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Copyright Law Important Course Information – Spring 2021


Copyright Law is a three-credit limited enrollment course for upper-level law students, with enrollment limited to 50 students. No prior experience with intellectual property law is required.  Students are expected to remember, understand, and apply what they learned in first-year courses in Contracts, Property, and Torts.

The course is LAW 5328 in the University of Pittsburgh course catalog.


There is no prerequisite for this course. Students are expected to have learned the fundamentals of legal research, legal analysis, and legal writing.


The official course description is this:

Copyright law deals with legal protection for certain kinds of expressive work — literature, music, film, photography, and computer software, among other things — which is an essential element of modern culture, knowledge, and communication. The Copyright Law course will teach you about the many roles that copyright law plays in constructing businesses, markets and other institutions for creating, distributing, and consuming that work. For authors and publishers, how does copyright law help them make money based on their creative works, or based on others’ creative works? For readers and consumers and society as a whole, how does copyright law preserve the power to access and use knowledge? The course will teach those things in the context of teaching the skills of copyright lawyering. How do practicing lawyers work with clients? How do practicing lawyers develop and exercise professional judgment? How do practicing lawyers solve copyright problems? The course will put students in the role of practicing lawyers and teach them to think, write, and act as lawyers generally and especially as copyright lawyers.


At the end of the course:

Each student should be able to write an outline of no more than 1-2 pages of all of the basic principles and concepts of copyright law.

Each student should be able to use those basic principles and concepts to identify basic legal and factual issues in a new problem (that is, one that the student has not encountered before), and to write up a short, coherent outline of those issues and how they should be addressed in the form of different arguments.

Each student should be able to determine, briefly and in writing, which arguments are likely to be good and persuasive ones, and which arguments are likely to be poor and unpersuasive ones, and in each instance, why.

In short, each student should be able to DO copyright law in a basic and foundational way.


The goal of learning to DO copyright law in this course is accomplished in significant part through three hypothetical problems that each student will analyze and write up during the course of the semester.  By working on these problems each student will practice the skills they are trying to learn, and each student will practice in ways that track the basics of what legal professionals need to master in order to succeed:  working collaboratively and communicating effectively in writing.

These three writing assignments will, collectively, constitute all of the graded work for the course.  We will discuss each hypothetical problem in class before the work product analyzing the problem is submitted.  For more on the writing assignments, see below and the Writing Assignments page for this course.


[Omitted, for the Spring 2021 version of Copyright Law.]


Class will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:55 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. [previously announced as 9:00 a.m. to 10:20 a.m.].

We will meet online, rather than in a physical location in the Barco Law Building. There will be no face-to-face instruction.

The online venue for the class meetings will be the ZOOM videoconferencing service (

The online venue for office hours will be a server in Discord ( and the related app). 

Instructions for how to access the ZOOM space and the Discord server are below (in part) will be distributed to enrolled students via email and will be available via course pages in TWEN and in CANVAS.

Any student who wants to participate in Office Hours will need to have a Discord account. Students who aren’t already familiar with Discord (in my experience, many are) should set up an account, download the Discord app, and spend some time exploring it before the semester begins. Students who would like to meet one-to-one with me can make an appointment to do that separately.

Each class session will be conducted “synchronously,” that is, in live or real time.

Professor Madison’s side of each class session will be recorded by video, and the videos will be posted to YouTube. Links to the videos will be added to the course homepage.


The American Bar Association and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law require regular and punctual class attendance (see

The Law School’s formal attendance policy does not apply to this course. Students are expected to attend 100 percent of class meetings.

Attendance will be taken via the Top Hat app.  The attendance code for each class session is generated that day by Top Hat (i.e., a new code for each class) and will be posted in that day’s chat session on Zoom.

Students have plenty to be concerned with during the coronavirus pandemic before wondering about the consequences of possibly missing class. I will be flexible in administering the attendance policy. If you have concerns about that, please contact me.

The formal policy is less important than this:

Students are expected to arrive for class on time, which means *before the announced start time for the class.* Students are expected to read assignments in advance of the class meeting for which they are assigned. Students should be prepared to have something to say about the assigned material.

It’s best for all if students ask questions, full stop. And it’s best for all if students refer to specific points and ideas from the assigned materials when they do that.


To help ensure a productive online classroom environment for everyone, students should follow these guidelines when using the ZOOM service for this class:

  1. Health first. Log in and participate if you’re able. If you’re not, let me know privately and/or or get in touch with one of the deans at Pitt Law.
  2. Log in a little bit early if possible, before the official start time of the class, so that you’re ready to participate.
  3. Log in with a real name for your screen name: preferred first name, then preferred last name. On your Zoom image on your screen, clicking on the “three dots in the corner” settings icon should allow students to type in the preferred names.
  4. If possible, set up your computer in a space that’s quiet and free of distractions and interruptions. Mute or turn off music and other video sources. It’s not always possible to find a completely quiet place, so students should do their best, and we’ll all be a bit flexible.
  5. Camera on, if possible. Again, that’s not always possible (or desirable), so students should do their best.
  6. Microphone *off* by default. But know how to activate it when you want to or need to.
  7. Use a headset or earbuds if you can, rather that your computer’s speakers.
  8. In voice and in chat, be respectful of everyone else in the group.
  9. Class sessions may be recorded. Recordings will be posted to a private server for everyone in the class (but only everyone in the class) to review later.


