Main page > News > Experience from Harvard CopyrightX Course at Vilnius University

Experience from Harvard CopyrightX Course at Vilnius University

AUTHOR: Dr. Paulius Jurčys, Dr. Edvinas Meškys

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 Harvard Law School and affiliate institutions around the world. Forty VU TF students participated in this project.

The idea of ​​CopyrightX dates back to 2014, when Harvard Law School 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 Harvard Law School.

Usually, the 12-week CopyrightX lecture cycle begins in mid-February and is offered in three different settings:

  • At Harvard Law School, where about eighty-third-year law students attend lectures (two per week).
  • Online, where twelve Harvard Law School students or graduates conduct lectures online for twelve pre-registered student groups. Each group is typically attended by twenty registered students.
  • In affiliated institutions around the world. In 2019, there were twenty-one affiliated institutions on various continents. Vilnius University was one of them.

Collaboration between Vilnius University and Harvard Law School has been made possible thanks to the high interest of professors from Vilnius University (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.


Scope of the CopyrightX course


Over the course of the twelve weeks of lectures, the following major issues of US copyright were addressed: the requirement of originality of works, types of copyrighted works and copyright issues. Two weeks were devoted to “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.

Four weeks of the course were devoted to exploring and discussing the basic theories behind copyright law and the significance of those theories in legal practice:

  • Fairness theory, whereby the creator of a work is granted copyright as a reward for his/her hard work (even if such hard work does not have the elements of creativity).
  • Personality theory, which grants copyright to the creator of a work on the basis that the work is a reflection of the creator’s personality. The pioneer of this theory was Immanuel Kant who emphasized that there was a close personal connection between the creator and the work.
  • Welfare theory, the basic premise of which is the legislator’s desire to create an ecosystem of innovation that fosters creativity, giving creators exclusive copyrights as a reward for their creative work. Pursuant to the proponents of the welfare theory, the primary function of copyright is not only to make it possible to profit from the licensing of copyrighted works, but also to reconcile the interests of authors and the public. This theory is based on a cost-benefit analysis.
  • Cultural theory, which is the most recent theory that uses interdisciplinary legislative and regulatory approaches to find optimal solutions for works created and distributed in the digitally intertwined societies. One of the basic assumptions of cultural theories is the realization that people are often bounded by rationality and that the legislator must look for ways to encourage people to make better decisions and ensure that ideas thrive in society.

CopyrightX: A unique learning experiment

The format of the CopyrightX course is quite unusual, especially from the European point of view. First, students participating in the program must do their homework and prepare for the lecture which takes place in several stages.  Students must listen to Prof. W. Fisher’s lectures, which are available to everyone on Youtube. On average, YouTube lectures are about one hour a week. After listening to the video lectures, students also have to read two or three files or a given scientific article.

After completing their homework, students participate in weekly lectures. During those lectures, students must use their theoretical knowledge and apply it to real-life situations analyzed in the lecture. For example, lectures on the doctrine of fair use introduce students to various real-life situations that have previously been addressed by US courts. Usually two to four hypothetical cases are discussed during the lecture.

It is important to note that for CopyrightX students, discussing such hypothetical cases with one another not only helps to put into practice the rules learned during the preparation of the lecture, but also helps them experience the Socratic teaching method.

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).

Additional Events with Superstars

Several additional events are organized each year for CopyrightX participants. In the spring of 2019, two interesting seminars were held during the course. These seminars were held at HLS and attended remotely by CopyrightX students. The first event was held with perhaps the best-known US copyright judge,  Pierre N. Leval. Judge Leval is considered the creator of the modern doctrine of fair use. The second event was with the Academy Award winner Ruth Carter for the costumes she created for the Black Panther movie.

In addition, in May 2019, a CopyrightX Summit was held at the HLS. It was attended by team members moderating CopyrightX courses and the Harvard/MIT academic community. The conference continued for two days. Sessions on the first day were open for everyone. CopyrightX team made presentations on the most pressing copyright topics such as copyright protection for works created by fans, reform initiatives in the EU, potential applications of blockchain technology, etc. To the surprise of all who attended, the first day’s conference brought together several hundred Harvard and MIT University students and faculty.

