Syllabus (ever evolving)

The Web Difference?
Digital Media, Culture, and the Law

Harvard Law School
Prof. John Palfrey & Dr. David Weinberger

Spring, 2008, v1.02

(Syllabus revised 1/28/08; certain to change over time)

Skip to session info: #1 #5 #10 #15 #20

Course Overview:

Spring term, Block E

M, T 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

3 classroom credits LAW-48372A Spring

2, 3, or 4 optional clinical credits LAW-48372C Fall or Spring, or 2

In this course, we will examine the claim of Internet exceptionalism
and the implications of this claim in the context of the law and
society. Is the Web something substantially new that is changing the
fundamentals of who we are and how we’re together? Or is it just the
next in the series of communication media humans have invented? What
are the problems to which these changes give rise? Which of these
problems are ones that we’d like to address through reforms in the
law, technology environment, markets, social norms, or other
yet-to-be-discovered modes of influence? This course will cover the
legal and policy issues to which changes in the news media and
entertainment businesses, wrought by the Web, give rise. Key
doctrinal areas of inquiry include intellectual property, the First
Amendment, defamation, and privacy. Students should be prepared to
experiment with new technologies, including a course weblog, and to
perform some coursework collaboratively. Course requirements include
group coursework and a final paper, but no examination.

This course is particularly appropriate as an offering for those
students who intend to take, or have taken, the Clinical Program in
Cyberlaw at the Berkman Center.

Themes of the Course:

Some of the core themes that we will explore include:

  • The Socializing of Knowledge: The West has a settled notion
    of what constitutes knowledge, how it is developed, and even its
    role in our notion of the real. Authority accrues to those who
    possess knowledge, and power and money accrue to those with
    authority. The Web is challenging the metaphysics and economics of
    knowledge. Rather than being the content of individual minds,
    knowledge on the Web – whether at Wikipedia or on a mailing list –
    seems to be developed through various sorts of conversations, often
    without regard to credentials. Is this degrading knowledge into mere
    tribally-held opinions, or does the socializing of knowledge surface
    and address weaknesses in the traditional notion?


  • Economics of Peer Production and other forms of Collaboration:
    Certain uses of the Internet are giving rise to a challenge of the
    traditional conception of motivation in a market society. Scholars
    such as Yochai Benkler (HLS) and Eric von Hippel (MIT’s Sloan
    School of Business) argue that the open source movement,
    collaborative projects such as Wikipedia, and
    user-generated/consumer-driven innovation are examples of a powerful
    new economic force: peer production. These examples are alluring.
    Are they just academic distractions, or big changes in the way that
    markets work in a highly networked world?
  • The Web as a Medium: The Internet is certainly a medium in
    one sense: It is something that stands between A and B and allows
    information to be passed from one point to another. And ever since
    McLuhan we’ve known that media affect the content of what passes
    through them. The Web as a medium is characterized most distinctly
    by the presence of links, and links do indeed shape how we write,
    and, quite arguable, what we write. But does thinking of the
    Internet (and the Web that runs on it) as a medium skew our vision?
    A medium is something through which a person sends a message, but
    the Web can also be experienced as that through the person herself
    moves. Is the Web a medium, a place, or something else?
  • Is the Web Moral? Technologies usually resist moral
    classifications: A gun can kill the innocent or open a lock so the
    innocent can escape. The use of technology, and not the technology
    itself is subject to moral evaluation. Nevertheless, we can ask
    about the morality of the Web in two senses. First, are the intended
    and expected uses subject to moral evaluation? Second, is there
    anything about the architecture of the Web itself that lets us
    characterize it as moral?
  • Internet, Campaigns & Elections: Many political
    campaigns, whether for an issue or a candidate, adopt an “Internet
    strategy” of one sort or another. From online fundraising that
    smashed previous records in the past cycle, to bloggers who broke
    stories of international importance or just covered the local PTA
    meeting, to citizen-journalism efforts that moved elections, to the
    luring of new voters into the political fray, the election cycles in
    the last few years in the United States and elsewhere around the
    world have given rise to headlines and head-spinning about the power
    of the internet to transform politics. The reality may be, however,
    that the Internet just allows campaigners to be more productive in
    the way they carry out traditional tasks, like raising money and
    organizing volunteer activity.


