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.


This is a survey course in Internet law, with particular emphasis on privacy and security. 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?


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 works with computer technology. That includes pretty much anyone at Cornell Tech.

I teach the course in the law-school tradition of dialogue and discussion, with lots of hypothetical questions. But there are no prerequisites, other than enthusiasm for grappling with the messy complexity of Internet law and policy. 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. Trust me, you’ll be fine.


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, 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 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.” Many 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 school or in life—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 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).

Here’s what we’ll do in class:

  1. Work through the readings and answer your questions about them. If something doesn’t make sense, point it out and we’ll talk our way through the issues.
  2. Tie together the readings to extract the big picture from the details.
  3. Try our hands at hypotheticals and problems in the areas addressed by the readings. Some of these are in the coursepack; come to class ready to discuss them. Others I’ll spring on you in class.
  4. Debate where the Internet is heading, and what if anything we can do about it.

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’ experiences and perspectives. The best comments are ones that help your colleagues learn. I expect you to act professionally and respectfully to your classmates (and our occasional guests) at all times. I will not condone harassment.

If anything in or out of class troubles you, 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.

All class sessions are recorded. 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.


Your work for this class will consist of the following:

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

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.” If you want something a little less dry, I also recommend:

Third, there will be a short paper, due a little more than halfway through the course. I will take the material from our first few major units — jurisdiction, speech, and privacy — and present you with a problem that has legal, policy, and design aspects. The 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.

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

Both the paper and the examination will be open-book and subject to word limits (about 2500 and 5000 words, respectively).

Your grade will be based principally on the paper (1/3) and on the examination (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.

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

Class Resources

This syllabus is at

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.


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.


Phone: (657) 529-2633 [LAW-CODE]

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.



We will probably read all or close to all of the casebook, mostly in order, plus a few additional cases and articles on recent events.