On the second day of the CopyrightX conference, program coordinators focused on the most pressing issues of copyright (especially the new EU Directive and its transposition into national law). There was also an exchange of experiences with students and discussions about making the next year’s course even more interesting. One of the most pressing issues addressed by CopyrightX moderators is the rapidly increasing number of students around the world wishing to take a CopyrightX course.

 Exam challenge

Students who passed the 12-week CopyrightX marathon had to face another challenge in the final straight, the final exam. After passing the exam, CopyrightX students received 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 of four parts: two hypothetical situations and two open-ended questions. The first hypothetical situation was based on the motifs of the Game of Thrones series, which undoubtedly appealed to fans of fantasy and mystical creatures. In the hypothetical situation, it was stated that the motif of dragons has long been mentioned in different works. In 1995, Warner Bros Pictures made an adaptation of the Hobbit movie called “The Desolation of Smaug,” which featured three dragons. In 2011, the well-known TV series “Game of Thrones”, was launched by HBO, and was based on G. Martin’s 1996 short story series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which was licensed to HBO. To give the most individuality and appearance HBO hired an independent animation company, AIM, whose staff allegedly never saw the aforementioned Warner Bros movie and created dragon images based solely on the vulture’s appearance. The hypothetical situation was further complicated by the fact that Link, a New York-based tattoo studio, offered clients tattoos that depicted Game of Throne dragons.

CopyrightX students had to answer whether anyone in this chain of events infringed someone else’s copyright. The students had to assess the additional fact that the three dragons appearing in the two films mentioned above are surprisingly similar (dragon pictures were provided in the exam). The students had to find out if the dragon’s visual design was copyrighted, whether any of the characters mentioned in the hypothetical situation had infringed copyright and whether the doctrine of fair use could be invoked.

The second hypothetical situation was about the use of Bruce Springsteen’s well-known song “Born in the USA”, dating back to 1984, during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election. Trump’s adviser Cory Levandowski bought a CD containing the song and released it to the public shortly before the candidate entered the polls. The songwriter, Mr Springsteen himself, has called for an end to the use of hissong because he did not want to be associated with the candidate and his political views. If unlawful, who should be liable for such an infringement: adviser K. Levandovsky, who runs the election company, or candidate Trump himself, who asked for an “inspirational patriotic song”? What is the potential liability for such song copyright infringement? Finally, students were asked to evaluate if another Nugent artist could be hired to sing the song.

Student Impressions

Vilnius University students who met CopyrightX attendance and exam requirements received HLS CopyrightX diplomas. A few weeks after the end of the course, a questionnaire was distributed where students were asked to share their thoughts and experiences with CopyrightX. Here are some of the opinions:

“Contrary to what I expected, US copyright lectures were very interesting. Indeed, discussions on specific situations / cases during the lectures helped a lot. ”

“The CopyrightX course has provided a good foundation to understand American copyright law system. This course exceeded my expectations. ”

“What I liked most about this course was the understanding of how copyright doctrines can help resolve a variety of disputes that may arise in the future.”

“I really enjoyed this course! It was fun to meet like-minded people looking for knowledge and scale about the social issues of our time. During the CopyrightX lectures I realized that even distance learning courses can be effective and useful 🙂 I’m glad I had the opportunity to go deeper into US copyright and compare it to Lithuanian copyright. Even before the lecture cycle, I was very hopeful that the CopyrightX lectures would be interesting – my expectations had come true. Lectures during which students listen not only passively but actively discuss the possibilities of solving specific situations are extremely useful. Those lectures will remain in my memory for a long time!”

“Both the three-month course itself and the exam revealed a completely different kind of learning, prevailing in the US and which differs from how we study legal subjects in Lithuania. To succeed in the Harvard course, it was not enough to acquire theoretical knowledge by listening to recorded lectures, reading court case law, and discussing during weekly seminars. The CopyrightX exam assignments tested students’ knowledge in various incisions. Finally, during this course, we (students) had a great opportunity to deepen our analytical thinking skills. ”

“CopyrightX courses would be useful for every Lithuanian law student. This would help to understand that not only theoretical knowledge is important in a lawyer’s work, but also 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. The knowledge gained through CopyrightX will definitely be useful to me in my practice. In addition, despite the really intense pace of learning throughout the three months, the knowledge gained in US law, understanding of judicial evaluation, and overall experience in weekly seminars was invaluable. ”

Of the various lectures, 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 the exam 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 is going to take place from February 2020.