The Future of Copyright: Teaching

IP law seems to be moving so quickly these days that figuring out how to teach it and what to teach is ever more challenging.  This month (December), I’m grading final Fall papers and preparing for Spring courses, and that means deciding — again — what to do with Copyright Law.

Last year a student comment made me pause in a way that student comments rarely do. Reviewing last Spring’s Copyright Law course, the student expressed satisfaction with the course as it was but disappointment that my work on knowledge commons had not been expressed in the course — even indirectly.

That comment motivated me to look under the hood of the course in a way that I had not done in a long time.

Changes in the works:

  • Reducing the coverage of the “traditional” principles and doctrines of copyright, focused on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner and limitations and exceptions thereto.
  • Expanding the coverage of problems associated with secondary liability and service provider liability.
  • Expanding discussion of “regulatory” copyright, meaning compulsory and statutory licenses and collecting societies.
  • Introducing discussion of comprehensive copyright reform. Congress is talking about it, the Copyright Office is talking about it, the American Law Institute is talking about it — so I’ll talk about it with our students.

All in all, the revisions are designed to capture more explicitly an “institutionalist” focus on this area of the law, meaning how the law interacts with formal and informal groups of various sorts, not just with individual authors or copyright owners or copyright users and re-users. That’s closely aligned with the theme of the knowledge commons work, even if “commons” stuff as such will make a cameo appearance at best.

Along the way, I am getting rid of the traditional casebook.  I’m in the middle of editing a package of cases, and for secondary material and context I will be using parts of the excellent Open Intellectual Property Casebook from the Duke Center on the Public Domain, via Jamie Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins, plus some stuff of my own devising.

And … because software copyright is much in the news these days, courtesy of Oracle and Cisco Systems, my writing assignments for the students (no exams in my IP courses – only client memos!) will all focus on that subject.

All in all, there is a fair amount of experimentation ahead.

 

Innovating Legal Education

A year ago, in late August 2013, I posted a brief bit about my hopes for the coming year from the standpoint of innovation in legal education.  (Here is the link.)  By design, I was somewhat melodramatic and apocalyptic about what needed to be done substantively, and (perhaps) not forthcoming enough, and too procedural, about what I was expecting at my own law school, having been charged with chairing a local task force on what should be done there.

I did promise an update regarding what the task force did.  So here I am again.

There is, unfortunately, not a lot of news that I can report.  Our task force worked hard over the last academic year, harder than many faculty committees in my experience, talking not only with faculty colleagues but also with current students, alumni, the law school’s staff, members of the bench and bar, and folks in legal tech and legal services industries.  We did what I suspect is being done at many other law schools:  We researched what’s happening at other law schools, in other countries, and in other genres of professional and undergraduate education.  We studied opportunities at our university and elsewhere in our region.  We assembled a long and pretty comprehensive report — not a strategic plan by name, but a strategic plan in many other respects — and delivered it to the Dean and the faculty.  It’s not ambitious enough by some measures and too ambitious by many others.  I wish that I should share it here, but it’s not my report to share.  We will see, as the coming year(s) unfold, whether and how our recommendations are adopted.  The task force was aware of the work of the ABA in the accreditation area, and some of our recommendations anticipated the recently-announced changes regarding experiential education and student learning outcomes.  So, at minimum, there will be developments on those fronts.

The general question is still on the table, only very incompletely answered:  Amid changes in the legal profession, changes in what’s now called the legal services industry, emergence and evolution of a multi-faceted legal tech industry, and concern among law school faculty, graduates, students, and prospective students regarding the adequacy, appropriateness, and affordability of legal education — what can and should any particular law school do?  What can and should any particular faculty member do?

If there are lessons here, they are reminders that change is hard, at a collective or institutional level, and change in academic institutions is especially hard.  It’s hard even if a group of committed faculty members want to see change, see an urgent need for change, and lay on the table a broad range of specific things to change.  Change in legal education can’t really be understood or approached without thinking carefully (and at the same time, creatively) about change in undergraduate education, and other professional education — domains that taught our task force a lot of good things — as well as change in the worlds of professional services.

