Watch this space for links to Seminars in Electronic Commerce and Digitial Intellectual Property

Law and the Internet Fall 1998 

Tue, Wed & Thurs
Room F108 3:30 - 4:20
Mr. Froomkin

There is no casebook for this class.
Course materials will generally be available in the Distribution Center
Daily assignments are available in a separate document.

General Information

Getting Started

Please do two things before the first class
  1. Acquire the first set of materials from the Distribution Center. Read the "General Information" and the first case.
  2. Join the class mailing list.
To subscribe to the mailing list send an email message to Leave the subject line of the e-mail blank. The first line of your message should read: subscribe intnet98

You should get a message back confirming your subscription. Once you are subscribed, to send e-mail to the list, address the e-mail to:

Anything you send to the list will be distributed to the entire class.

Class Style

In the past I have taught this class as a seminar.  Taught as a seminar with 15 people or fewer, the class was anarchic -- in the Internet sense of the term. The larger the class, the harder this gets; As a result, I will lecture a little, but I hope that most of the class will proceed by discussion.

I tend to lead discussions with a lot of questions. Some of them are leading questions, some of them are misleading questions, but oftentimes they are just plain questions as I am curious as to your views, or I have no idea what the answer is either.

How to contact me.

I urge you to contact me if you have questions, comments, or suggestions about the class. I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to come and see me early in the semester if you think you need help understanding something. If you are doing the reading but still feel lost or confused, don't wait until the last three weeks of class. I can help. But not at the last minute.

You can call me at 284-4285. Most days, I am in and out of the office. If you get my voice mail, leave a number and state when is the best time to call back.

You can come by my office, Rm. 382, any time, but since I'm in and out erratically, I advise you to call ahead and make an appointment.  I sometimes get busy and may have to ask you to come back later.  My office hours are Tuesday 10:30-12:00 for walk-in.   I'm sure to be free then, so if you are able to come on Tuesday please do; other times can be reserved by appointment.

Probably the easiest way to contact me is to send me e-mail at Include a telephone number if you prefer a more human response.

Course Requirements

Attendance. I will take not take formal attendance in this class, but I can't help but notice who is missing sometimes. Any student who skips often enough for it to become noticeable may suffer some deduction from class participation credit. If you are consistently absent I will contact the Dean of Students office and ask them to drop you from the class.  Safe harbor: if you skip three or fewer classes I guarantee you will not suffer any deduction from class participation credit, so there's no need to even bother with excuses for the rare and inevitable absence. Please make every effort to come on time. If you can't make it on time, it's still better to come late than not at all.

Taping. No classes may be taped without my specific permission, which will not be given for reasons other than verified medical emergencies, or to students with particular disabilities.  Tapes make me nervous.


Disabilities. This class, like most law school classes, is heavily oriented toward reading a large quantity of difficult material in a small amount of time. If you are aware that you have a learning disability, or if you just think that it takes you twice as long to learn things by reading as other people, please talk to the Disabilities Issues Coordinator, Assistant Dean Marnie Lennon who can tell you about resources here that you may find valuable. All discussions will be totally confidential. Any student who believe (s)he suffers from acute "stage fright" and underperforms in public should see me early in the semester to see if we can work out special arrangements in which you e-mail some answers rather than giving them orally.

Electronic Mailing List. I will operate an electronic mailing list for this class. Any message sent to the list will be transmitted to me, and to all other members of the list, as will replies. I hope this will provide a convenient way for you to share questions and answers about the course. Participation in the list is like class participation: providing good answers to your colleagues' questions is another way to rack up class participation credit. You are required to join this mailing list. Some assignments require you send messages to the list. Reading and using the list is an important part of this class.

Paper Options

You may select either of two paper options. In OPTION 1 you get the same three credits, and instead of taking the exam your grade is based predominantly on your production of a World Wide Web (WWW) page or pages that discusses an Internet-related legal subject. I am more interested in the content of your legal analysis and the depth of your research than I am in your snazzy graphics or cute Netscape tricks...although those are nice too. Your grade will also include a substantial class participation component. I expect everyone to do the reading and to be prepared for class. Class participation includes taking part in assignments to do something and report to the class mailing list in a timely way. In OPTION 2 you get four (!) credits for writing the paper, and also satisfy the writing requirement, but you are required to turn in a rough draft shortly after midterm. I'll mark it up extensively and return it to you for a full re-draft. Whether you pick option 1 or option 2, you need to get my approval of your two-page summary of you paper topic before the end of the third week of classes. Since this is neither easy nor automatic, you need to meet with me right away to discuss your potential topic.

In either case, the writing project should be the intellectual equivalent of a 25+ page paper (30+ for option 2), but must be in a format that can be read on the World Wide Web by a standard browser.  You are not required to jazz up the paper with fancy WWW tricks, but you may if you want.  Content and quality of legal analysis will be the critical factors affecting your grade, although I will give some credit for projects that use WWW technology in an appropriate and useful manner.  (Please don't overdo it!)  The paper must in HTML or in another format that is readable with free tools available on the Internet: no proprietary formats are allowed.  This means, for example, that written work submitted on "dead trees" (paper) or in WordPerfect, or Microsoft Word, is not acceptable.

