Professor Charles Nesson’s course fosters innovation in law and technology
“Think of what we are doing as re-designing the Ames [Moot Court] Competition, producing an Ames Competition in Cyberspace,” Professor Charles Nesson said to his students. Skillful judgment, innovation, and active participation governed Nesson’s fall 2013 course “Internet & Society: Creating the Public Domain.” Inspired by his colleague Jonathan Zittrain, who co-taught the inaugural Advanced Problem Solving Workshop with John Palfrey in 2012, Nesson too adopted the problem solving methodology. The course used case studies with significant social impact to consider “the history of the Internet, its generative capacity for expanding our public realm, public access to open knowledge, and Internet-mediated civic engagement and political participation,” said Nesson. The cases also serve as primers on recent technology, including peer-to-peer downloading, mobile applications, and online learning platforms.
The course kicked off with “In the Stadium and in the Street: The Brazil Soccer Riots,” a case study about protests over the upcoming World Cup. Nesson designed the case to explore group dynamics, the legacy of Big Sport, and the Internet’s role in conflict. In class, students adapted the roles of FIFA, the Brazilian government, or the Brazilian citizenry to analyze the crisis. During the second class session, the FIFA and government groups presented policy statements about the protests, to which the citizen group responded. Students worked to anticipate opportunities and consequences in a situation with lightning-fast Internet communication.
The case study Ching Pow: Far East Yardies!! anchored a module on “fencing off the commons.” Nesson, who has worked for over fifteen years advancing justice in Jamaica, profiled Jamaican filmmaker Bruce Hart and his quest to navigate the realm of orphaned works and transnational copyright permissions. In addition to discussing legal implications and options, the class explored Creative Commons and its potential in influencing a public realm registry of orphaned digital works. Stay tuned for a blog post from the case writer that features Ching Pow in the classroom.
For the same module, Nesson created a spinoff of From Sony to SOPA: The Technology-Content Divide, a popular case study about the conflicts between copyright holders and technology producers. The new case, Sue the Consumer: Digital Copyright in the New Millennium, chronicles the conflicts between copyright holders and individual consumers. Nesson based the student exercises, included in the forthcoming teacher’s manual, on his own pro bono work defending Joel Tenenbaum in an illegal downloading suit brought by record labels. Participants reviewed the Tenenbaum case in order to prepare complaints, deposition questions, motions for sanctions, and subpoenas. Nesson paired the case with two supplementary readings: “Statutory Damages: A Rarity in Copyright Laws Internationally, but for How Long?” and “Statutory Damages in Copyright Law: A Remedy in Need of Reform.”
Nesson worked with tech journalist Jeffrey R. Young to develop MOOCs and Consequences for the Future of Education, a case study on free online education discussed in detail last week here on the blog. As students, the participants reflected on their institution’s best practices for disseminating knowledge; as citizens, the participants considered the strengths and limitations of the virtual public sphere.
Nesson used two of the original Advanced Problem Solving Cases: Game Changers: Mobile Gaming Apps and Data Privacy and The WikiLeaks Incident: Background, Details, and Resources. In previous iterations of the Advanced Problem Solving Workshop, WikiLeaks class discussions centered on how to respond to leaks of classified information and how the Internet influenced whistleblowing and its related legal issues. Nesson, however, focused on information dissemination in the Internet age, civil disobedience versus treason, and the role of the citizen in cyberspace; he supplemented the case with readings on Edward Snowden and the NSA.