Tuesday, 11 June 2013

adios, CopyrightX

To my great surprise, my review of 3.091x course became the most popular post of all time on this blog. That is to say, more than 365 pageviews. I know, it’s peanuts, but then I never expected this blog to be much visited in the first place. Let’s see if my 100th post (!) will be a hit.

HLS1x Copyright, aka CopyrightX, was the second edX course I took. Apart from the fact that these are both edX courses, there is very little in common between CopyrightX and 3.091x. I intend to continue with edX next academic year and look forward to surprises. Yet I dare to suggest that there is very little in common between CopyrightX and any other edX course.

To start with, one cannot simply, single-clickingly (is there such a word?) register for CopyrightX, like for any old edX course. No sir, you have to apply. This year class was limited to 500 participants. Mmm, I thought, intriguing. I just had to apply and see what happens next.


So I sent off my application on 23 December 2012. On 15 January 2013, I received an email.

Congratulations! You’ve been selected for admission to HLS 1x Copyright (CopyrightX for short), the online course that will examine the law and policy of copyright. Several thousand people applied; you are one of 500 who have been admitted.
The admitted participants have been divided into 20 “sections”, each led by a teaching fellow. The course was running for 12 weeks, from 28 January to 28 April, with an exam on 11 May. Each week, we were expected to: (a) watch a recorded lecture; (b) complete a reading assignment (typically, two or three court cases); (c) discuss issues raised by that assignment in an online forum; and (d) participate via videochat in the seminar led by a teaching fellow. In addition, we were encouraged to attend six “special events”.
These various obligations [the email went on] will consume, on average, eight hours of your time each week. It’s important that you are able and willing to make this time commitment. If you doubt your capacity to stick with the class, please let me know now. It’s much better that you withdraw at this juncture, thereby creating room for another applicant, than that you withdraw midway through.
No way.


The course was designed and led by William Fisher, Professor of Intellectual Property Law and Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. His lectures were great. My only improvement suggestion would be to split them in shorter segments — say, 15-minute long rather than 30—40 minute long.

Curiously enough, Harvard almost got into trouble with one of these lectures. The first part of a lecture from Week 7 contains a short (about 35 seconds) snippet of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord. This was to illustrate what the infamous copyright infringement suit was all about. (The court decided that Harrison “subconsciously plagiarised” He’s So Fine.) Like the other edX lectures, this one was uploaded to YouTube. EMI (or its successor, I am not sure) complained that Harvard... infringed the copyright by including the fragment of the song without permission. As a result, the video was blocked in some countries. I understand that eventually the Berkman guys managed to convince YouTube that their quoting of Harrison song falls under fair use. YouTube recommended that Berkman staff watch... YouTube Copyright School (!) clip.


Each week, we had a reading assignment. Typically, it included two or three court cases. The reading materials are freely available to anybody in PDF format. In addition, we were given access to these materials via MIT’s own NB (nota bene) PDF annotation tool. A great idea but, for a moment, not the best implementation. At least, when you have a small screen, it is a bit of a torture to read the PDF files with it.

The readings themselves were rather entertaining. I never read the court cases before and was afraid I will be bored to death. Nope! Once you get a grasp of terminology, it’s not so bad. The paper by Orin S. Kerr, How to Read a Legal Opinion, is a helpful and entertaining guide. Here’s a short glossary that you may find of some value.


The main difference from other edX courses was the ability to meet and talk to the fellow students in real time. My section was meeting (virtually, of course) each week on Saturday at 3—5 GMT. The meetings were “powered” by Adobe Connect. The first week meeting was rather disastrous: the audio was not working as expected for about 30% of participants. In the following weeks, the connection markedly improved. We tried videoconferencing couple of times but had to abandon this idea as it was eating up everybody’s bandwidth without adding too much to the discussion. The really important visual feature was that our TF was able to share her desktop view with us. But the most valuable part of the meeting was the good old “voice-powered” discussion, plus simultaneous text chat. I miss Saturday afternoons.


