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. Review “Course News and Updates” at the course website for additional information and updated assignments.

Course Objectives

The official course description is this:

Copyright law deals with legal protection for certain kinds of human “creativity,” including creativity expressed in books, music, and computer code. The Copyright Law course will describe the role that copyright law plays – together with other intellectual property law, other non-IP law, and other non-legal institutions – in positioning that creativity as part of a knowledge ecology and the knowledge economy. For authors and publishers, how does copyright law help them make money based on their creative output? For readers and consumers (and next-generation authors), how does copyright law preserve the power to access and use knowledge? And for law students, how do lawyers participate in doing both things, by representing and counseling clients?

The course will describe the constitutional and statutory atrributes of copyright law; the rights and remedies that copyright law provides for authors and publishers; constitutional and statutory protection that copyright law provides for the public; and the intersection of American copyright law with other intellectual property law, with state law, and with international law.  Students are expected to master the substantive law of copyright, but that mastery is only a preliminary step. The major goal of the course is to teach students how to use the law to advance their clients’ interests in creative products. The course does that by requiring students repeatedly to use their professional judgment in a counseling context.

A fuller description of the goals of the course is this. In Copyright Law, students will:

  • Learn some 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.
  • Learn many of the theories and policies that underlie copyright law, and many of the practical consequences and questions that face copyright lawyers and their clients. The nuts and bolts cover a landscape that is broader than a single semester can cover, and they change all the time. Much of the classroom discussion is oriented to theory and policy and to consequences and questions. The theory and policy, and the consequences and questions, are more conceptually complex, help integrate the different areas of the law, are (paradoxically) more durable than many of the so-called “black letter” rules, 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. 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 and be able to use 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. 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.

Classroom Computer and Wireless Policy

Students are not permitted to use laptop computers, iPads, or equivalent devices (such as tablets, Kindles, smartphones, Blackberries, Androids, and/or iPhones, etc.) in the classroom. For any purpose. Mobile phones and other mobile telecommunications devices — anything with an on/off switch — should be switched off during class. If a student device rings, beeps, or buzzes in class, then that student will be expected to bring treats for the entire class during the following class session. If a student answers a device in class, or leaves the classroom to answer the device, then the device may be confiscated by me and returned to the student by the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

Class Meeting Time and Place

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

Attendance and preparation

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, I will circulate an attendance sheet. It is each student’s responsibility to ensure that he/she has signed the attendance sheet before leaving class. Under the attendance policy, if you do not sign the attendance sheet before leaving class, you will be marked absent even if you were actually present in class.”

Students are expected to arrive for class on time. If a student arrives late, I may exclude that student from the classroom and/or mark that student “absent” from that day’s class session.

Students should NOT leave the room during class except for emergencies.

Students are expected to read assignments in advance of the class meeting for which they are assigned.

Academic Integrity

As in all classes, 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 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 you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting accommodation, you 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, (412) 648-7890/(412) 383-7355 (TTY), as early as possible in the semester. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course. The Associate Dean of Students will oversee the implementation of accommodations.

Contacting Prof. Madison

My office hours are on Monday afternoons from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and at other times by appointment. My office is Room 311. Students should make an appointment via e-mail at or

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 2017 page at TWEN, on Westlaw.

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 (2014)

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 the Course News and Updates page.


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

Memorandum Due Dates

The first memo is due on Friday, February 17, 2017.

The second memo is due on Friday, April 7, 2017.

The third memo is due on the last day of final exams, which is Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

Each assignment will be published approximately 2 weeks before the corresponding memorandum due date.

Memorandum Requirements

Each memorandum will be based on a written problem distributed via the course website, here. 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.

Memoranda must be typed or printed using a computer. 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. Twelve [12] point proportional-width font (such as Times New Roman) must be used. Condensing or expanding the font is unacceptable.

Memoranda 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 memorandum 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, memoranda will not be graded anonymously. Students should include their own names on the first page of their memoranda.

Memos and assignments should be turned in electronically, via the “Assignment & Quiz Drop Box” at the Copyright – Spring 2017 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 you have difficulty delivering the assignment electronically, then you may turn in a hard copy, 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 secretary, in Room 514.

There will be no extensions or exceptions to memo deadlines.

Memoranda that do not conform to the format instructions above, or that are turned in late, are subject to grade reductions. In extreme cases, I may disregard them.

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

For students who want to know more about the writing assignments for this course, this is a link to the memo assignments from Spring 2010. That link includes links to the best memos written in response to the first assignment from that version of the course.

Syllabus Updates and Recent Developments

Course announcements will be posted online from time to time under “Course News and Updates.” That page has an RSS feed, so that students can follow it in a reader or otherwise without having to check an email in-box.

Email policy

I am happy to receive substantive questions about copyright law at my email address. In general, my practice is to respond to these questions during class, rather than via email, so that the entire class gets the benefit of the exchange.