  • Internet, Citizenship & Democracy: The Internet allows
    people to express themselves and to interact with large, powerful
    institutions – through means that were not possible before. The
    nature of citizenship, some argue, is changing rapidly. People are
    developing identities through their online participation that links
    them to other people in other cultures around the world,
    strengthening diasporan communities and increasing cross-cultural
    understanding. Some observers worry that the advent of electronic
    voting and other forms of e-government may make us lazier than we
    have ever been before when it comes to political participation.
    Others fear that we will surround ourselves not with new and
    challenging views, but rather use new technologies to create massive
    echo chambers for ourselves where we listen only to like-minded
  • The Emergence of New Technologies: The course will also
    integrate discussion of emerging Internet-based technologies of
    relevance to the political and social sphere, such as blogging, RSS
    (Really Simple Syndication), podcasting, and social software. These
    tools enable power to be leveraged at the edges of the network, on a
    model that makes intuitive sense in the political arena in
    particular. These effects are reminiscent of the ways that eBay,
    Google, Amazon, digital music, and Voice over Internet Protocol
    (VoIP) have substantially changed large industries in the commercial
    arena. The flip-side is the emergence of Internet filtering
    technologies used by states to limit or block political speech,
    among other things, online.

Mode of the Class and Grading:

The course is based on a theory-and-practice model. Students are
encouraged to participate extensively throughout the course, both in
terms of discussion in the classroom and in active projects in lieu
of traditional paper-writing. The course will also involve out of
class online discussion, using a variety of software tools. The
course has no prerequisites, other than a willingness to experiment
with new technologies.

Each student will be graded on the basis of a group project (1/3),
class participation (1/3), and a written piece, roughly 15 – 20
pages (1/3), which is due by e-mail (please send to John Palfrey,
David Weinberger, and Seth Young) by May 11, 2008.

Class participation is an essential part of the class. You get equal
credit for online and in-class participation, but you must do some of
each. Online participation is via the course blog. You may adopt a
pseudonym if you like, in which event, please tell us who you are.
Comments on the blog count as equal to original posts to the blog.

The group project is an important part of the course. We expect
students to work in groups of 3 or 4 to create a public space online
that engages one of the topics that we take up in this course. The
result of the project might be a wiki, a blog, an online video, a
podcast, or the like. The point of the assignment is to engage with
the media we are studying, to respond to the work of others that is
available online, and to add to the world’s knowledge. Your
project will be due at least 72 hours before class time, and you need
to make the class aware of where to find your work online so that
your colleagues can see your work prior to class. The classes
available for working on the project are flagged inline below with an
asterisk. On the class day for which your work is due, you will
present briefly your argument to the class (not to exceed 10
minutes). You will also be an informal “panel” for the entire
module in which the class falls, so please do the reading with extra
care (that does not let everyone else off the hook, though!).


There are readings for each week of the course. These readings vary
in length, mode and sophistication. The required readings include
sections of eight books, none of which is assigned in its entirety.

  • Lawrence Lessig, Code 2.0 (Basic Books, 2006), online at:
  • Tim Berner-Lee, Weaving the Web.
  • Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks (Yale University
    Press, 2006), online at
  • Doron Ben-Atar, Trade Secrets (Yale University Press, 2004).
  • Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan
    Zittrain, Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global
    Internet Filtering
    (MIT Press, 2008).
  • John Palfrey & Urs Gasser, Born Digital (Basic Books,
  • John Henry Clippinger, A Crowd of One (Public Affairs, 2007).
  • William W. Fisher, III, Promises to Keep (Stanford, 2004),
    online at
  • Dan Gillmor, We the Media (O’Reilly, 2005), online at
  • Eric von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation (2005), online at:
  • David Weinberger, Everything in Miscellaneous (Times Books,
  • David Weinberger, Small Pieces Loosely Joined (Basic Books,
  • Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu, Who Controls the Internet: Illusions
    of a Borderless World
    (Oxford, 2006).

