Experience from Harvard CopyrightX Course at Vilnius University

In the spring of 2019, Vilnius University Faculty of Law (VU TF) and Harvard Law School (HLS) implemented cooperation on an educational project to promote knowledge about American copyright law. “CopyrightX” is a twelve-week interactive lecture series on United States copyright law organized by HLS and affiliate institutions around the world. Forty VU TF students participated in this project.

The idea of “​​CopyrightX

The idea of “​​CopyrightX” dates back to 2014, when HLS Professor William Fisher thought of moving copyright lectures to the digital space. Thus enabling the general public to have free access to key sources of the copyright law course taught at the HLS.

Usually, the 12-week “CopyrightX” lecture cycle begins in mid-February and offers to participate in three different settings: at HLS, where about eighty third-year law students attend lectures; online, where twelve HLS students or graduates conduct lectures online for twelve pre-registered student groups, each group is typically attended by twenty registered students. The third setting – affiliated institutions around the world. In 2019, there were twenty one affiliated institutions on various continents. Vilnius University was one of them.

Collaboration between the two universities was possible thanks to the high interest of professors from VU – Dean Prof Dr Tomas Davulis and copyright expert Prof Dr Vytautas Mizaras. They encouraged their students to look beyond the borders of EU law and acquire deeper knowledge about the copyright law system in the United States.

Over the course, the following major issues of US copyright were addressed: the requirement of originality of works, types of copyrighted works and copyright issues, “economic” copyrights: i.e., the right of reproduction, modification, distribution, public performance and publicity of a work and related copyright issues. “CopyrightX” lectures also included in-depth discussions of US-specific copyright issues such as fair use doctrine, copyright registration formalities and possible remedies. Some courses were devoted to exploring and discussing the basic theories behind copyright law and the significance of those theories in legal practice.

A unique learning experiment

The format of the “CopyrightX” course is quite unusual, especially from the European point of view. Students participating in the program must do their homework and prepare individually, before listening to Prof W. Fisher’s lectures. Students are required to use their theoretical knowledge and apply it to real-life situations analyzed in the lecture. In addition, the cases in the lecture are also taken from the most recent and debatable social situations. For example, the lecture on authorship introduced students to the issue of group selfies made during the Oscars ceremony a couple of years ago, monkey selfies, and works created using artificial intelligence (algorithms).

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Several additional events are organized each year for “CopyrightX” participants. A few seminars were held at HLS and attended remotely by “CopyrightX” students, perhaps the best-known US copyright judge Pierre N. Leval, the creator of the modern doctrine of fair use attended. Another event was with the Academy Award winner Ruth Carter for the costumes she created for the Black Panther movie.

Exam challenge

Students who passed the 12-week “CopyrightX” marathon had to face another challenge in the final exam, before they receive a diploma from the HLS. The purpose of the written exam is to test how students managed to absorb the fundamental concepts of American copyright law, to spot legal issues and to provide a convincing and logical answer.

The 2019 final exam consisted two hypothetical situations and two open-ended questions. “CopyrightX” students had to answer did those hypothetical situations infringed someone else’s copyright, to assess the additional facts and find out whether the doctrine of fair use could be invoked.

After participating in the event, VU students agree that “CopyrightX” can help resolve a variety of disputes that may arise in the future. This experience proved that even distance learning courses could be effective and useful: “Courses help to understand that not only theoretical knowledge is important in a lawyer’s work. The general ability to assess the situation comprehensively, to notice essential legal (both theoretical and practical) problems, to be able to evaluate these problems from different perspectives, both the defendant and the claimant is essential. The knowledge gained in US law, understanding of judicial evaluation, and overall experience in weekly seminars was invaluable.”

The most interesting to students were lectures on copyright theories, fair use doctrine, artificial intelligence and the Google Books case. The most difficult topics for many students were about different copyright registration rules in the US (ca. 33%), information broker liability (ca. 25%) and remedies (ca. 15%). When asked about the exam, students stated that it was interesting (ca. 40%) or that they learned a lot during the exam (ca. 45%). All students who responded to the questionnaire unanimously stated that they would “definitely recommend “CopyrightX” lectures to others”.

The above answers reveal that globalization also influences the education sector. What once seemed like a dream for European students, to study at Harvard, becomes a reality through such projects as “CopyrightX” due to innovative professors and sponsors. The next “CopyrightX” session will be held in February 2020.

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