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:
For more information about previous versions of the course, including syllabi and final exams, consult my courses webpage.
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.
If you have previously taken related courses in Internet law, online privacy law, cybersecurity law, digital copyright, or law and technology, please get in touch with me to discuss how much overlap there is with what this course will cover.
Most readings will be taken from the casebook I developed teaching this course in previous years: Internet Law: Cases and Problems. You will need the Ninth Edition, plus the PDF Spring 2020 Supplement.
The book is published in two versions: online as a $30 PDF download by Semaphore Press and as a 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. Whichever version you purchase, remember to download the PDF supplement.
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.
We meet Mondays and Wednesdays 12:30 to 1:45 via Zoom. (The link is on Canvas.)
Have the readings with you, either on your computer or in hard copy.
Attendance in class is required, but in view of the extraordinary circumstances in which we are meeting, I will be highly understanding about conflicts.
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:
There are two things to note about this assortment of materials and what we ill do with them in class. First, class discussion will be more interactive than in other courses you may have taken with me. Second, the problems are the most important part of the readings and discussion.
Do your best to 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 recommend some useful sources on my page of resources for students.
There will be a short take-home midterm, due on March 9, 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.
Finally, here 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). In keeping with law school policy for the semester, the course is graded S/U. I will not adjust a grade from S to U or vice-versa except in the case of truly exceptional once-in-a-lifetime constructive or destructive 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 midterm and final examinations may include two types of questions. The first is what law students call “issue spotters”: I 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 second type of question involves policy analysis: I describe a proposed law or new Internet technology and ask you to describe its implications, or ask you to propose one of your own and describe its implications. For example, a question might say that Congress is considering a law requiring all Internet users to identify themselves to gain Internet access and in all of their online activities and ask you to explain what aspects of Internet law would change as a result. A good answer to this question would draw out the implications for privacy in civil and criminal cases, for free speech, for copyright enforcement, and so on.
The midterm and final are not time-limited. You will have about one week to complete the midterm, and the whole of the law school exam period (April 30 to May 14) for the final. I do this to relieve any sense of time pressure you may feel.
Both the midterm and the final will be open-book and subject to word limits (about 1500 and 3000 words, respectively). These are short, at least by legal standards. I want to help you learn how to write concisely; time spent editing your work to cut the filler is time well spent. I also want to reinforce that you should not feel time pressure about the examinations: do not spend the entire week writing.
I will hold a Zoom-based review session between the end of classes and the start of the final examination. Submit questions in advance for better answers.
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 at least one 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.
All written work will be blind-graded; I will provide instructions to ensure appropriate anonymity.
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 virtual 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. The same goes for preferred pronouns.
The Law School has developed a system to help me and my colleagues pronounce your name correctly. If you want to take part, record your full name (preferred given name and surname) on your mobile phone or computer in .mp3 format. For consistency and the ability to match the recording to your record, name the file using your netID (example: abc123.mp3). Once you have recorded and saved the file, upload it to: https://support.law.cornell.edu/UploadVoiceFiles/index.cfm.
I have asked Cornell Tech IT to make recordings of all class sessions. I will provide you with links to the recordings for any reasonable justification, such as absence due to illness, job interviews, court appearances as part of a clinic, and most especially any disruption to your ordinary life caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
I will have access to the recordings, as will your classmates who have reasonable needs for them, and any other Cornell Tech faculty and staff who need access 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. You can request access to specific class recordings at this link.
This syllabus is at http://james.grimmelmann.net/courses/internet2020S.
I will use Canvas to post my slides and other files, and to send occasional announcements.
We are members of an academic community built on respect, trust, and honesty. Many 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 all here at Cornell Tech because we believe in improving the world through law and technology. I cannot compel you to do what is best and right. But you should aspire to.
Phone: (657) 529-2633 [LAW-CODE]
I don’t have virtual office hours. But send me an email any time about anything and I will be happy to discuss it with you.
There may be a few additional readings, mostly late-breaking cases and other new developments. I will post them to this syllabus. In addition, I have noted a few lectures in the Digital Life Seminar that should be of particular interest to students of Internet law. The seminars are conducted by Zoom, much like this course. These lectures are listed in italics and they are optional but recommended. If you would like to take the Digital Life Seminar for credit, it is available as LAW 7179.
February 27: DLI Speaker: Kate Klonick (St. Johns), 12:30 to 1:50
March 2: Read 4.E (An International Perspective) and Eric Goldman’s An Introduction to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) (which you can download without registration by clicking “Download this Paper” and then on the “Download without registration” link at the bottom right of the screen with Gregg Gordon’s picture). Be prepared to discuss in detail whether the United States should adopt a comprehensive data protection statute at the federal level, and if so what should go in it and whether it should preempt state law.
Access to Computers
Trademarks and Domain Names