University Business January 2018 - 66

PROFESSIONAL OPINION

Teaching students about copyright law:
An experiment with impact
How to provide students with new insights into intellectual property
By Kelly Cannon

I

n the fall of 2015, Muhlenberg
College President John Williams asked if I would teach a
copyright law course to interested
undergraduate students. While at
Harvard Law School, he and his wife
Diane had taken an online course
titled CopyrightX, the brainchild of
Harvard professor Terry Fisher. President Williams was very excited about
the course, and believed it could be
taught effectively at our institution,
though this would be the first time
the course would be offered to undergraduates in the United States.
I agreed to the request, but had
some reservations. I have no degree in
law or in copyright, and my experience is purely hands-on in the work I
do as a librarian at Muhlenberg.
As you may know, the very existence of libraries depends on an
exception in copyright law called the
First Sale Doctrine. This doctrine allows books and other library materials to, among other things, be loaned
out without infringing on copyright
law. Copyright also affects other aspects of libraries, such as interlibrary
loans and operating library reserves.
Over the years, I have pointed many of our faculty members to sources
of information to address their copy-

UBmag.me/copyright

66 | January 2018

right questions. I also co-authored
our institution's copyright policy. So,
I do have first-hand experience with
copyright, but lacked any of the theoretical underpinnings. Furthermore,
I knew copyright only as it affects
higher education. My view of copyright was myopic.

In addition to the
real-life cases, the
course was filled with
hypothetical cases that
encouraged the students
to think critically.
Creating a course
After discussing possibilities with
our college provost and with Fisher,
I realized that I should myself take
the CopyrightX course, so I enrolled
in the spring of 2016. I also realized
I would not be set adrift teaching
this course, but rather would be
firmly anchored in abundant content
that would be made available to me
through Harvard as part of Muhlenberg's contract with them. As I
started to gather my thoughts and develop the lesson plans, the format of
the course began to take shape. There
would be 1-1/2 hours of online lecture by Harvard's Fisher, reading of
legal cases outside of class, followed
by in-person discussions that I would

lead each week, enhanced by PowerPoint slides that I could repurpose.
These slides and case studies would
bring to life famous legal cases in the
history of U.S. copyright.
I also decided to add what I feel
was a key component of the course's
success for undergraduates: at least
one in-class writing assignment per
discussion session that would serve to
jump-start the conversation. In fact,
I made the course writing intensive,
meaning that students could expect
and would be given numerous opportunities for writing.
Engaging students
From day one, the legal cases captivated my students. Far from being
dry, these cases-whether from the
Supreme Court or district courts-are
often finely wrought prose, sometimes
even witty. I recall the case of Castle
Rock Entertainment v. Carol Publishing
Group, in which the publishers of a
Seinfeld-based quiz book used showrelated material without permission.
The court's decision rejected the defendant's "fair use" argument.
The human drama behind the cases also resonated nicely with students.
For example, in the case of Mannion
v. Coors, Jonathan Mannion, a photographer, went up against the giant
Coors Brewing Company and won.
He did so, of course, by having a
crack legal team, but also by simply
having a good case. Coors had hired
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