To participate effectively in this lecture and discussion series, it is important that you have a reasonably good idea, first, of the way in which the Internet works and, second, of the main features of the legal doctrines pertaining to intellectual property. If you already feel comfortable in both of those dimensions, you need not engage in this orientation program. If not, we strongly suggest that you follow this self-guided tour.

We'll begin with technology. As you may have discovered already, there exists on the Internet a bewildering array of materials that try to explain how the Internet itself functions. We have sifted though those materials and arranged the most accurate and concise of them under five headings. You should follow the links set forth below, read all of the articles listed under each of these headings (don't be dismayed; most are very short), and familiarize yourself with all of the "key terms" listed at the bottom of each page.

  • How the Internet Works
  • How the World Wide Web Works
  • Creating Web Pages
  • Technological Protection Systems
  • Authorities of Internet Governance
  • To assist you, we have also supplied a "Technical Glossary" with many interconnections. If, after perusing these materials, you are still hungry for more information, check out our list of "Additional Resources."

    The law of intellectual property, unfortunately, is at least as complex as Internet technology. In the United States, it encompasses six reasonably distinct fields of doctrine, each with its own rules and procedures.  (Please follow the links in this paragraph to get a sense of how each of these fields works.)  Copyright law provides long-term protection for "original forms of expression." The kinds of materials it shields have been growing; traditionally associated with literary or musical works, copyright has recently been extended to such things as architecture, computer software, and materials made available over the Internet. Patent law provides a shorter but even more powerful set of protections to inventions. Under its umbrella you will find "apparatuses" (better mousetraps), "processes" (ways of creating or using things), non-naturally occurring plants, and attractive industrial designs. In the past two decades, it too has been extended to cover many new things -- such as biotechnological products and processes and many forms of computer software. Trademark law protects words and symbols used by one company to differentiate its products or services from those of other companies. In recent years, it has been extended to shield not only traditional trademarks (e.g., "Mobil"; the Nike "swoosh"), but also the overall shape and appearance of products (e.g., the contours of a Coke bottle, the decor of a Mexican restaurant, or the shape and texture of Pepperidge Farm's "Goldfish"). The law of "unfair competition" largely parallels trademark law, but occasionally sweeps more broadly. For example, it has sometimes been used to protect information that has been costly to gather or produce from "misappropriation" by competitors. The law of "trade secrets" shields commercially valuable information that a company has tried (but failed) to conceal from competitors. Finally, the "right of publicity" enables celebrities to control uses of their identities -- their faces, names, voices, distinctive poses, etc.

    If, after you have explored the content of these six bodies of doctrine, you are curious about where they came from or how they are justified, you might wish to consult two essays by Professor Fisher. The first consists of a brief history of intellectual-property law in the United States. The second (still in draft form) explores the various theories that scholars have deployed in efforts to make sense of "intellectual property."

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