My experience last year did motivate me  to move more aggressively in my own courses to make some changes that I had been thinking about for some time.  Small changes, to be sure, but first steps and all that.  This Fall, I’m teaching Contracts (resuming a course that I taught for years but gave up back in 2007) and Trademark Law.  I will not require that students purchase a casebook; the primary readings will be free for downloading (and printing, and editing, annotating, etc.).  There will be substantial amounts of graded writing during the semester (something that I’ve been doing for a while in my upper-level courses) and relatively little emphasis on end-of-semester final exams.  There will be an increased emphasis on mandatory group work.  I will continue my existing practice in upper-level courses of banning student electronics in the classroom, but I’ll extend that to my first-year class.  I’ve been talking with our career services staff about how to make explicit, for the benefit of current students, connections between how and what I teach and the skills and knowledge that our students need to have in order to succeed in the profession.  I’ve been spreading the word among my former students — our alumni — about these modest changes and about hopes for more, and where appropriate incorporating their feedback into my methods.  There is more on my plate than that, but for now, at least with respect to what goes on in my classrooms, that’s enough.

Perhaps in a year’s time, I’ll have more news.  Good luck to everyone on the start of the new academic year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Missing the Market, Aspen?

Professors are in an uproar over Aspen Publisher’s new rules for textbooks. In short, if you thought you could buy a book and do what you wanted after that (i.e. sell it used), Aspen wants to change that system. Instead of a true, unbundled digital option, it has a system where students buy both a physical textbook and a “lifetime” digital book. Too bad as there is a market opportunity that they might be missing. On the legal doctrine front, Josh Blackman called it out. James Grimmelmann jumped on the bashing. Rebecca Tushnet has poked at the offer too. But where is the market here? Is there a way Aspen could make this shift work well? If so, would authors (i.e., professors with deals with Aspen) like it? And why not use dollars to tell Aspen what to do? Assign a different casebook from a competitor (FYI there is a free one out there, see below). There are some specific issues that illustrate sme of the problems in this space.

First, what about time and artificial editions? Rebecca nails this point by calling out that some areas of law (e.g., IP) change so fast that new editions and coverage issues make staying up with casebooks a problem. In those areas, does first sale do much work? Maybe it does much work in the few years between editions. But after that, the text is somewhat obsolete. Dusting of an IP text in digital or hardcopy from the 1990s would be dangerous except for fundamentals (and maybe even for those). Still, there are now seven editions for the Dukeminier casebook. Are the updates every four or so years needed? Even in other areas, are authors updating to add value or to create a new text that undercuts the used market? Do publishers lean on authors to issue new editions when there is not much to say as a market window or version control? If so, the publisher is setting up the demand for secondary or alternate markets that cut out the publisher.

So is this system functioning? As I noted before, the OpenStax system offers high quality texts for free and in a modular way. That means sections are updated for free and folks can assemble material as they wish. Law does not have that yet. The folks at Semaphore Press are close however. That press happens to publish a property text by Steve Semeraro (disclosure I am friends with the folks at Semaphore and introduced them to Steve). It is not quite OpenStax, but it is an interesting model with a shareware feel.

Second, what about the cost to write and update a text? I know it takes tons of time. Whether RA’s do some work or it is all by the professors, the time to write a good casebook is real. I am grateful for the good books. A great teacher’s manual is also a huge help. For new teachers and even experienced, a rich manual provides insights about how the author(s) teach the material and where they see the comments to be headed. One can then choose to follow that lead or modify. But is the price point for texts (as many noted often close to $200) sustainable? Would the market collapse if the cost dropped to low or no charge? OpenStax indicates that the system could shift, and a small crowd of experts would be able to offer an excellent, up-to-date text. And as Pam Samuelson and many others have noted, scholarly works pay off in reputation. So having the most assigned text (or specific chapter on a subject) may stimulate just enough competition for reputation to get great texts (or chapters) but not a glut of roughly the same material from many high-priced publishers.

Third, what about that market opportunity? Would a publisher that offered A) a true digital copy for $40, $50, or even a $100 take share from others? B) What if the publisher said rent the hard copy for a reduced price (again it should be low)? Some might hate that idea as a matter of doctrine but that market is emerging on Amazon and at least lets the student know what is going on (though I think a rental model poses some issues for libraries in that no one should say that libraries should just be rental depots that is another debate for another time).

So Apsen, if you’d like to survive I am betting your authors would like that too. But I am also betting they want to work with you to offer much better solutions than the ones you have right now. The life time digital edition and the high price insult the authors and the marketplace. I think others will find ways to route around you. But you could take your current position and parlay it for the future. If not, I think you may have pushed the law text market to Semaphore or OpenStax. Hmm, maybe Aspen should stay with its model after all.

How Is Privacy Not a Class at all Law Schools?

