with Spot) must sign.

For context, the Spot Click-Trust is the product of many conversations with stakeholders facilitated in large part by Duke Law's Digital Governance Design Studio which also proved invaluable in helping to draft the current trust language.

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is intended to help users of the Spot API understand how the click-trust works and how it differs from a regular license agreement.

Does the trust replace a terms of service?

No. It's a "yes, and" situation. The Spot Click Trust acts alongside the API's terms of service. The terms of service govern the responsibilities Spot owes to API users and vice versa. The trust, however, covers the responsibilities API users owe to Spot's access to justice mission and third-party beneficiaries (e.g., end-users of any Spot-powered tools they build).

What does the LIT Lab do with data sent to Spot?

The Lab's use of data is governed by the terms of service, but here's the tl;dr. We do what we can to avoid storing any personally identifying information of end users, programmatically removing things like phone and social security numbers from the text of queries before we look for labels. All API calls are encrypted in transit. We only save the text of queries when told to, and we don't sell or share the text of queries with third parties. If we are given permission to remember a text, we may use it to improve our AI models by having humans perform their own issue spotting and using their insights to retrain Spot. We may also pair these texts with information about user interactions to improve our issue spotting (e.g., did a user make use of the resources we suggested), but only when we're given permission to do so.

Why use a trust instead of a license?

We want to build and preserve a community around Spot and foster a sense of shared ownership by giving members of that community real power over how Spot is used. We hope that a trust structure will help achieve this. We are inspired by related efforts by the Structural Genomics Consortium to build trusts for open science.

How does the Spot API Trust differ from a regular API License agreement?

A license agreement is a contract between two parties. Parties in a contract owe duties to one another, and no more.

A trust is different. A trustee has a duty to manage property to benefit a trust's beneficiaries, which could include the public or other groups.

What does it mean to be a trustee?

Being a trustee creates a legal duty to use the Spot API in support of our mission to improving access to justice and to work in the interest of those at whom a trustee directs its Spot-powered work. The full scope of these responsibilities are laid out in the Spot Click-Trust, but in short, you should be using Spot to facilitate access to justice be it through providing a service or conducting research. You should be clear with any users of your service how their data is used, and you should not use Spot to create screening or risk scores unrelated to legal services. When appropriate, you should be sharing data back with Spot to improve it, and you cannot use Spot to make a "copy" of Spot. The idea here is that you can't sign up for access and use Spot to make a "copy" of Spot then switch to using this "copy" to avoid complying with the above responsibilities.

Who are beneficiaries?

Beneficiaries are people or groups who should benefit from Spot and the trust. Our trust's beneficiaries include Suffolk and community beneficiaries. Suffolk beneficiaries include: Suffolk University, Suffolk Law School, the LIT Lab and their successors and assigns. Community Beneficiaries include: organizational members of the legal aid and access to justice community whose work may be advanced by an individual trustee's use of the Spot API and their contributions to improving Spot; and individual users of the services they develop using the Spot API.

What should I tell my users about Spot?

We know every use case is different. In general, we encourage you to explain to your users what Spot is, how we handle data, and how it works. If you are allowing us to use data to improve Spot, you should also explain that to your users (and where possible, give them the option to opt in or out). You can find a set of model explanations suitable for sharing or adaptation here. Linking to one of these satisfies the requirements under 4(c) and 5(e) of the Spot Click-Trust.

I want to share my API access with someone else. How can I do that?

A trustee is responsible for any use of the API that happens under their key. As a rule, anyone using the API should do so under their own version of the Spot Click-Trust. That is, they should each create and use their own account. Of course, when working as part of an organization, it may be appropriate to share this access or the API key among employees. Under no circumstance is it allowed for you to sell access to the API key. However, you may sell access to a Spot-powered service as long as it is consistent with the other terms of the trust.

Can I develop proprietary models based on the API?

