Is everyone on this campus a copyright criminal?

Draft syllabus

Cory Doctorow,


Computers present a myriad of possibilities for your average totalitarian megalomaniac, whether he be a despotic ruler, a corporate overlord, or merely in charge of the local IT department.

Computers attained ubiquity because they were flexible tools that even moderately skilled users could modify to suit their needs, fit them to their own hands. This flexibility fostered an incredible Cambrian explosion of sub-tools: programs, services, even culture and art-forms built around the idea of configuring the world. The new freedoms offered by computers beggared even the most starry-eyed Utopian: not only could a smart tinkerer whip up a tool that did just what she needed, she could instantaneously share it with the whole world in seconds at practically no cost. Entire new modes of industrial production -- what Yochai Benkler calls "commons-based peer-production" (open source, free software, collaborative art and media, etc) -- sprang up.

Every garden has a snake: computers aren't just tools for empowering their owners. They're also tools for stripping users of agency, for controlling us individually and en masse.

It starts with "Digital Rights Management" -- the anti-copying measures that computers employ to frustrate their owners desires. These technologies literally attack their owners, treating them as menaces to be thwarted through force majeure, deceit, and cunning. Incredibly, DRM gets special protection under the law, a blanket prohibition on breaking DRM or helping others to do so, even if you have the right to access the work the DRM is walling off.

But DRM's just the tip of the iceberg. Every digital act includes an act of copying, and that means that copyright governs every relationship in the digital realm. Take a conversation to email and it's not just culture, it's copyright -- every volley is bound by the rules set out to govern the interactions between large publishing entities.

Playing a song for a buddy with your stereo is lawful. Stream that song to your buddy's PC and you could be facing expulsion and criminal prosecution.

Every interaction on the Web is now larded over with "agreements" -- terms of service, acceptable use policies, licenses -- that no one reads or negotiates. These non-negotiable terms strip you of your rights the minute you click your mouse. Transactions that would be a traditional purchase in meatspace are complex "license agreements" in cyberspace. As mere licensors, we are as feudal serfs to a lord -- ownership is conferred only on those who are lucky enough to be setting the terms. Our real property interests are secondary to their "intellectual property" claims.

When the computer, the network, publishing platforms, and property can all be magicked away with the Intellectual Property wand, we're all of us pwned, 0wnz0red, punkd. Our tools are turned against us, the law is tipped away from our favor.


Attendance and Participation (10%): Overall attendance and participation in class discussion will be accounted for in the final grade.

Research Project (30%): Students will choose an area from the seminar and conduct an exhaustive review of key literature, presenting a comprehensive overview of the key texts, debates, and issues of controversy. Topics will need to be approved by the course instructor and students will be encouraged to utilize new media and technologies to present their research in alternative formats and in a public forum.

Weekly Assignments (60%): Students will be responsible for a semester-long project which analyzes the history, use, and trajectory of property and ownership in the digital era.They will trace and contextualize that technology by completing weekly assignments which track its use and development.




An overview of the course's themes, objectives and assignments.


Security basics:

Lecture, discussions and readings on the basics of information security, from Augustus Caesar to Alan Turing; from the crypto wars to the DRM wars.

Bruce Schneier, Everybody Wants to Own Your PC

-, The Futility of Digital Copy Prevention

-, Protecting Copyright in the Digital World

Peter Biddle et al, The Darknet and the Future of Content Protection

Cory Doctorow, Microsoft DRM speech

Cory Doctorow, HP DRM speech


Reverse engineering:

The legitimate case for reverse engineering in the academy and industry from a UCSD engineering prof whose award-winning work focuses on the use of reverse engineering in pedagogy and as a tool of social analysis.

Bunnie Huang, Hacking the X-Box: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering
No Starch Press, 2003 (1593270291)
Chapters: Readme.1st, Reverse Engineering Xbox Security, Caveat Hacker

Ed Felten, Alex Halderman, Freedom to Tinker (blog)

Feral Robotic Dogs (website)


Use restriction: Stories of DRM breaks, from DVD-Jon and the DeCSS break against DVD players to Microsoft's Palladium and Seth Schoen's Owner Override proposal to restore control of "trusted" PCs to their owners.