Many of these books are available entirely online for free as
downloads, though of course you can buy or borrow the book from the
library. Copies of each one should be on reserve at the HLS library.



Class 1. Monday, January 28, 2008 (both)

Topic: Is the web different?

The readings for this first day are very light. The background
reading we’d suggest (if you are so inclined prior to the first
class; we expect that you will read it over the course of the term in
any event) is Lawrence Lessig, Code 2.0 (Basic Books, 2006).
Lessig’s Code is the best articulation of the many
interrelated struggles for control online and how a series of
disparate forces affect that way control is exercised. We’d also
suggest that you get going on the readings for day 2.

This introductory class takes up the basic question of this course:
Is the Web different? What does it mean for a technology to be
different? What hangs on this question?

Class 2. Tuesday, January 29, 2008 (Weinberger)

Topic: What is the web?

What do we mean when we are talking about the “web”? Is that the
same thing as the Internet? Do we mean just a technology, or a
culture, or what?

Required Reading:

Isenberg, “Rise of the Stupid Network,”


Doc Searls
& David Weinberger, “World of Ends,”

Jerome Saltzer, David Reed & David Clark, “End to End Arguments
in Network Design,”

Recommended Reading:

Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, Chapters 1 & 4

Class 3. Monday, February 4, 2008 (Palfrey)

Topic: Is there a World Wide Web, or Many Different Webs?


Excerpts from Deibert, Palfrey, Rohozinski, and Deibert, Access
(two chapters handed out)

“How Women and Men Use the Internet,” Deborah Fallows, Pew Internet &
American Life Project, Dec. 28, 2005
– Read at least the summary of findings, p. i-vi.

Read also at least one ONI country summary at


Class 4. Tuesday, February 5, 2008 (Weinberger) (Palfrey away) *

Topic: Is
copyright fair? More important, is fairness an ultimate or even
important value in culture? In an ideal world, what role would
copyright play?

Lawrence Lessig, The Code 2.0, pp. 169-176 (the opening of Chapter 10)

Class 5. Monday, February 11, 2008 (Palfrey)

Topic: Copyright: History and Future

Selections from Doron Ben-Atar, Trade Secrets (Yale University
Press, 2004).

Terry Fisher, Promises to Keep, (Stanford University Press, 2004), Introduction and Chapter 6, online at

In this class, we will look at the history of the copyright doctrine in the United States, the debates that have roiled during theInternet era, and Prof. Fisher’s proposal for the future.

Class 6. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 (Weinberger)

Topic: Piracy or Sharing: Future of Music.

Guest: Musician Brad Turcotte

David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists – AndMegastars…


Courtney Love Does the Math

David Pogue, “The Generational Divide in Copyright Morality” (NY Times, Dec 20, 2007)


Is there a future for music? What are alternative business models?
What will happen to the existing music industry? Do we need to
intervene via policy or law to ensure the best outcome?

Our guest will be Brad Turcotte of, a one-man band
trying to make a living as a musician while operating under the
still-emerging norms.

Module III: Self and Others: How We Stick Ourselves Together

Class 7. Monday, February 18, 2008 (Weinberger)

(This is President’s Day; yes, we have class!)

Topic: Individuals, Social Creatures and Bodies



Weinberger, Small Pieces Loosely Joined, pp. 132-139


Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 13

We have assumed in the West that humans are first and foremost
individuals, and eventually these individuals may enter into social
relations. Further, we’ve come to think that the “real” self is
an inner core and the external, public self as a construction that ma
or may not be true to the inner self. But is that true on the Web?
Does each of us even a “core” self on the Web? Is role playing a
type of falsehood or insincerity on the Web? Is role playing
different on the Web than in the real world where we behave
differently in different contexts? How important is the fact that we
have a body to this?

Class 8. Tuesday, February 19, 2008 (Palfrey) (Weinberger away) *

Topic: Privacy, Anonymity, Identity


Palfrey & Gasser, Born Digital, chapters 1 – 4


Clippinger, A Crowd of One (the rest)

Class 11. Monday, February 25, 2008 (Weinberger)

Attend at least 90 minutes of the FCC hearing on Net neutrality, Comcast and BitTorrent. We’ll talk about this for at least part of the next session.

