UC Berkeley, School of Information
IS 205: Information Law & Policy, Spring 2008
Professor Pamela Samuelson


Written Assignments

Your grade for this course will be determined largely based on the quality of your work in the four writing assignments for this course.  (The first assignment will be worth 10% of your grade; the next two assignments will be worth 15% each; the fourth assignment will be worth 40% of your grade; the other 20% will be based on your performance in class discussion and on the class listserv.) 

Writing is a exceptionally useful skill for information professionals.  You will be doing your career a huge favor by making use of the resources of this class to become a better writer.  Like so many other things in life, writing is a learnable skill.  If you are anxious because you don’t have confidence in your writing skills, be assured that help is at hand.  Andrew McDiarmid, the TA for this course, will be available to talk with you about your writing assignments, as will I.  But the first step toward becoming a good writer is to work hard at it.

The due dates for the writing assignments are listed below.  I am giving you plenty of advance notice about the assignments and their due dates so that you can plan your schedule accordingly.  I take deadlines very seriously. For each day an assignment is late, half a grade will be deducted from your score for that assignment. 

To help you understand better some principles of good writing, you may find it helpful to read an essay on the papers part of my iSchool website entitled “Good Legal Writing:  Of Orwell and Window Panes.”  I wrote it when I was teaching full-time at a law school, but the advice it sets forth also apply to other kinds of professional writing. 

Let me briefly summarize its key points:  1) have a point (that is, don’t just describe a phenomenon or what others have said about it; have a point of view or a thesis about it, and don’t make too many points in one paper); 2) get to the point quickly (that is, don’t clutter up the essay with a lot of background material and only say what you really think at the very end); 3) structure your paper so that one point builds upon the next and each point leads to proving your point in a coherent and holistic way; 4) to accomplish 3), break your paper up into component parts, and develop each separately but in a way that builds toward a unified whole; subtitles are helpful; 5) adopt a measured and professional tone (as if you were being asked to give professional advice on the subject to someone you respect); and 6) be concrete and simplify where possible (e.g., give examples to illustrate your points, use concrete words instead of abstract ones, and try to communicate effectively by using simple words where they will do the job).  Proper spelling and grammar are also expected of your writings. 

Assignment #1 is due by noon this coming Monday, Feb. 4:

Imagine that you are Rajat or Jayant Agarwalla, the co-developers of Scrabulous, an online game based on Scrabble.  The game can be found at scrabulous.com, as well as through the social networking site Facebook.  Hasbro, the owner of copyrights and trademarks in the Scrabble board game, has asserted that Scrabulous infringes its trademarks in the term Scrabble and its trademark and copyright interests in the design and layout of the Scrabble game board.  Your assignment is to write a letter to the President of Hasbro explaining why you think your game does not infringe its trademarks or copyrights. 

Word limit for this assignment:  500 words (i.e., 2 pages of double-spaced print-out in normal font).

Assignment #2 is due Friday, Feb. 22 by noon, e-mailed to Andrew McDiarmid.

Steve Vander Ark is a big fan of the Harry Potter book series. In 2000 he created a website that he called the Harry Potter Lexicon. Since its inception, the website has grown to over 700 pages of Harry Potter/-related information. It is widely considered the best index to the characters, settings, spells, and events of the novels. J.K. Rowling, author of the series, has complimented the site, calling it “such a great site...my natural home.”

When Vander Ark decided to publish a print book containing the Lexicon's content, Rowling and Warner Brothers sued him and his publisher for copyright infringement, relying in part on the 2nd Circuit Court's opinion in Castle Rock Entertainment v. Carol Publishing Group, 150 F.3d 132 (2nd Cir. 1998), which held that a Seinfeld trivia game infringed Castle Rock's copyright in the television series. This decision is available at http://www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/cases/150_F3d_132.htm.

Your assignment is to write a 750-word essay that either defends Vander Ark’s project or affirms Rowling's claims. Assume that the contents of his printed index and the website are identical, and that those contents accurately correlate with the created facts of the Harry Potter books. Please focus your analysis in particular on whether “created facts” should be protected by copyright law, as the Castle Rock opinion seems to suggest. Please also consider this question in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Feist v. Rural Publications. Feel free to review the Harry Potter Lexicon site as well. Focus on what you think the law ought to be, but if that is different from what you think it is, say why your view is different.

