Harvard Law School


Course description

  • Professor William Fisher
  • Spring 2015 Course
  • Meets: M, T, W 10:20am – 11:40am
  • 4 classroom credits

This course explores copyright law and policy. Approximately two thirds of the readings and class time are devoted to the American copyright system; the remainder are devoted to the major relevant multilateral treaties and to the laws pertaining to copyright and “neighboring rights” in other countries. Substantial attention is paid to the efforts of philosophers, economists, and social theorists to justify, reform, or abolish the copyright system.

The course is unusual in several respects. First, the classes are different from those in most law-school courses. Each week, one class takes the form of a recorded lecture. (All of the lectures are available on the Lectures page.) In-person classes are held on Mondays and Tuesdays. Most consist of discussions of case studies, which are designed to explore in more depth and detail the rules and theories introduced in the week’s recorded lecture. On occasion, the course also meets on Wednesdays (during the regular class meeting time) to hear guest speakers.

Next, there is no casebook for the course. Instead, all of the reading materials are available online through the HLS syllabus. (Paper copies will also be available in the Distribution Center.)

Third, the Harvard Law School course on Copyright will be paralleled by – and at times will overlap with – a networked course known as CopyrightX. A detailed description of CopyrightX is available on the course website. In brief, approximately 500 students from approximately 70 countries will be watching the same recorded lectures that you watch and will be reading a subset of the materials that you read. Those students will be organized into “sections,” each led by a Harvard Teaching Fellow. In addition, roughly 500 students will participate in affiliated courses in other universities, law firms, and nonprofit organizations, most of them in other countries. You will have an opportunity (not an obligation) to interact with these other groups of students in two contexts: they will join the class via an interactive webcast on the Wednesdays when guest speakers visit Harvard; and you can participate along with them in an online discussion forum.

Finally, the exam for the course is unusual. It is divided into two segments. Part I is a three-hour, in-class, closed-book examination designed to test your knowledge of copyright doctrine. Part II is an unlimited-time take-home exam (due at 4:00 PM on the last day of the exam period) designed to test your knowledge of copyright theory and policy.


The asynchronous forum accompanying the course is available at forums.copyx.org. For assistance with the forums software, please consult the 2015 Forums User Guide.


A copy of the 2013 Harvard exam is available here: 2013 HLS exam.  Two excellent answers to the first question in the 2013 exam are available here: first sample answer and second sample answer.

A copy of the 2014 Harvard exam is available here: 2014 HLS exam.  Three excellent answers to the first question in the 2014 exam are available here: first sample answer, second sample answer, and third sample answer.

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