Class 10. Tuesday, February 26, 2008 (Weinberger)

Topic: Reputation, Trust, and Perfection


Shirky, “Open Source and Love” (video)

Down and
Out in the Magic Kingdom, pp. 13-15


Weinberger, Small Pieces, Chapter 4


Raymond, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,”

If we do things for love on the Web (as per Shirky), do we also do them for
our reputation? Is reputation the new form of insincerity? Is it
more easily manipulated on the Web and thus a less useful guide? Do
we want to be able to integrate reputation systems across apps? Is a
generalized reputation system possible?

Class 10. Tuesday, February 26, 2008 (Palfrey)

Topic: The New Nature of the Public. Is privacy over?

danah boyd, “Why Youth (Heart) Social Networks”

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (pp. 22 – 36)

If the reasonable expectation of privacy is different online, should
we rethink our legal paradigms for privacy?

Module IV: Knowledge

Class 11. Monday, March 3, 2008 (Weinberger)

Topic: Knowing on the Web

Philosophy of knowledge, traditionally. Certainty. Authority.
Wikipedia and fallibility.

Meditations 1
(Optional: Discourse on Method, Chapts. 1 & 2:,…

Weinberger, Small Pieces, Chapter 6, “Knowledge”

Weinberger, Everything Is Misc., Chapter 7: “Social Knowing”

Read one of the following Wikipedia articles, paying especially attention to its “talk/discussion” page:

1. Swiftboating:

2. Sally Hemmings:

3. Shakespearean Sonnets:

4. JFK Assassination:

Knowledge arose as a category of belief: Justified true belief. Over time, the
requirements for justification got narrower. It also got driven
inside people’s heads. What does knowledge look like on the Web? Does
the traditional Western philosophy accurately describe it? What role
do authorities play traditionally and on the Web? On the Web has
knowledge decayed? Has it changed its nature?

Class 12. Tuesday, March 4, 2008 (Weinberger)

Topic: Is Science Changing?

Guest: John Wilbanks, Science Commons

Science is both a way of knowing and a set of institutions. Are
both/either changing? To what extent are our assumptions about what
constitutes scientific knowledge based on the inherent limitations of
paper publishing? Should we be distributing scientific research
before it’s been peer reviewed? Is the authority of science

Sites to visit:


Science Commons:

BioMed Central:

Nature’s prepress:


Class 13. Monday, March 10, 2008 (Palfrey) *

Topic: Ownership and knowledge

Jean-Nicolas Druey, “Information Cannot be Owned.”

Read draft text of the open access proposal at Harvard

Can anyone “own” knowledge? Does the web make us think
differently about the nature of ownership of information or

Class 14. Tuesday, March 11, 2008 (Weinberger)

Topic: Knowledge and Metadata

Weinberger, Everything Is Miscellaneous, pp. 199-222

Weinberger, Small Pieces, chapter 6

We were supposed to be drowning in information, but we seem to be
swimming quite well. That’s because the solution to information
overload is to generate more information…information about
information (metadata). But who owns the metadata? That matters
because metadata is political and metadata is power. Open Library.

Class 15. Monday, March 17, 2008 (Palfrey)

Topic: Future of Libraries

Future of libraries.

Future of books.

Reading becoming social.

Anthony Grafton, “Future Reading” (New Yorker, Nov. 3, 2007)


Weinberger’s response:

Module V: Economics & Markets

Class 16. Tuesday, March 18, 2008 (Palfrey)

Topic: Collaboration and Economics

Digital technologies are a powerful economic force in the hands of
the right entrepreneurs and capital providers. Forget the
boom, though some pure-play Internet businesses may have long-term
importance themselves; the most dramatic, lasting impact of the
Internet may be in terms of transforming the economics of production
in traditional industries. Both Yochai Benkler and his fellow
traveler, Eric von Hippel, argue that models like the open source
movement and user-centric innovation are updating the way products
and wealth are created in a globally-connected economy. A related
argument: the big importance of the Internet is in the creation of an
empowered middle class of digital entrepreneurs who in turn push for
the rule of law, stable environments of capital investment, and so
forth in developing economies. In this session, we will explore the
relationship between changes in economic factors and changing
politics and economies.