No. You may not use the API to train proprietary models nor may you reverse-engineer Spot's operation or the underlying models. You may, however, use Spot to help power your own service or system. The idea here is that you can't sign up for access and use Spot to make a "copy" of Spot then switch to using this "copy" to avoid complying with Spot's responsible use constraints.

How does a trust change liability compared to a traditional terms of service?

It imposes a set of duties with regard to the trust's beneficiaries and allows those beneficiaries to seek remedies from trustees who violate the terms of the trust. With traditional terms of service the parties to an agreement owe duties only to each other and the remedy to a violation is most often to dissolve the agreement (e.g., cut off access to the API). With the Spot Click-Trust, however, trustees in violation of the terms can be asked to do things like remove Spot data from the training data of any proprietary models made in violation of its terms. Only, beneficiaries under the trust can bring actions, and there is a reporting requirement to mitigate frivolous actions. That is, before bringing an action in court a beneficiary must report any potential violation to the LIT Lab which will provide the trustee with an opportunity to remedy the situation. See Section 5 of the Spot Click-Trust.

I'm a Community Beneficiary. How do I report misuse?

You can report misuse by filling out the report found here.

Can I stop being a trustee?

Yes, though you still have responsibilities as a trustee while you are holding data that Spot has returned. You'll need to stop using the API, delete any response data covered under the Spot Click-Trust, and contact us to revoke your API key.

What if Spot disappears?

In the event that the LIT Lab ceases operation of Spot, the underlying machine learning models (NOT their training data) will be made available as a python library to all current users subject to the terms of the Spot Click-Trust.

Spot Click-Trust [ID Number] (Sample)

Note: We generate new trust documents for each API user.

Trust creation:

Suffolk University by and on behalf of Suffolk School of Law’s Legal Innovation and Technology (LIT) Lab, with its principal place of business at 120 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02108, hereby intends, as the Settlor, to create the Spot Click-Trust [ID Number] for the charitable purpose of making issue-spotting tools available to organizations and government agencies working to promote access to justice, as a valid revocable trust, legal under the laws of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, on [Date].

Trustee Agreement:

Suffolk University by and on behalf of Suffolk School of Law’s Legal Innovation and Technology (LIT) Lab (“Settlor, or Lit Lab”) has created the Spot Click revocable Trust for purpose of making issue-spotting tools available to organizations and government agencies working to promote access to justice for the benefit of the Beneficiaries.

  1. Beneficiaries. There are two classes of Trust beneficiaries: Suffolk Beneficiaries and Community Beneficiaries (together, the “Beneficiaries”).

    1. Suffolk Beneficiaries. Suffolk Beneficiaries (together, “Suffolk”) include:
      1. Suffolk University, Suffolk Law School, the LIT Lab and their successors and assigns;
    2. Community Beneficiaries. Community Beneficiaries include:
      1. Individual members of the legal aid and access to justice community whose work may be advanced by your use of the Property and your contributions to improving Spot;
      2. Individual members of the general public who may benefit from improved legal information or advice or improved access to legal help as a result of your use of the Property and your contributions to improving Spot;
  2. Assignment of Trustee You have requested access to certain Lit Lab, Spot Click Trust Property and you acknowledge that such access is being provided to you under the terms of the Spot Click Trust and Trustee Agreement. The Lit Lab hereby appoints you as a trustee of the Trust Property, which is entrusted to you for the use the stated Beneficiaries.

    You hereby acknowledge receipt of the Trust property, consent to hold in trust such property and any additional property as may be added to the Trust pursuant to this Trustee Agreement. You agree to use the trust property in accordance with the interests of the beneficiaries, the responsibilities laid out in this document, and the mission of the Suffolk LIT Lab.