The “special events” were the interactive webcasts in which Prof. Fisher and guest speakers were examining controversial topics implicated by copyright law. These events took place from 7 to 9 pm EST (midnight to 2 am GMT). They took place in front of both live and virtual audience. CopyrightX students were able to attend with the same Adobe Connect tool which gave us ability to chat (among ourselves) and formulate some of the questions for speakers. (The other questions, of course, came from the live audience.) I found the special events a mixed bag. Depends on speaker, I guess. The most interesting lectures for me were IP Protection for Fashion (13 February) and Larry Lessig’s Free Culture (17 April). The worst one was the one on Extralegal Norms, not least because of the sheer unpleasantness of one of the invited speakers, Jim Mendrinos. (What could be more pathetic than a stand-up comedian who fails to produce a single funny joke and then dares to say “you guys are miserably difficult audience”?)

the final showdown

The final exam was... hard. It was hard because of its, well, softness. A total opposite of “hard science” exam such as 3.091x. Just like 3.091x, the final exam was supposed to be a four-hour affair. In fact we were given a 24-hour window to complete the task (not 72 hours, as for 3.091x). Unlike 3.091x, we had to do a lot of writing. Freestyle essay writing. The final exam format was published on 13 March, so I knew what to expect. Still.

The email containing the exam questions arrived at midday GMT on Saturday. When I read the questions, I started to panic. Also, to write.

Really had to make an effort and take a break. More or less finished writing up the first question about 9 pm... or maybe later. Questions 2 and 3, that was hard. Too free style for me. 5 am Sunday, discovered that I am still awake, although not as wide as I needed. 7 am, decided to stop. Was waken up at 10 am. Read what I wrote. O horror.

By 11 am GMT, finished formatting the horror. Another half an hour spent staring at the document. Hit the “send”.

Relief. Emptiness.

I didn’t know the results until today. Somebody had to read and evaluate what I wrote, and that, I suppose, was a challenge too. But this morning I got an email form Prof. Fisher.

I am very happy to report that you passed the final examination in the CopyrightX course. As you know, the exam was comprehensive; it was designed to test your knowledge both of the principal rules of Copyright law and of the major intellectual-property theories. As you would also likely agree, the exam was difficult; it was very similar to the final examination that I gave this spring to the students in my course on Copyright at Harvard Law School. You should thus be very pleased to have passed it.
So I am. CopyrightX: where hi-tech meets lo-throughput. An amazing course.


  1. According to the 2013 course assessment, out of 500 admitted students 277 (55.4%) attended the final meetings of their discussion groups, 307 (61.4%) satisfied the participation requirements set by the teaching fellows, 247 (49.4%) took the final examination, 195 (39%) passed the examination, and 193 (38.6%) both passed the examination and satisfied the participation requirement and thus received a certificate of completion.
  2. The course will be offered again in 2014. The 500 students will be selected through an open application process that opens on December 13 and closes on December 23.

1 comment:

  1. Here is an update about our plans for CopyrightX 2.0:

    Harvard Law School offers Free Online Course on Copyright Law
    Contact: Nathaniel Levy

    In January of 2013, Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society launched the first open and online law-school course. CopyrightX, taught by Professor William Fisher, explored the current law of copyright and the ongoing debates concerning how that law should be reformed. 500 participants from 70 different countries took the course. Most were not lawyers. The majority were drawn from groups that rely upon or are affected by copyright law: musicians, filmmakers, authors, journalists, architects, software designers, and librarians.

    CopyrightX differed from most online courses in several respects. Most importantly, the 500 participants were divided into 20 “sections,” each taught by a Harvard Law School teaching fellow. These small groups met once a week, online, to discuss issues presented by the week’s recorded lecture and assigned readings.

    Student engagement and commitment were much higher than is typical of online courses. More than half of the participants remained involved throughout the 12 weeks of the course. 49% took the final examination, and 80% of those who took the exam passed it.

    Starting in January of 2014, Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center will once again offer CopyrightX. This year’s version of the course will incorporate many lessons gleaned from the first version, but the basic structure of the course will remain the same. The course is free and open to anyone at least 13 years of age. Applications for admission will be accepted between December 13 and December 23. Additional information concerning the course is available at copyx.org. A detailed analysis of the 2013 experimental version of the course is available at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/tfisher/IP/CopyrightX_Assessment.pdf.