Harvard Law School


Course description

  • Professor William Fisher
  • Spring 2017
  • Meets: M, T, W 10:20am – 11:40am, in WCC 2012
  • Office hours:  Mondays, 3:00pm – 5:00pm, in Hauser 410
  • 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 four 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 recordings 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, the reading materials are not contained in a traditional casebook.  Instead, digital copies are available (for free) in a variety of formats through the HLS syllabus, while paper copies are available (for a modest price) in two bound volumes (Part A and Part B) through Createspace.

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 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 in various online discussion fora that will be available to all members of the CopyrightX community.

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.


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.

A copy of the 2015 Harvard exam is available here:  2015 HLS Exam.  Two excellent answers to the first question in the 2015 exam are available here:  first sample answer and second sample answer.

The instructions for Part I of the 2016 exam are available here.  Part II of the 2016 exam is available here.

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Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School Harvard Law School