  3. Spot Click-Trust Trust Property. The settlor hereby assigns the following property (Property) to the trust:

    1. A single text-string key (“API Key”) and single-user access rights (“API Access Rights”) to the Spot application programming interface (“Spot API”) associated with the API Key. Use of the Spot API is also subject to the Spot API Terms of Service, which may change from time to time. If there is a conflict between the Terms of Service and this trust document, the terms of this trust shall prevail.
    2. Any response objects that the Spot API returns in response to requests made using the API Key shall be added to the trust and considered trust Property.
    3. The Settlor may assign new property to the trust by executing a restatement or amendment of this trust agreement, by updating the access rights for the API key, or by any other means permitted by law. The terms of this agreement extend to derivatives and models you may generate or create that directly use Property, including statistical, software, or mathematical models trained with Property.
  4. Trustee Responsibilities As trustee, you will use the Property to support the trust purpose. Your responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

    1. Facilitate legal services or legal research. You may use the Property to facilitate delivery of legal information, advice, and referral services, or to conduct non-commercial research. These services [or research outputs and derivatives] are not considered derivatives of Trust Property.
    2. Recontribution. If end users consent, and where otherwise possible and ethical, you will contribute data on the use of the Property back to Spot/Suffolk, so Spot can be improved.
    3. Transparency. You will be transparent to end users about how Spot is used.
    4. No screening/risk scores. You will not use the Property for risk scoring, or to screen users for any relationship or service other than legal or social services. For example, you may not use Spot to screen users for housing or employment purposes. You will not use the Property to surveil a third party, such as social media scanning, or for any purpose other than delivery of legal and social services to a user.
    5. No derivative models. You will not use the Property to develop any derivative or proprietary model, or seek any intellectual property protections on the use of the Property. You will not resell access to the API.
    6. No reverse engineering. You will not reverse-engineer the Property or the underlying model.
    7. You will not file an application for patent, nor actively seek any other form of intellectual property protection claiming or covering the Trust Property or its uses, nor will you permit others under your direct supervision to seek, nor will you assist others in seeking, any such patents or other intellectual property protections.
  5. Beneficiary Rights, Notice, and Cure

    1. Prior to bringing an action against You, Community Beneficiaries must notify Suffolk Beneficiaries if they believe You are acting in violation of the terms of the Trust, or otherwise contrary to Beneficiaries' interests.
    2. After receiving a notice of potential violations, Suffolk Beneficiaries may request additional information from You related to your use of Property. You will provide requested information promptly.
    3. After receiving a notice from Community Beneficiaries, Suffolk Beneficiaries will make a determination whether Your actions are in violation of the Trust terms. Suffolk Beneficiaries will provide notice to You and Community Beneficiaries. Depending on the violation, and at Suffolk's discretion, You may be given an opportunity to cure the issue. This may include (but is not limited to) deleting or retraining derivative models, or notifying Community Beneficiaries. This does not in any way limit Suffolk Beneficiaries' other rights and remedies with respect to your use of Property.
    4. Suffolk's determination does not affect Community Beneficiaries' right to bring an action against You post-determination.
    5. Where possible, wherever Spot is used, you must link to the LIT Lab-provided beneficiary reporting mechanism ( The link should be visible to end-users of your implementation of Spot.
  6. Miscellaneous; No Warranties

    1. Termination. This Trust shall terminate upon the election of the Settlor or fifty (50) years after the formation date.
    2. Amendment. The Settlor has the power from time to time, by duly acknowledged, written instrument, to alter, amend, modify, restate, revoke, or terminate any of the provisions of this Trust Agreement.
    3. Severability. If any clause or term of this Trust Agreement is held to be unenforceable or invalid as a matter of law, all other provisions of this Trust Agreement shall remain in effect to the fullest extent permissible under the governing law of this Trust Agreement.
    4. Governing Law. This Agreement will be governed, construed and enforced pursuant to and in accordance with the laws of Massachusetts, without regard to Massachusetts’s laws governing conflicts of laws.
    5. Counterparts. This Trust Agreement may be executed in multiple counterpart originals, and the counterparts shall all constitute a single, original instrument.
    6. No Warranties. LIT Lab makes no representations and extends no warranties of any kind regarding the Property.