You may also consider the opinion in Ty, Inc. v. Publications International, Ltd. in developing your argument.

Assignment #3 is due Friday, April 3, by noon, e-mailed to Andrew McDiarmid

Assume that you work half-time for a small database company, called Dataco, and half-time as a freelancer working on small database development projects for nonprofit entities, including GreenBay, which promotes the use of “green” (environmentally friendly) technologies in the Bay Area. In the course of some work with GreenBay, you have had numerous conversations with GreenBay’s chief technologist, Joe Borden, who expressed unhappiness with the initial design you proposed for a project and told you that the program needed to include several features that that your initial design didn’t have. Your numerous conversations with Joe generated some new design ideas that you think Dataco might also be very interested in. Assume further that you developed a prototype program to test out these ideas, and showed it to Joe who thought it was very promising.

What are your intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the software and design ideas vis a vis Dataco, GreenBay, and Joe Borden? How does your answer to the IPR question affect your thoughts about how you should approach Dataco’s management about this? If your contract with Dataco included a provision that gave the company IP rights in your work on databases, how would that affect your assessment of who owns the IPRs?

You will be expected to draw upon course reading materials in writing this paper.

Due: April 4, 2008, by noon
Length: No more than 750 words (3 double-spaced pages)

Assignment #4 is due Friday, May 9, by 5pm, e-mailed to Andrew McDiarmid

The question your final paper should address is this: Do so-called "Web 2.0" social-networking sites have a duty to protect users' privacy, and how might that duty differ from that of websites operating in different modes?

In 2003, California enacted the Online Privacy Protection Act (OPPA). The law, the text of which can be found here, requires operators of commercial websites that collect consumers' personal information to conspicuously post a privacy policy and to adhere to it. “Consumer” is defined as “any individual who seeks or acquires, by purchase or lease, any goods, services, money, or credit for personal, family, or household purposes,” and the legislative history of the bill suggests that the bill focused on firms conducting commercial transactions with individual users over the Internet.

Since that bill was passed, social networking sites have grown immensely in popularity. Sites such as MySpace and Facebook seem to differ from the types of websites considered by California lawmakers, in that their primary function involves users posting and sharing personal information with each other, rather than the collection of personal information as a by-product of commercial activity. Consequently, these sites have raised new types of privacy concerns. There have been several incidents of users' suffering unforeseen consequences of posting personal information on their profiles, ranging from users being embarrassed by photos posted and tagged on the sites, to users having offers of employment rescinded or being expelled from school.

While in such cases users arguably share the blame for posting their information to a public forum, Facebook in particular has generated several more systemic controversies relating to its users' control of their personal information in the last several years. The release of the news feed, which aggregated and broadcast all profile changes to a user's Friends list, incited a substantial backlash. The release of the Facebook Beacon, which broadcast information relating to activity on websites outside Facebook (e.g., saving recipes on epicurious.com or buying movie tickets with fandango.com) on a user's news feed, was also met with anger from the press and Facebook users. In response to these controversies, Facebook has expanded its privacy controls substantially, but such incidents beg the question of whether additional regulation of social networking sites is necessary.

Your assignment is to write a research paper that assesses OPPA's effectiveness in protecting user privacy on social networking sites.

Please structure your paper as a letter to a California or Federal legislator, arguing whether new legislation is necessary in light of how these sites trade in personal information, or whether OPPA is sufficient. Focus your arguments on the character of the privacy issues raised by the sites, and how OPPA and whatever you might propose apply to those issues.

You will be expected to draw on course readings and your own outside research in writing this paper, as well as to cite research sources in a standard citation format. (Andrew and I will help you with citation formats.) We will compile and post on the course website a set of useful resources. Additionally, you might look at the work of the following scholars working in the field: James Dempsey, Chris Hoofnagle, Jerry Kang, Deirdre Mulligan, Helen Nissenbaum, Marc Rotenberg, Patricia Sanchez Abril, Paul Schwartz, and Daniel Solove. You might also consider the writings of Danah Boyd, a PhD student at the I-School who studies online social networks.

Due: May 9, 2008 at 5pm
Length: No more than 3000 words (12 double-spaced pages)