This is a survey course in how law applies to computers and their users. Topics covered may vary based on recent events, but will typically include jurisdiction, free speech, privacy, cybersecurity, e-commerce, intermediary liability, platform regulation, content moderation, antitrust, network neutrality, and digital property. There are no prerequisites, and the course is suitable for law students without a technical background, as well as for technical students without prior legal training.
Students who complete this course will be able to:
For more information about previous versions of the course, including syllabi and final exams, consult my courses webpage.
Anyone at Cornell Tech can take this course. There are no prerequisites. All are welcome.
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, doctoral 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.
Cornell requires all students to have received an FDA- or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccination, and “strongly encourages” all faculty and staff to be vaccinated. (I have received a full course of two doses of the Moderna mRNA vaccine, plus a Moderna booster.) However, Cornell allows for medical and religious exemptions from its vaccination requirement, the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 can lead to “breakthrough” infections even in vaccinated people, and a substantial fraction of people who have been infected are completely asymptomatic. This has important consequences for our class.
First, masking remains an essential precaution. Cornell requires masks to be worn at all times in shared indoor spaces. You should assume that in any substantial gathering of people such as a class, someone present (including you) may be carrying an asymptomatic infection, or may be at risk of becoming severely ill if infected. For their health and yours, wear your mask consistently and make sure that it fits well.
Second, if you are feeling unwell, DO NOT COME TO CLASS. This has always been the case, but it is especially important now. Rest, take care of your own health, and keep your classmates safe. DO NOT FEEL UNDER ANY PRESSURE TO ATTEND CLASS. The recording will be waiting for you when you have recovered, and I will be happy to meet to discuss anything you are concerned about missing. If you have possible COVID-19 symptoms, please have yourself tested promptly. Cornell provides detailed, updated guidance on what do if you are feeling ill.
Third, I will make every needed accommodation to make up for the disruption that COVID-19 creates in your life. These come in many forms, from family health issues to travel restrictions to stress and trauma. I do not know now what improvisations will be necessary over the course of the semester, but I promise you that I will do everything I can to help you thrive under these most difficult of circumstances.
This syllabus is at http://james.grimmelmann.net/courses/ip2021F.
Huddle: Bloomberg 370
Desk: Bloomberg 3 NW, near the bookshelves
I hold drop-in office hours Mondays 2:15 to 3:15 PM. I will be in my huddle then. If you would rather meet virtually, just drop me a quick email to let me know so I can turn on Zoom. (The link is on Canvas.)
I am happy to meet at other times by appointment. It is 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 closed, it’s closed for a reason (usually a call or a meeting) — send me an email! If it’s open, come on in! If I’m not around, email is generally best.
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 Eleventh Edition, plus the PDF Spring 2021 Supplement (link t/k).
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.
Our class sessions will be devoted almost entirely to discussing the cases, questions, and problems from the casebook. I will call on you in class, for two reasons. First, an interactive conversation is much livelier than me yammering on and on. Second, I want to give each of you the chance to shine. I will call on a student at random and ask them questions about the current case or other source to get a conversation started. When we reach a logical stopping point, I’ll call on someone else to discuss the next case, or to bring out a different angle on the current one.
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.
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 as well — and sometimes it is unclear to me, too.
If this is your first law-school course, some of these types of materials may be unfamiliar to you. * Most of our readings consist of excerpts from judicial opinions, typically (if slightly inaccurately) called “cases.” When you come to class, you should understand each case well enough to be able to summarize its essential facts, holding, and reasoning. If you have not previously taken a law-school course or you are unfamiliar with the genre, I highly recommend Orin Kerr’s How to Read a Legal Opinion, 11 Green Bag 2d 51 (2007). * The casebook contains a number of excerpts from statutes and similar regulations. When you meet one, you should read it once through, slowly, to get a sense of the issues it covers. Then use the questions that follow to deepen your understanding: go back and try to find the specific statutory text that answers each question. * The excerpts from articles are designed to provide varying perspectives. Some of them introduce important concepts (like Lawrence Lessig’s “four modalities”), and some provide clear explanations of important legal topics, while other are meant to give a clear voice to particular takes on Internet law. I will often ask questions like “What would Mary Anne Franks have to say about this?” Try to figure out how each author thinks about the Internet and how they would respond to different controversies. * 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. Many of the questions involve hypotheticals: how would the reasoning given in this case apply to this other set of potential facts in a future case? Hypotheticals are the bread and butter of legal education and much of legal practice, because they allow us to understand what the words of a legal rule are actually likely to mean in practice. * 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 is fair game.
Your work for this class will consist of the following:
First, do the assigned readings and participate in class discussions.
Second, 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, which includes news outlets, newsletters, blogs, and podcasts.
There will be a short take-home midterm, due by 11:59 PM on Wednesday, March 16, 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, there will be a take-home final examination, which will be available from the start of examination period and due by 11:59 PM on Thursday, May 19. (This the latest that I can make the final due while complying with the law school’s grading deadline.) 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.