If a class is cancelled for any reason, it will be made up via a newly-scheduled class session.  


If you, a friend, or a family member experiences illness or caregiving responsibilities that require that you take time away from this course, please tell me, and please contact the Dean of Students (Alexandra (Allie) Linsenmeyer; for assistance.


It is important that classroom conversations be respectful and accepting, and that every student bear part of the responsibility, along with me, for ensuring that the class environment is friendly and trusting.


This course, like all law school courses, is designed to be challenging. If there are aspects of this course that prevent you from learning or exclude you, please let me know as soon as possible. Together we’ll develop strategies to meet both your needs and the requirements of the course.

I encourage you to visit me in office hours or by appointment.

Pitt also has other support for you in this course: the Office of Disability Resources and Services, (, the Writing Center ( and the Counseling Center (, and the online mental health resource, ULifeline ( For campus financial and food and health assistance, please see this list of resources from Pitt Libraries (, and note that you can apply for emergency loans ( as well. If you need official accommodations, you have a right to have these met; please see the section below on “Students with Disabilities.” If you would like less formal means of support in this course, please get in touch with Professor Madison.


[The formality of the following comes from the University of Pittsburgh and Pitt Law.]

It is the policy and practice of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requirements regarding students and applicants with disabilities. Under these laws, no qualified individual with a disability shall be denied access to or participation in services, programs, and activities of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Students who require accommodations because of a physical, learning or other disability must be evaluated by the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Disability Resource Services (ODRS). The ODRS will document and verify the student’s status and make recommendations for appropriate accommodations to the Associate Dean of Students.

If a student has a disability for which the student is or may be requesting accommodation, that student should contact both the office of Pitt Law’s Dean of Students (Alexandra (Allie) Linsenmeyer; and the University Office of Disability Resources and Services (“DRS”), 216 William Pitt Union,, Phone 412-648-7890, Video Phone 412-228-5374, Fax 412-624-3346, as early as possible in the semester. DRS will verify the disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course. The Associate Dean of Students will oversee the implementation of accommodations.

Students should not discuss exam accommodations with professors. The Associate Dean of Students and the Registrar will insure that any testing accommodations are provided through the DRS.


As in all classes at Pitt Law, students enrolling in this course are expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s Student Code of Conduct, which may be accessed online here.  Students are expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s and the School of Law’s Guidelines on Academic Integrity, which are available at:


Office hours are on Monday afternoons in Professor Madison’s Discord server from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and at other times by appointment. For meetings outside of regular office hours, you should always make an appointment via e-mail at


All of the materials required for the course are available for free online via links included in the syllabus. There is no casebook to purchase. Certain required materials are available for review and/or download at the Copyright Law – Spring 2021 page at TWEN, on Westlaw.

Readings described as “Boyle & Jenkins” consist of chapters from the Open Intellectual Property Casebook produced by James Boyle & Jennifer Jenkins and described in great detail here.


There is a vast secondary literature on copyright law. Here are five of the best sources:

  • Benjamin Kaplan, An Unhurried View of Copyright (originally published in 1967) (a readable and still relevant overview of copyright history and policy)
  • Marshall Leaffer, Understanding Copyright Law (7th ed. 2019) (an excellent one-volume summary of copyright doctrine)
  • Melville B. Nimmer & David Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright (the authoritative multi-volume treatise) (available on the Law Library shelves and via LexisNexis)
  • William F. Patry, Patry on Copyright (also an authoritative multi-volume treatise) (available on the Law Library shelves and via Westlaw)
  • The Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices (2021)

In recent years, legal scholars have published several excellent books on the law and policy of copyright.  Try:

Copyright scholars get creative, in productive ways.  One especially interesting and provocative illustration (pun intended) is this graphic novel about copyright itself, produced by a trio of distinguished scholars of law and culture:


Any slides used in class will be posted afterward on the course homepage.


The grade for this course will be based on three short open writing assignments. The first two assignments will each be worth 30% of the final grade. The final assignment will be worth 40% of the final grade. The substance and format of the assignments, their timing, and their due dates will be discussed in class as the semester progresses.


The due dates for the required writing assignments are listed at the Course Homepage / Reading and Class Assignments as part of the list of assignments and readings.

For clarity, the dates are:

  • Assignment 1:  Friday, February 26, 2021, at 3 pm.
  • Assignment 2:  Friday, April 2, 2021, at 3 pm. [CHANGED TO MONDAY, APRIL 5]
  • Assignment 3:  Last day of exams (May 6, 2021), at 12 noon.

