Internet Law

James Grimmelmann

Cornell Tech

Spring 2018


First Assignment

Read pages 9 to 49 in the casebook. I will lecture on the technical material, but be prepared to discuss the rest.

Overview

This is a survey course in Internet law. It is designed to teach lawyers what they need to know to work effectively with computer technologists, and vice versa. Topics covered may vary based on recent events, but will typically include jurisdiction, free speech, privacy, cybersecurity, e-commerce, digital property, intermediary liability, and network neutrality.

What unites these disparate areas of law is that in each of them, computer and network technologies are challenging settled legal understandings in similar ways. We will explore these recurring patterns of legal disruption and predict how they will play out online and offline. Students who complete this course will be able to sort out the issues of a complex case to identify what’s really at stake, think through the likely legal implications of a new technology, and formulate successful legal strategies in the messy world of big data, strong encryption, copyright bots, anonymous jerks, and the Streisand Effect.

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, both creative and destructive, the Internet has unleashed.

For more information about previous versions of the course, including syllabi and final exams, consult my courses webpage.

Should I Take This Course?

I think so, but I’m biased.

Anyone can take this course. There are no prerequisites, other than an enthusiasm for grappling with the messy complexity of Internet law and policy. Although this is listed as a “law” course and is required for LLM students, it is designed to be useful for and accessible to anyone who is interested in computer technology. Courses based on my casebook have been taught to law students, business students, and undergraduates in fields as diverse as political science and computer science.

Casebook

Most readings will be taken from the casebook I developed teaching this course in previous years: Internet Law: Cases and Problems (7th ed. 2017). You will need the seventh edition.

The book is published in two versions: online as a $30 PDF download by Semaphore Press and as a $65.05 perfect-bound paperback at Amazon. The price of the paperback includes the $30 suggested Semaphore price plus the additional printing costs and commission charged by Amazon. If you purchase a printed copy of the book from Amazon, you should feel free to download a free digital copy of the book from Semaphore Press by using the “freeride” button at the bottom of the book’s payment page.

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, tablet, 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.

Class Meetings

We meet Mondays and Wednesdays 11:15 to 12:30.

Please arrive promptly. I promise that we will end on time, but that means we must start on time.

Bring the readings with you, either on your computer or in hard copy.

Attendance in class is required. Especially in view of the other significant demands on your time, I will be understanding about conflicts and flexible in working with you to make alternative arrangements as needed. That said, consistent unexcused absences are not okay, and may lead to a reduced grade or exclusion from the course (after reasonable written warning).

Assignments

Your work for this class will consist of the following:

First, do the assigned readings and participate in class discussions. The two are closely linked: how you should prepare for class varies based on what it is we’ll do with each of the different types of materials in the casebook:

Second, stay on top of current events in Internet law. Cases and recent developments will often fuel our discussions in class. Your ability to remain current with the news will also be factored into class participation. I highly recommend the Bloomberg BNA Law Reports, particularly the Electronic Commerce Law Report and the Privacy & Security Law Report. BNA stands for “Boring, Nevertheless Accurate.” The Cornell Law librarians can help you subscribe and browse back issues. If you want something a little less dry, I also recommend:

Third, there will be a short take-home mideterm, due a little more than halfway through the course, based on the material from our first few major units: jurisdiction, speech, and privacy. This is a midterm, not a research paper; I will give you approximately one week to work on it.

Fourth, 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 like the midterm, except that I will give you two questions rather than one, and the questions may range over the entire course.

Your grade will be based principally on the midterm (1/3) and the final (2/3). I may adjust these grades grade up or down by one-third of a grade based on class participation, or, in exceptional cases, two thirds of a grade. I consider good class participation to be anything that helps your fellow students learn, and poor participation to be anything that obstructs their learning.

Midterm and Final

The midterm and final examinations will be what law students call “issue spotters”: I will give you a set of facts that have significant legal implications, and ask you to give someone (a client, a judge, a legislator, etc.) good advice on what to do in light of those facts. Your job is to identify the legal questions those facts raise and do your best to answer those questions based on the law you’ve learned in the course. You can take everything in the facts of the question at face value, but I may not give you enough information to provide a definitive answer on every issue they raise. This is fine and normal: your answer can say, “I would need to know X, because if Y then Z,” or, “We don’t yet know whether a court would do Q or R if we sued, because S.”