Mark Stefik, Trusted Systems (article)


Present day DRMs:

HDCP, AACS, Blu-Ray, DVD-HD, CPRM, Fair Play and beyond.

Seth Schoen, Owner Override paper

Seth Schoen, report from WinHeck

Halderman and Felten, Lessons from the Sony CD DRM Episode

Project DReaM -- An Architectural Overview


Catchup and presentations of original research

Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture
Read chapters 1-5:

Siva Vaidhyanathan, Anarchist in the Library
Basic Books, 2005, 0465089852
Read chapters 2, 4, 6 ,7 and 10


History of copyright: The history of copyright and its industrial applications. Critical readings stress the dynamic tension between copyright and technology and the way that they have co-evolved. Class discussion will talk about the role of anti-Japanese sentiment during the VCR wars in setting Zaibatsu lobbying strategy in the US.

Tim Wu, Copyright's Communications Policy

Pam Samuelson, Towards More Sensible Anti-Circumvention Regulations

Copyright and new business models
Internet-era businesses sometimes thrive in the face of copying. Readings include works on effective Internet-era business-models.
John Buckman, Magnatunes Manifesto

Neil Leyton, FadingWays manifesto

Cory Doctorow, Introduction to electronic edition of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town


Copyright and new business models (cont'd)

Tim O'Reilly, Piracy is Progressive Taxation

Debian social contract

Neil Stephenson, In the Beginning...Was the Command Line

Tim Wu, Copyright's Authorship Policy

Long Tail readings:
The Long Tail, Chris Anderson, Wired, Oct 2004

Long tail and copyright, Chris Anderson

Death of the Blockbuster

Life-Expectancy of Bestsellers

WEEK 10:

Standards and treaties part 1

Standards and treaties: The actions of international consortia, treaty bodies, and standards groups have far-reaching effects on law, technology and commerce. Yet the action of these bodies is obscure and little-regarded. Recent activist participation in these bodies has shone the first light into their activities. This is public diplomacy for the rest of us, storming the gates of the UN.

Cory Doctorow, et al: DRM: A Failure in the Developed World, a Danger to the Developing world

Access to Knowledge treaty draft

Adelphi Charter

Geneva Declaration

Declaration on the Development Agenda
WEEK 11:
Laws: How copyright and related laws get made and passed.
EFF's Annotations to the MPAA Broadcast Flag FAQ
MPAA Content Protection Status Report

RIAA/CEA exchange on digital radio

WEEK 12:
Laws, part 2
Jack Valenti 1982 Congressional testimony on Betamax

Lehman Report to the 1995 National Information Infrastructure commission

Pam Samuelson, The Copyright Grab

WEEK 13:

Command and control dystopia: What it could mean to live in a world of ubiquitous command-and-control devices that respond to others' wishes instead of your own.

Richard Stallman, The Right to Read

Cory Doctorow, 0wnz0red

Ed Felten, Rip, Mix, Burn, Sue (transcript)

Wendy Seltzer, The Broadcast Flag: It's Not Just About TV

WEEK 14:

Modern copyright and technology: Technology restrictions in practice -- Broadcast Flags, next-generation DVDs, Coral and other DRM consortia. Critical readings stress the unintended consequences of these laws for competition, innovation and freedom of expression.

Joint Report of the Chairs of the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group

EFF response to above

CPCM Blue Book

Week 15:

Modern copyright 2

Fred von Lohmann, Unintended consequences

Tom Giovanetti, IP Blog

Coral Alliance site

Exam period:
Presentation of major papers


The Annenberg School for Communication is committed to upholding the University's Academic Integrity Code as detailed in the campus guide. It is the policy of the School of Communication to report all violations of the code. Any serious violations of the Academic Integrity Code will result in the student's expulsion from the School of Communication.


Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to the instructor as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30 am - 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.