The official course policy on due dates is this: There will be no extensions or exceptions to assignment deadlines. Do not be late with the assignments.

The pandemic addendum on due dates is this : Traditionally, I’m pretty strict about deadlines. This year, I’ll be accommodating for students who, for one good faith reason or another, may struggle with that policy. It’s more important that students succeed than that they get the work in precisely on time. That said, flexibility has to have some limits. The assignments in this class move along at a steady clip, and it’s important for practical reasons – my grading and commenting on the memos as a batch, most of all – that the memos for each assignment be turned in essentially at the same time. Any student who expects to encounter a problem with a given due date should contact me directly as soon as that circumstance develops.


Each writing assignment will be based on a written problem distributed via the course website, at the Writing Assignments page. There will be an opportunity to discuss the problem in class and ask questions about it after it is distributed. Each problem will be based on the readings and classroom discussions. The problems are designed so that they can be completed without independent research, but these will be open problems. There are no limits on the resources that students may bring to bear on their work.

Student work product must be typed or printed using a computer.

Each assignment has length and format limitations.

  • For assignments calling for legal memoranda, and unless students are instructed otherwise, each memorandum must be not longer than four [4] typewritten or printed pages, double-spaced, with 1″ minimum margins on all sides. No footnotes are permitted. The twelve [12] point proportional-width font known as Times New Roman must be used. Condensing or expanding the font is unacceptable.  
  • For assignments calling for email summaries, and unless students are instructed otherwise, each email prepared as student work product must be not longer than two [2] typewritten or printed pages, single-spaced, with 1″ minimum margins on all sides. No footnotes are permitted. The twelve [12] point proportional-width font known as Times New Roman must be used. Condensing or expanding the font is unacceptable.
  • For assignments calling for PowerPoint [or equivalent] slide decks, and unless students are instructed otherwise, each slide deck prepared as student work product must be not longer than 15 separate slides. Any font and font size may be used. No footnotes or slide notes are permitted. No images, animations, media files, or graphical or colored backgrounds or formats may be used.
  • Students and only students are responsible for ensuring that their computer system/software platform generates work product that complies with these length and format limitations.

Work product will be graded based on form, format, and writing quality as well as on content. The problems are designed so as not to have any single correct or even best solution. Each problem will present a range of issues that the student work should identify, analyze, and solve in a creative way.

As is customary for courses that are graded on the basis of students’ out of class work product rather than on the basis of final exams, the assignments will not be graded anonymously. Students should include their own names on the first page of their work product.

Work product should be turned in electronically, via the “Assignment Drop Box” at the Copyright Law – Spring 2021 page at TWEN, on Westlaw. Each assignment must be turned in no later than 3 pm on the day(s) that it is due or at such other date and time as may be directed in the instructions for a particular assignment.

If students experience difficulty delivering the assignment via TWEN, then they may send a copy via email to Professor Madison no later than the date-and-time deadline for the assignment in question.

Student work product that does not conform to the format instructions above, or that is turned in late, is subject to grade reduction. In extreme cases, they may be disregarded.

Do not fail to follow the format requirements.

Sample questions are available via the Writing Assignments page.


Because the writing assignments are open, student collaboration and consultation is permitted, even encouraged. You may talk with other students in this class about the assignments and about your work; you may talk with others, not currently enrolled in the class.

Collaboration and teamwork are the essence of professional life. Why not learn how to do it effectively in law school?

I don’t require collaboration. Simply permitting it is rarely effective; students are so used to working solo (and are required to work solo in most law school classes) that they often don’t know how to get out of that habit.

To start to change that habit, as an experiment, this year (2020-2021) I am trying something new: a carrot.

If you collaborate on your work with one or more others, then you have the option of writing and submitting a short memo (not to exceed 1 page, double-spaced), one per assignment (meaning up to three, in total, over the course of the semester), that reflects on and assesses your collaboration experience.

Each memo should address:

  • What did you find easy about collaborating?
  • What did you find difficult about collaborating?
  • What did you feel that you learned about yourself, as a result of the collaboration?
  • What do you feel that you still have to learn about yourself, as a result of the collaboration?

The reflection memos will not be graded in themselves. At the end of the semester, students who turn in one or more reflection memos will be eligible to have their final grades raised by one-half grade, if the depth and quality of the reflections warrant an increase.


Writing assignments have been included in Professor Madison’s Copyright Law and Trademark Law courses for more than 15 years, for two reasons. First, the best way to learn something is to practice it, rather than to memorize it.  “Doing” Trademark Law is much more effective professional preparation than “studying” Trademark Law. Second, writing is a practical skill that every lawyer needs to master. All beginning lawyers need as much writing practice as they can get.


Substantive questions about trademark law are welcome via email, at In general, questions will be answered during class, rather than via email, so that the entire class gets the benefit of the exchange.