The sample questions from exams in previous editions of this course are a good guide for roughly what to expect, although I will probably set a question that asks you for your opinion about what your client should do, not just what they are legally required to do. There will be room for you to bring your technical, ethical, and business judgment to bear as well.

As for what makes a good answer, I highly recommend John Langbein’s essay Writing Law Examinations and Orin Kerr’s blog post Bad Answers, Good Answers, and Terrific Answers.

Both the paper and the examination will be open-book and subject to word limits (about 1500 and 3000 words, respectively). These are short, at least by legal standards. The point is twofold. First, I want to help you learn how to write concisely; time spent editing your work to cut the filler is time well spent. Second, I want to relieve any sense of time pressure on the exams: you can’t and shouldn’t spend the whole week writing.

All written work will be blind-graded; I will provide instructions to ensure appropriate anonymity.

Course Policies

Except where I tell you otherwise, you are welcome to collaborate freely and to consult any sources you wish to in your work for this class. I love watching students work together like an elite volleyball team: bump, set, spike.

I want our classroom to be a welcoming space, one where we all learn from the diversity of each others’ perspectives. The best comments are ones that help your colleagues learn. I will do my best to make the course interesting and enlightening regardless of your degree program, prior life experiences, or future plans. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.

I expect you to act professionally and respectfully to your classmates (and our occasional guests) at all times. I will not condone harassment.

If you have a disability requiring accommodation, please give me your accommodation letter from Student Disability Services early in the semester so that I have adequate time to make appropriate arrangements. If you need an immediate accommodation for equal access, or if you think there is something I could do to improve the accessibility of the course for yourself or others, please talk to me or send me an email. Everyone’s experience is important to me.

If anything in or out of class makes you uncomfortable, please come and talk to me about it. Not all discomfort is avoidable, but I will do everything I can to help that is consistent with the educational goals of the course. I will also respect any requests for confidentiality as far as my legal and professional duties allow.

If for any reason your preferred name is not the one that appears on the course roster, please let me know how you would rather be addressed. (For example, I regularly have students who go by their middle names rather than their first names, or who have changed their names as part of significant personal transitions.) It’s a small thing, but there’s no reason I should get it wrong.

I have asked Cornell Tech IT to make recordings of all class sessions. You will have access to the recordings. So will I, your classmates, and other Cornell Tech faculty and staff as part of their jobs. The recordings will not be shared outside the Cornell Tech community. In special circumstances (e.g. at the request of a guest speaker) I may turn off the recording, and it might sometimes happen that the recording doesn’t work.

Class Resources

This syllabus is at http://james.grimmelmann.net/courses/internet2018S.

I will create a Slack channel for the course and invite everyone enrolled in the class Please sign up for it; I will take questions and post announcements there. Don’t bother with Blackboard.

Integrity

We are members of an academic community built on respect, trust, and honesty. Most of us are also members of a learned and regulated profession, one that enforces stringent codes of professional responsibility. 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 Cornell Code of Academic Integrity, the Law School Code of Academic Integrity, and the Campus Code of Conduct.

We are also joined in the endeavor that is Cornell Tech because we believe in improving the world through law and technology. I cannot compel you to do what is best and right in all things. But you should aspire to.

Contact

Phone: (657) 529-2633 [LAW-CODE]
Email: james.grimmelmann@cornell.edu

I don’t have set office hours. But I’m around a lot. My desk is near the north end of the second floor of the Bloomberg center. If I have headphones on, just catch my eye. I’m also frequently in my “huddle” in room 270 on the hallway nearby. If the door is closed, it’s closed for a reason — send me an email! If not, come on in. If I’m not around, email is generally best.

Schedule

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


Introduction

Jurisdiction

Speech

Privacy

Access to Computers

Trademarks and Domain Names

Copyright

Private Power

Beyond the Internet

Review

Examinations

Midterm: