Internet Law

Professor Grimmelmann

University of Maryland

Spring 2014

First Assignment

Please read the Introduction and Chapter 1 in the casebook. The introduction and technical material in 1.I are background, and I will lecture on them. Come to class prepared to discuss the material in 1.II and 1.III.


This is a first course in Internet law. You will learn the essentials of computer and network technologies, and how those technologies are challenging settled legal understandings. The sources of Internet law are many, from intellectual property to tort to the First Amendment, but by the end of the course, you should be able to sort through the legal complexities in any given case to identify what’s really at stake. Throughout the semester, we will tie the doctrines together with five themes:

  1. How regulation changes when it is carried out by computers, rather than by people.
  2. Whether going online increases or decreases government control.
  3. The new kinds of power possessed by online intermediaries.
  4. Whether the Internet reduces offline inequalities or creates new ones.
  5. The extraordinary level of innovation and creativity the Internet has unleashed.

Your work for the class will consist of daily readings, in-class discussions, and a take-home exam.


Most readings will be taken from the casebook I developed teaching this course in previous years: Internet Law: Cases and Problems (3rd ed. 2013). You will need the third edition.

The book is published online as a PDF download by Semaphore Press. I chose to publish with Semaphore because of their fairer business model. By publishing online, they are able to keep costs much lower: the suggested price is $30, instead of the $150 or more you might pay for a comparable casebook from a major publisher. You receive a PDF that you can read on your computer, iPad, or smartphone. You can print out as much, or as little, as you need. If the copy you printed is damaged, you can print the missing pages again, as often as you need.

There is an important bargain here. The success of this business model depends on you. We are trusting you not to buy one copy and share it with all your friends. We are also asking you to pay the suggested price. If you think the bargain is a fair one, please help us help bring casebook prices down by doing your part.

The casebook is also available in a perfect-bound paperback print version through Lulu. Here is an explanation of the pricing from the Semaphore Press website:

The price of this bound version is $57. This price includes LuLu’s cost of printing ($19.48), LuLu’s 20% “cut” of any amount charged above the printing cost ($7.51) and the base price ($30) that Semaphore Press suggests be paid for the digital copy of the book. Because the LuLu price has the $30 suggested price built in, after you purchase a printed copy of the book from LuLu, you should absolutely feel free to download a digital copy of the book from Semaphore Press using the “freeride” button at the bottom of the book’s payment page. …

Before you print a copy or order a bound version, please consider the environmental advantages of using the electronic version.

The questions in the casebook are meant to walk you through the readings. If you are reading closely enough, you should be able to give at least a tentative answer to all of them. These questions will typically serve as a starting point for class discussion.

The casebook also contains some longer “problems.” Most of them are based on actual cases or stories from the news, but with the details tweaked. We will discuss the problems in class in as much depth as the cases; I expect you to have thought them through beforehand. Although they emphasize the day’s topics, anything in the course—in fact, anything you’ve learned in law school—is fair game.

There may be a few additional readings, mostly late-breaking cases and other new developments. I will post them to this syllabus.

Class Meetings

We meet Mondays 1:05 to 3:05 and Wednesdays 2:10 to 3:05. Note that the meeting times are uneven: 120 minutes on Monday and 55 minutes on Wednesday. There will be a break in the middle of the Monday class so we can all stretch, use the restroom, etc.

Here are my policies about class:


There will be a course discussion board on Blackboard. Participation is optional but encouraged. I will read the board actively and engage with anything you would like to discuss. Here are a few thoughts about interesting topics:

It is more important to be thoughtful and respectful than it is to be right. An informal tone is fine, but keep it professional. You should not post anything that you would be embarrassed to have employers read.


There will be a take-home final examination, which will be available from the start of examination period and due at the end. It will be open book and subject to a strict page limit. Your grade will be based principally on the final examination. I may adjust exmination grades grade up or down by one-third of a grade based on class participation. I consider good class participation to be anything that helps your fellow students learn, and poor participation to be anything that obstructs their learning.

Under no circumstances may you discuss the contents of the examination with any other person until after the end of the examination period. You may not ask any other person for help during the examination; your work must be entirely your own. The examination is subject to the Honor Code.

All my previous examinations are available from my courses webpage. Select the appropriate course and scroll to the bottom for the examination and a memorandum discussing it.

I highly recommend John Langbein’s advice on Writing Law Examinations.


Office: Room 231
Phone: 410-706-7260
Email: jgrimmelmann at
Office Hours: Thursdays, 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM

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.

Unfortunately, I will not generally be available to talk after class. To catch my train, I will need to leave directly, and immediately, at the end of class.


Over the course of the semester, we will read much of the casebook, in order, with a few exceptions. (E.g., we will omit much of the pornogprahy material in chapter 3, the trespass to chattels materials in chapter 5, and some of the trademark and copyright materials in chapters 6 and 7).

I will frequently ask you to read each section (typically 15-20 pages) as a unit so that you have a clearer idea of where we are going. Because of the unven allocation of class time on Mondays and Wednesdays, there may be some days when I ask you to read two sections and some days when there is no new reading.

I will do my best to post specific assignments here a few days in advance. Please be patient if the schedule requires revisions as we go. As of now, please read:

1: The Tell-Tale Cell Phone. The police arrested Preston Broadus after he sold a small quantity of cocaine to an undercover officer in a controlled buy. After patting him down, Detective Kima Greggs emptied his pockets and found a flip phone. She opened it and observed the contents of several recent text messages, which she recognized as describing a large transfer of cocaine that Broadus had been involved in. The government plans to introduce the text messages at Broadus’s trial for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. In response to Broadus’s motion to suppress the text messages, how should the court rule? Would it make a difference if Broadus had had a modern smartphone and Det. Greggs found the incriminating evidence in the “reminders” app on the phone?

2: I Know Where You Were Last Summer. Whenver a cell phone is powered on and not in airplane mode, it pings the nearby cell towers to determine which one calls shoudld be routed through. These pings take place every few seconds. By examining a list of which towers were in range of each ping, it is possible to narrow down the phone’s location to within a few hundered meters. What standard, if any, should the police need to satisfy to obtain this “cell site location information?” Woud the answer change if the police set up fake cell phone towers to elicit more precise location information from a cell phone? Would the answer change if the police seek access to the readings from the cell phone’s internal GPS unit, which will be accurate to within about ten meters?

Final Exam