LAW 6306

Digital Property

James Grimmelmann

Cornell Tech

Spring 2024


Overview

This is an elective course on how property law is adapting to the digital world. Types of property to be considered will include:

We will discuss how these types of property are defined, the rights of their owners, and the kinds of transactions that are possible in them. The focus will be on United States law, with some comparative discussion of different approaches taken by other jurisdictions.

Course Outcomes

Students who complete this course will be able to:

This is a new course, but for more information about other courses I have previously taught, including syllabi and final exams, consult my courses webpage.

Who is This Course For?

This course is intended primarily for law students. Although there are no formal prerequisites, you should be familiar with the property law of at least one jurisdiction. The course will begin with an accelerated review of some essential concepts of United States property law.

Non-law students with a particular interest in the subject matter and willingness to do substantial extra work are welcome to take the course with the permission of the instructor. I am happy to refer you to resources that can give you a grounding in property law, but you will need to do outside readings to fill yourself in on the relevant background.

Policies

Please see the course policies document for information about COVID-19 safety; inclusion; names, titles and pronouns; the history of the site where the course takes place; academic integrity; unauthorized collaboration policy; accessibility and accommodations for disabilities; class recordings; and professionalism.

Logistics

Contact

This syllabus is at http://james.grimmelmann.net/courses/digitalproperty2024S.

Email: james.grimmelmann@cornell.edu
Huddle: Bloomberg 370
Desk: Bloomberg 3 NW, near the bookshelves

My office hours are whenever I’m free during the workday. You can sign up for a slot at https://jtlg.me/meet. When I’m on campus, we can meet in person in my huddle; when I’m not, there’s a Zoom link on Canvas. If none of the available times work for you, send me an email or DM me on the Cornell Tech Slack.

It’s also always fine just to swing by to see if I’m free. If I have headphones on, just catch my eye. If my huddle door is open, come on in. If it’s closed, it’s closed for a reason (usually a call or a meeting) – send me an email!

The required readings will mostly be taken from cases and articles posted to Canvas. A few books will make regular appearances:

The following are not required but you may find them useful:

Class

Our class sessions will be devoted almost entirely to discussing the assigned cases and articles. Even more so than in a standard law-school class, it is essential to work through the ideas yourself. Some of what the readings say will be unintuitive; some of it will be wrong.

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).

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.

This is a hybrid course. If you are joining by Zoom, please remember to turn on your camera and to mute your microphone except when you are speaking. It is possible that due to weather or childcare problems I may sometimes need to switch the entire class to Zoom for a day; I will do my best to give you as much advance notice as I can when this is the case.

Questions are always welcome, even when we are discussing something else. Occasionally I will ask you to hold a question because we are about to answer it in a few minutes when discussing another case, but otherwise I will do my best to answer all questions immediately. If something is unclear to you, it is probably unclear to your classmates – and sometimes it is unclear to me, too.

Assignments

Your work for this class will consist of the following:

First, do the assigned readings and participate in class discussions.

There will be a short take-home midterm, which will will be available starting on March 6 and due by 11:59 PM on March 13 .

Finally, there will be a take-home final examination, which will be available starting on May 6 and due by 11:59 PM on May 13. 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.

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

Grading

Your grades will be determined as follows:

I may adjust grades up or down by one third of a grade (e.g. B+ to A-) for consistently good or poor 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.

The final course grades will conform to Cornell Law School’s grading curve, which require that all courses be curved to a mean grade of 3.35., i.e. very close to B+.

Schedule

The course will meet in a hybrid format. We will meet in person in room 81 in the Bloomberg Center at Cornell Tech and by Zoom for the Ithaca section. If you are in the Cornell Tech section and are quarantining or traveling or have another good reason to join remotely and have confirmed with me in advance, it is okay to join the Zoom directly.

We will usually meet Mondays 1:15 to 3:15 PM. We will take a ten-minute break in the middle of each session.

Please note that we follow the university calendar, not the law-school calendar.


The following is a tentative schedule of readings. Classes with dates are locked. Everything else may change by the time we get there.

January 22: A Property Primer

January 29: Computer Misuse

February 5: Domain Names

February 12: Accounts

February 19: Transactions

Week 6: Registries

Week 7: Blockchains I

Week 8: Blockchains II

Week 9: Copyright

Week 10: Personal Data

Week 11: Data

Week 12: First Sale

Week 13: Estate Planning (?) and the Fourth Amendment