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, or, in truly exceptional circumstances, by two thirds. I consider good class participation to be anything that helps your fellow students learn, and poor participation to be anything that obstructs their learning.
On October 7, 1868, at Cornell University’s dedication, its founder and namesake Ezra Cornell stated, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” The University is committed to the principle of “… any person … any study.”
In particular, Cornell University prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, belief, disability, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, criminal history, military or veteran status, or genetics. All are welcome here.
I will do my best to make this course interesting, supportive, and enlightening regardless of your personal identity, beliefs, prior life experiences, degree program, or future plans. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.
If anything in or out of class makes you uncomfortable or interferes with your ability to participate, please raise it with me. 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.
I am happy to address you and refer to you however you prefer to be called. I will ask you for your name, title, and pronouns on the first day of class, and after that please tell me if I am getting something wrong or you would like me to make a change. As a matter of personal courtesy and professional respect, I also expect that you will address and refer to classmates and guests as they prefer. Beyond that, Cornell Tech is generally a very informal place.
Names: Most assumptions about other people’s names are fallacies. (See Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names.) The only sure guide to a person’s name is to ask. It is tempting to think that when someone’s name is written as Firstname Lastname, it means that person is called Firstname. But this is wrong. Here are just a few of the many variations I have seen:
As for myself, I go by “James” (not “Jim”), and my surname is spelled with two ‘n’s at the end. For pronunciation, see my NameCoach badge.
Titles: I won’t use your title unless you prefer that I do. (Exception: when I write formal letters of recommendation, I will use your title unless you prefer that I don’t.) The Paper Chase convention of calling law students “Mr. Hart” survives only as parody or affectation. On those extremely rare occasions when a title is called for, I go by “Professor Grimmelmann.” But you should call me “James,” not “Professor” or “Prof.”
Pronouns: I go by “he” and its inflections. I generally use “they” and its inflections to refer to an unknown or indeterminate person. But when talking about a specific known person, the correct pronouns are the ones they themselves go by.
The island on which Cornell Tech stands was traditionally Canarsee Lenape land. It was “purchased” by Dutch colonial authorities in 1637 as part of the long history of violence, displacement, and erasure by which European settler colonialists appropriated the North American continent. Lenape tribes today occupy small reservations in Oklahoma and Wisconsin, which gives a sense of the devastation that Europeans inflicted on the Lenape and other Native Americans in driving them out from here.
By divers mesne conveyances, the island passed to the City of New York in 1828. It was used as an asylum, a smallpox hospital, a workhouse, and a prison. The conditions of life for the inhabitants of all of them were notoriously poor. Cornell Tech itself stands on the site of the prison, Blackwell’s Penitentiary, where inmates were subjected to disease, abuse, and forced labor.
The Penitentiary was demolished in the 1930s and replaced by Goldwater Memorial Hospital, a chronic-care facility. It merged in 2013 with Coler Specialty Hospital, also on the island, which serves high-risk chronic-care patients, often elderly and disabled. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the dangerously crowded and poorly administered conditions at Coler were responsible for numerous infections and deaths among its residents.
All of these things are parts of what we call “history.”
She said, What is history?
And he said, History is an angel
Into the future
He said: History is a pile of debris
And the angel wants to go back and fix things
To repair the things that have been broken
But there is a storm blowing from Paradise
And the storm keeps blowing the angel
Into the future
And this storm, this storm
–Laurie Anderson, “The Dream Before” (after Walter Benjamin and Paul Klee)
We cannot unsmash the debris of history; we cannot now restore the Canarsee to their homes as they were, or bring the dead to life. But we can force ourselves to look clearly upon the wreckage, to acknowledge the suffering and injustice that have brought us to this point. From it we salvage we what can, and learn what we can, to hold a mirror up before the face of the angel of history, that it might gaze upon the future, where it is always still possible to do better.
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.
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.
If you have a disability requiring accommodation, I find it helpful to receive your accommodation letter from Student Disability Services as early in the semester as possible 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.
I expect you to act respectfully to your classmates (and our occasional guests) at all times. I will not condone harassment.
Beyond that, I view ”professionalism” as an act of care for others. I will do my best to model this version of professionalism in and out of class, and I encourage you to, too.
I will record all class sessions. I will provide you with access to the recordings (via Cornell’s video-on-demand platform) for any reasonable justification, such as absence due to illness, job interviews, court appearances as part of a clinic, or disruption to your ordinary life due to a global pandemic.
I will have access to the recordings, as will your classmates who have reasonable needs for them, and any other Cornell faculty and staff who need access as part of their jobs. The recordings will not be shared outside the Cornell 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 by emailing me.
You may not record your own audio or video of this course without the knowing consent of all people being recorded.
We will usually meet Mondays and Wednesdays 9:40 to 11:00 in room t/k in the basement of the Bloomberg Center. Our first session will be on Monday, January 24, and our final session will be on Monday, May 9. We will not meet on:
There may be a few additional readings, mostly late-breaking cases and other new developments. I will post them to this syllabus.
Access to Computers
Beyond the Internet