About the course
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, though 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.

Course objectives
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.

The following provides a fuller description of the goals of the course. In the language of modern teaching, these are learning outcomes. In Copyright Law, students will:

  • Learn the fundamental nuts and bolts of American copyright doctrine, including how copyright fits into related schemes in international law and in patent and trademark law. Much of the reading is oriented to nuts and bolts questions. Students are expected to master much of the basics of this material on their own. Via classroom discussion and the required writing assignments, students will explore the justifications for the law and will extend and apply the nuts and bolts into newer and unclear contexts.
  • Learn many of the theories and policies that underlie copyright law, and many of the practical consequences and questions that copyright lawyers and their clients face. Much of the classroom discussion will be oriented to theory and policy and to consequences and questions. The nuts and bolts of copyright law cover a landscape that is broader than a single semester can cover, and the nuts and bolts change all the time. Therefore, we focus only partly on nuts and bolts. By contrast, copyright theory and policy, and copyright consequences and questions, are more conceptually complex, help integrate the different areas of the law, are (paradoxically) more durable, and for all of those reasons are more important. Students are expected to come to class prepared to engage in discussions that relate nuts and bolts to theory and policy and then to consequences.
  • Build on prior experience in the law. It is expected that students will recall and be able to apply the fundamental doctrines and policies of contract law, property law, and tort law.
  • Understand law and policy in the context of being a lawyer, that is, in the context of representing clients. Simply knowing law and policy for oneself is not enough. Lawyers (and therefore law students) must be able to situate their knowledge in the context of others’ problems. I will rarely ask students to give me the correct answer to a legal question. I will frequently ask students to exercise their judgment in counseling others and advocating on their behalf.
  • Write. This is a course in advanced legal writing as well as course in the substance of the law.  The basics of the law are learned best when students use the law.  In this class, that means writing. Students should expect to have their writing scrutinized and critiqued at the level of the word and the sentence, at the level of the concept and the structure of the argument, and at the level of substantive legal analysis. This course does not include a final exam. It does include a lot of intensive legal writing.

Let’s put that more directly
“Copyright Law” is about the production, distribution, access to, and use of creative and expressive “works,” which include everything from books to music to film to computer programs. A lot of copyright law has to do with artists and other creators protect their work and build markets and careers, but a lot of copyright law also has to do with how artists and creators and everyone else — whether or not they identify themselves as “creative” — access and use creative content. A lot of copyright law has to do with how businesses and other organizations and groups organize themselves. A lot of it has to do with fair and unfair competition among businesses in a market economy, about citizen and consumer interests, and about ethical and unethical conduct. For reasons that should be obvious even to the beginning student, a lot of it has to do with individual and collective speech and expression.

What does copyright law (and some related bodies of law, such as trademark law, patent law, Constitutional law, and tort law, among other things) have to say about each of those things? More important, what do lawyers, clients, and judges do with the law, to make arguments, draw legally-binding conclusions, resolve disputes, and plan their affairs?

The required reading for the course consists primarily of cases and some statutes, primarily the federal Copyright Act. Each of these things, and the collection of them, constitutes “copyright law” in the US. Although there is no “casebook” for this course, the combination of cases and statutes and some secondary materials serves, on the whole, serves as something of a casebook equivalent.

Despite the more or less conventional organization of the course, for each student, the goal is not to memorize copyright law in all of its details. To repeat: The goal is not to memorize the details of the law.

Instead, each student’s first goal is to figure out and to be able to state – aloud, and in writing – the core, basic principles of copyright law. Students (and lawyers) usually can look up the rules and their details, and the Leaffer hornbook that is recommended is a pretty good compendium of the rules.

Each student’s second goal is to be able to recognize that some problem – some conflict between people or organizations, or some negotiation possibly leading to a deal – poses one or more legal issues that those basic principles address.

Each student’s third goal is to be able to use those principles to make arguments and counter-arguments that help a client, or a judge, resolve that conflict or complete that negotiation.

At the end of the course, goals for students are the following:

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

The goal of learning how 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 he or she is trying to learn, and each student will practice them by practicing some the skills that 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.

Classroom computer and wireless policy
Students are not permitted to use laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, or equivalent devices (such as Kindles, iPhones, Chromebooks, etc.) in the classroom.  Student use of anything with a screen, microphone, speaker, camera, battery and/or an on/off switch (even older devices, such as cassette players/recorders and cellular phones) is prohibited.

The ban applies regardless of the possible use(s) of the device.

