Digital Copyright

Professor Grimmelmann

Georgetown University Law Center

Spring 2013

About the Course

First Assignment

For our first class on Monday, January 14, please read the materials in the “Public Performance” assignment. We will discuss the scope of the public performance right in Internet transmissions: what it is, and what it ought to be.


Here is the official description of this seminar:

This seminar will examine the interaction between copyright and new digital technologies. The readings will combine close doctrinal attention to the evolving caselaw with theoretical and policy-oriented perspectives. Students will each write a paper and be responsible for leading class discussion on one topic. Course topics will be selected partly on the basis of current controversies, but are likely to include distributed authorship; computer-generated works; ownership of digital rights; open-source licensing; the changing meanings of “reproduction,” “distribution,” and “public”; ownership of digital objects and first sale; new forms of fair use; intermediary liability; mass infringement lawsuits; privatized enforcement; mass digitization; and the future of music, libraries, journalism, the Internet, and human creativity.

In the Spring 2013 semester, the course will focus principally on the shifting nature of infringement on the Internet. We will pay particular attention to judicial interpretations of sections 106, 107, 109, and 512 of the Copyright Act, and to how the resulting doctrines interact.

Your work for the class will consist of weekly readings, in-class discussion, and a paper. You will be responsible for helping lead discussion once, and for critiquing one of your classmates’ papers.


This course requires that you have taken Copyright Law, as it presumes that you are familiar with the copyright canon as presented in, e.g., Julie E. Cohen, Copyright in a Global Information Economy.


All readings will be linked from this syllabus. For cases, I highly recommend printing the National Reporter System version available as a PDF from Westlaw. For law review articles, I highly recommend printing the Hein Online PDF version. (I have provided hyperlinks to other versions of cases and articles as a convenience for those without all-you-can-eat access to these electronic databases.) You will also need a copy of the 1976 Copyright Act as amended through the present.

Each class session will be focused around a specific problem in copyright law drawn from a recent case (listed in bold in this syllabus). You should read this case with care, as we will examine its reasoning closely in class. Anything in these cases—from standing to remedies—is fair game, and we will typically work through every significant issue these cases raise. One of my major goals for the seminar is to bring out the interdependence of copyright doctrines: changes to one have significant impications for others. These cases will serve as a springboard for the larger issues we will discuss.

The law review articles serve a dual function. We will use them to reflect on the doctrinal and policy problems presented by the cases, debating which proposed solutions would be better or worse. We will also use them to reflect on how to read legal scholarship and how to write it. As lawyers, you will be regular consumers of law review articles and other analytical materials that discuss trends in the law. We will read some excellent papers this semester and some less-than-excellent ones, and the seminar is partly about learning to tell the difference.

There may be a few additional readings—most of the problems we are considering are live issues, so there may be significant developments in the law during the semester. I will post them to this syllabus and announce them in class. Check the syllabus each week before you start the week’s readings.

Class Meetings

We meet Mondays 1:20 to 3:20 in room H5021.

Here are my policies about class:

Each week—except the first week and the last three weeks—two of you will be “on” for the week. You will be responsible for being subject-matter experts on that week’s topics, which means (a) preparing that week’s materials especially carefully, and (b) potentially doing additional readings so that you understand crucial pieces of context. We will meet the previous week to discuss the issues and craft a reading plan.


“We don’t check the statements of the ‘young gentlemen’ around here. We simply cashier them if it ever turns out that they have not told the truth.”

—Robert Heinlein

We are members of an academic community built on respect, trust, and honesty. I will take you at your word; in return, I expect you to be truthful and candid in your dealings with me and your classmates.

Your conduct in this course is subject to the Student Disciplinary Code. In particular, it should go without saying that all your work for this course—most especialy your paper—must be your own. I encourage you to discuss your ideas with me, each other, and your other colleagues in depth. But anything you submit as your own work conform to the highest standards of proper citation and attribution.


Your principal work product for the semester will be an original research paper of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 words, inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of the table of contents and other non-content matter. Papers shorter than this minimum will need to be especially focused and polished; papers longer than this maximum will need to justify their length with correspondingly extensive coverage.

Your paper topic can relate in any way to copyright and digital technologies. I will apply a rebuttable presumption against case comments, i.e. papers that discuss a single judicial decision and critique its reasoning. (The same goes for legislative comments that critique a proposed bill.) Better papers identify a trend in multiple decisions, or bring an unexpected doctrine to bear on a problem, or explain how the law should make sense of a new technology. In addition to the topics on the syllabus, here are some other potential directions for papers:

You will produce your paper as a series of deliverables, each with its own deadline. Failure to meet one of these deadlines will result in an automatic third-of-a-grade reduction, and more for protracted lateness. You should submit your outlines, drafts, etc. to me via email, in .doc, .docx, or .pages format, before class on the due date.

We will meet at least once before each deadline to dicsuss your ideas and progress.

For students graduating in May, the

Research and Writing Sources

In researching your papers, preparing for class, and satisfying your curiosity, you will find it helpful to consult a diversity of sources. In my personal experience, the following are especially helpful:

The library offers research consultations to students working on seminar papers. I recommend that you schedule one as soon as possible after settling on a topic.

If this is your first legal academic research paper, or you would like to improve on your last one, consider reading Pamela Samuelson, Good Legal Writing: of Orwell and Window Panes, 46 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 149 (1984). Eugene Volokh’s Academic Legal Writing, now in its fourth edition, also has some useful advice.


75% of your grade for the course will be based on your research paper. The grade will be broken down as follows:

The remaining 25% of your grade will be based on your class participation, especially including the week you are “on” to discuss one of the topics and the week you present a colleague’s paper.


Office: Hotung 6011
Phone: 202-661-6619
Office Hours: Mondays 10:00 - 11:30 and by appointment

This syllabus is at As the semester progresses, I’ll post updates to it here.

Email is the best way to reach me and will generally lead to the fastest response.

My office hours are the times I reserve for student meetings, not the only times I am available. Appointments are recommended but not required. If my office hours are inconvenient for you, email me to set up another time or just drop by. If the door to my office is open, please feel free to come in.


Public Performance

Personal Fair Use

First Sale


Section 512

Mass Infringement Lawsuits

Mass Digitization

Orphan Works

Music Licensing


Copyright Reform