Privacy law does not exist, but it should be taught at every law school. There is no one law of privacy. That is why I love teaching Information Privacy (Solove and Schwartz (Aspen) is the text I use). The class requires students to reengage with and apply torts, Constitutional law (First and Fourth Amendment at least), and statutory interpretation. It also lends itself to learning about sectoral approaches to regulation in health, finance, commerce, and education. Given that the idea and problems of privacy are everywhere, there are jobs in them thar hills. Yet, schools often see the course as a luxury or somehow part of IP. That is a mistake.

Schools should not pander to skills and job training demands, but sensitivity to areas of practice that have large needs is not pandering. Much of the skills, ready-to-practice rot comes from a small segment of the legal practice (i.e., big firms with huge profits who are not willing to pay for training their employees). That said, law schools tend to use the same playbook. For example, the rarified world of public corporation law is a standard part of business associations course materials. Yet according to the Economist, the number of public companies peaked at around 7,888 in 1997. Of course folks will say “Don’t teach to the bar.” Amen brothers and sisters, but why teach for a tiny portion of students in a core course? To be clear, I love teaching business associations and think it is useful, because agency and limited liability forms are so important. They are important, because being able to compare and contrast the forms for a client makes the attorney worth her pay. Grasping the beauty and nuances of the system unlocks the ability to be a true counselor. There are many, many businesses that are not, and may never become, public and that could benefit from having an attorney set up their project from the start. Privacy is similar. It reaches across many aspects of our lives and businesses.

Privacy issues come up in such a large range of practice that the course can allow one to address doctrinal mastery while also moving students beyond the silo approach of first year law. Seeing how property and trespass ideals reappear in criminal procedure, how assumption of risk permeates issues, and so on, shows students that the theories behind the law work in not so mysterious, but perhaps unstated ways. The arguments and counter-arguments come faster once you know the core idea at stake. That is the think-like-a-lawyer approach working well. It does not hurt that along the way students pick up knowledge of an area such as HIPPA or criminal procedure and technology that will make them a little more comfortable telling an employer or future client “Yes, I know that area and here’s how I’d approach it.”

Does Apple Reject That Education Has To Train Skills?

Apple’s Your Verse ad campaign poses an odd and maybe cynical offer to us. Don’t pay attention to the call of law, business, or medicine. Be a poet. Be a creator. Contribute your verse. What are we on American Idol? Or as Monty Python put it maybe all we want to do is sing. Apple panders to the look at me right now world. The film is about free thinkers. Maybe that is the same as being a poet. And as Kevin J.H Dettmar argues at The Atlantic, the film is “a terrible defense of the humanities.” He points out that the film celebrates enthusiasm over any critical thought” “Keating doesn’t finally give his students anything in its place besides a kind of vague enthusiasm.”

Having gone to a prep school, I am less upset by the film than Dettmar. But then I may project my experience onto the film’s gaps. Even before prep school I went to a grade school where the boring “Latin—Agricolam, Agricola, Agricolae, Agricolarum, Agricolis, Agricolas, Agrilcolis” was part of the curriculum in eighth grade. That teacher happened to have done his own translation of Caesar’s Road to Gaul. He’d re-enact charges of legions and evoke swords. In high school we had many inspiring teachers. They kicked our butts for fake enthusiasm. Larry McMillin once asked me a question about Shaw’s Man and Superman. I came up with some ramble. He said “That’s not Shaw. That’s just Desai,” in his Southern gentlemen’s voice that somehow had scorn yet support. Support. For what? He called me out but made me see that I could do more. How?

Rigor. To the waste bin with brownie points for showing up. Be gone empty claims of it’s good, because I said it. Learn the fundamentals. Master the material. As Phillipe Nonet said to my class in college when someone started a sentence with “I think”, “That you think it, does not matter. It matters what it says.”

It turns out that free thinking is much more difficult than Keating realizes. The rigor of learning the fundamentals allows us to be liberated. Liberal arts are about freedom and how we are unmoored from habit. But knowing the foundations is how you might see where they may not operate anymore. So sure contribute your verse. But if you want it to be a good one, let alone a great one, let alone one that might allow you to eat, put in the work. Grab everything you can from college and post-graduate schools. Contrary to recent pushes from big law (note that with 30-505 margins the big firms can absorb training costs), law schools training people to think in sharp and critical ways are providing an education that connects to the law and much more. But that requires diligence, drudgery, and didactic moments. Those happen to turn into gifts of knowledge, skill, and the ability to learn on your own. At that point, your verse might be worth something.