Required Reading:

Eric von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation (2005), pp. 1 –
131. (If you are downloading rather than reading the hard-copy,
that’s the intro through chapter 9).

No class March 24 – 25, 2008 – Spring Break.

Class 17. Monday, March 31, 2008 (Weinberger) *

Topic: Marketing and the web

Traditional marketing is based on two assumptions: The company can
control what’s known about it, and most information is delivered
through broadcast media. The Web disputes both assumptions. Networked
customers know more about products than the companies do, and they
develop and share that knowledge in networked conversations.
Traditional marketing techniques look manipulative and non-credible
on the Web. Many marketing and PR companies are turning to
“conversational marketing.” But, is conversational marketing
just a wolf in sheepish clothing?

Locke, Searls, Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto, Chapter 4:

Module VI: Media

Class 18. Tuesday, April 1, 2008 (Palfrey)

Topic: Is the Web a Mass Medium?

What can the MSM do that the crowds can’t? Is there a future that
combines the best of traditional news reporting and citizen


Clay Shirky, “Power Laws, Web logs, and Inequality,” at


Mary Joyce, Case Study on OhMyNews,


Gillmor, We the Media (to be assigned)

Class 19. Monday, April 7, 2008 (Weinberger) *

Topic: What’s up with Blogging?

Readings: Blogs

Pew Studies on blogging:

John Kelly, Case on Iranian Blogosphere

Blogging from the beginning has been construed by the mainstream press as an
amateur version of itself. Does that view reveal, obscure, or both?
Is blogging changing anything important, or is it just bifurcated
between blogs that feed into the mainstream and blogs that are
relevant only to handfuls of friends?

Class 20. Tuesday, April 8, 2008 (Palfrey)

Topic: The Diaspora

Case study on Global Voices

Could Global Voices have existed without the web? As we look outside
the United States, the impact of the Internet on politics and society
may be more transformative than it is here. The Global Voices
project offers a window into this possibility in dozens of states
around the world that are not extensively covered by the mainstream
media. What can we learn by broadening the frame to a global
viewpoint, incorporating the experiences we observe in the developing

Required Reading (light reading week): follow the postings for a
region of the world on
for a week.

Module VII: Morality

Class 21. Monday, April 14, 2008 (Weinberger)

Topic: Is there a moral tendency in the architecture of the net?


Weinberger, chapter in Turow, The Hyperlinked Society (May 2008)

Lessig, Code, chapters 3 and 4.

Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope, p. 77-83

Module VIII: Power

Class 22. Monday, April 15, 2008 (Weinberger) (Palfrey away) *

Topic: Web effect on politics?

The Howard Dean campaign tried to dismantle the typical pyramid of
power in campaigns according to which the candidate speaks and the
followers follow. Instead, the Dean campaign tried to connect
supporters so that they could engage with one another without being
instructed to repeat the “message of the day.” Howard Dean did
not become president, yet some of the lessons of that campaign are
reflected in some of the 2008 campaigns. Is anything changing in
politics? Will it? Or is the Internet destined to be nothing but a
fund-raising tool for traditional campaigns?

Jim Moore,
“The Second SuperPower”


Johnson, “Two Ways to Emerge”,


“Broadcasting and the Voter’s Paradox”,

Joe Trippi, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, “Introduction”
(scroll down)

Class 23. Monday, April 21, 2008 (Palfrey)

Topic: Web Governance

There’s a lot of talk that the Internet allows new and greater
freedoms to individuals. Are there methods of state control that
exist in the online environment that didn’t exist beforehand?

Timothy Wu and Jack Goldsmith, Who Controls the Internet:
Illusions of a Borderless World
, chapters 10 and 11.

Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Chapter 11: The Battle Over
the Institutional Ecology of the Digital Environment, pp. 383 –

Module IX: Synthesis

Class 24. Monday, April 22, 2008 (both)

Topic: The Web is different. Yes or no?

Come on, make up your mind.

(Why) does it matter?

Papers due May 11, 2008, by email to all three: Palfrey,
Weinberger, Young.