Any and all devices should be switched off during class and /or safely stowed in bags, backpacks, or briefcases, where students cannot and do not access them or look at them during class.

If a student device rings, beeps, buzzes, or otherwise “goes off” in class, then that student will be expected to bring treats for the entire class during the following class session.

If a student uses a device in class (answers a call or message, checks a status update, records anything or anyone, or looks up a resource), then the device may be confiscated and returned to the student by the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs or Vice Dean.

If the student leaves the classroom to answer the device, then I may exclude the student from the classroom.  He/she will be marked absent for that day and will not be permitted to return to class until the next class session begins.

Class meeting time and place
Class will meet Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. in Room G12 of the Barco Law Building. The room location is subject to change. Check the boards on the Second Floor for the most up-to-date information.

Class cancellations and makeups
If a class is cancelled for any reason, it will be made up via a newly-scheduled class session. All makeup classes will be recorded, and the recordings will be made available on the TWEN page for the course.  Because conflicts between makeup classes, other classes, and other personal commitments are inevitable and unavoidable, attendance sheets will not be circulated for makeup classes, and missing a makeup class will not be counted with respect to Pitt Law’s class attendance policy.

Attendance and preparation
Students are expected to read assignments in advance of the class meeting for which they are assigned. If a student is not prepared to discuss materials assigned for class, that student may be excluded from the classroom and/or marked “absent” from that day’s class session.

The Law School’s attendance policy applies to this course, meaning that students must attend at least 80 percent of class meetings in order to receive course credit.  At the suggestion of the office of the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the following policy applies to this course:

The American Bar Association and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law require regular and punctual class attendance (see At the beginning of class, as required by the Dean’s Office, an attendance sheet will be circulated. It is each student’s responsibility to ensure that he/she has signed the attendance sheet before leaving class. Under the attendance policy, if a student does not sign the attendance sheet before leaving class, that student will be marked absent even if the student was actually present in class.

Students are expected to arrive for class on time, which means *before the announced start time for the class.* If a student arrives late (that is, after the announced start time), that student may be excluded from the classroom and/or marked “absent” from that day’s class session.

Students should not leave the classroom during class except for true emergencies. If a student leaves the classroom during class other than for a true emergency, then that student may be excluded from the classroom.  He/she will be marked absent for that day and will be permitted to return to class during the next class session.

In short:  Students should be prepared, arrive on time, stay in the classroom during class, and engage in the conversation.  

Academic integrity
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 also are expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s and the School of Law’s Guidelines on Academic Integrity which are available at and, respectively.

Students with disabilities
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, Kevin Deasy.

If a student has a disability for which the student is or may be requesting accommodation, that student should contact both the office of the Associate Dean of Students in the Law School (Dean Kevin Deasy; 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.

Contacting Prof. Madison
Office hours (in Room 311) are on Monday afternoons from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and at other times by appointment. Students should always make an appointment via e-mail at

Required course materials
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 2019 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.

Optional Course Materials
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 1967) (a readable and still relevant overview of copyright history and policy)
  • Marshall Leaffer, Understanding Copyright Law (6th ed. 2014) (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 (2017)

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 comic about copyright itself, produced by a trio of distinguished scholars of law and culture:

Slides used in class will be posted afterward on this page or on the course homepage (as part of the online syllabus) or both.

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.

Writing assignment due dates
The due dates for the required writing assignments are listed at the Course Homepage (link above) as part of the list of assignments and readings.  For clarity, the dates are:

  • Assignment 1:  Friday, February 15, 2019
  • Assignment 2:  Friday, April 5, 2019
  • Assignment 3:  Last day of exams (Tuesday, May 7, 2019)

Writing assignment requirements
Each writing assignment will be based on a written problem distributed via the course website, at the “Writing Assignments” link (above) at the top of this 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 I tell students 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 I tell students 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 I tell students 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.

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 & Quiz Drop Box” at the Copyright – Spring 2019 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 electronically, then a hard copy may be turned in, no later than 3 pm on the due date or otherwise as directed in the instructions for a particular assignment, or either to the Registrar’s window or to Professor Madison’s assistant, in Room 313.

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.

There will be no extensions or exceptions to assignment deadlines.

Do not be late with the assignments. Do not fail to follow the format requirements.

Sample questions are available via the “Writing Assignments” link, above.

Why include writing assignments
Writing assignments have been included in Copyright Law and Trademark Law for more than a decade, for two reasons. First, the best way to learn something is to practice it, rather than to memorize it.  Doing “Copyright Law” is much more effective than “studying” Copyright 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.

Email policy
Substantive questions about copyright 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.