You may select any topic related to the subject of the course.  I will be happy to help you pick a topic if you have a general area of interest, although experience has shown that the best writing tends to result from topics that students choose themselves.  Please turn in a two page memo (on paper) on your proposed paper topic, listing the issues you intend to address and (perhaps) your first guess as to what you will say about them no later than our fourth class; based on this memo I will either approve the topic or propose modifications.  If you have selected option 2, we will discuss the due date for the rough draft when I approve your topic. I will return the rough draft with comments as soon as I can, on a first-come, first-served basis.  You will not be graded on your rough draft -- the comments are entirely for your benefit with no strings attached.   The final draft is due on the last day of class. In addition to posting the final draft on your web site and sending me an email containing information on how to access it, please turn in a floppy disk containing the full project to my secretary, Rosalia Lliraldi, who sits near room 382 in the library.

How to subscribe to the mailing list

To subscribe to the mailing list:

Send an email message to: from the account you wish to subscribe to the list

Leave the subject line of the e-mail blank.

The first (and only) line of your message should read:

subscribe intnet98

You should get a message back confirming your subscription within a few minutes; if you have not received one within an hour or more, please try again.

Once you are subscribed, to send e-mail to the list, address the e-mail to:

Mail will be distributed to each subscriber. If all goes well, the mail will be archived on the Web as of August 18, 1998.

Sending anonymous messages to the class mailing list

Click here to send an anonymous message to the class list. Note, however, that you don't get class participation credit for sending anonymous messages! [Temporarily disabled -- should be back in operation soon]

Answers to frequently asked questions:

How long should I be spending on homework each week?

A long time. This stuff is not easy and there is quite a lot of it. The average law school class ratio is 3-5 hours of reading for each class hour. I aim to stay within these norms, but to err is human.

Where can I look things up if I'm confused?

The World Wide Web is a good place to look for information, although there's always reason to doubt the accuracy of what you find. If you are confused about something - or if you find something that sorts out your confusion - please send a note to the class mailing list. I'll be watching the list and will try to answer questions posted there. If you are too shy to post to the list, you can email anonymously, or you can send me a note and I'll strip off your name before replying to the list. Please note in your email that you wish your identity kept out of any public response.

Should I buy a commercial outline or hornbook?

If you hear of a good one for this stuff, please let me know.

Will this be on the exam?

Anything we discuss in class, on the e-mail mailing list (so long as it's relevant to the class, of course), or that appears in the assigned portions of the casebook, the supplement, or any additional photocopied readings that I assign is fair game for the exam, unless I specifically say otherwise.

What can I do to get a better grade on the exam?

The number one most common error on law school exams is a failure to read the question carefully. Students tend to prepare by subject, e.g. "the Erie doctrine". When they see a question with the word "Erie" in it, they take it as a cue to write down everything they remember about the Erie doctrine and the Erie line of cases regardless of its relevance to the question. This is rarely a good move, if only because you waste time you could have spent writing something relevant, and it's usually a particularly BAD move on open-book exam, where the premium is on analysis and application, not rote memory. Read the question. Try to figure out what the point of it is. Stick to the point in your answer. My questions are rarely as simple as "tell me everything you remember about the Erie doctrine". And I do not give partial credit for correct but irrelevant information. (I do sometimes give partial credit for correct but misplaced analysis of a complex problem caused by a "wrong turn" at an earlier stage of the analysis, but that's a different scenario.) Having said all that, you should of course make full use of relevant cases, citing them by name. Cases are important. But so are other things.

The number two most common error on law school exams consists of misunderstanding the nature of legal writing. Good legal writing is clear, precise, and well-organized. It is written in plain, simple English, with as few long words as possible. (Yes, many judges do not write well.) There is no point in trying to be clever or funny. At all costs avoid using fancy words if you are not absolutely certain what they mean. You are being graded on substance, not style. Resist the temptation to use slang ("Get real!" and "Strike three!" are unfortunate examples from past exams). Resist the temptation to use legal or Latin terms if a simple English word will do. Don't quote rules at length (they are being given to you as part of the exam). But do be sure to cite rules and cases where relevant, and to explain the relevance.

A related, and also frequent, error on law school exams is a failure to be sufficiently specific. Legal writing is a form of technical writing. It thrives on precision and often on detail. I suggest that you always avoid the passive voice because it allows you to neglect to specify the identity of the actor in your sentence. It's far better to use a boring writing style "Subject, verb, predicate" over and over again than to be confusing or to leave out something important.

A third, surprisingly frequent, error is forgetting the point of view you are supposed to take in answering a question. Some questions ask you to be the judge; others ask you to be the advocate for a party; still others may require that you step back from the fray and adopt a policy perspective. There are differences between these roles. For example, a judge is quite likely to be concerned about judicial economy. A litigant is only going to urge a course of action that furthers judicial economy if it furthers her interests; otherwise, a litigant is going to try to explain to the court why a particular outcome is just even though it is not the most efficient. On the other hand, just because you are a litigant does not mean that you ignore authority contrary to your position. The best arguments are those that take full account of the strongest possible argument on the other side and demolish it; the worst arguments are those that sound like the author never heard of the other side ... and if there is authority for the other side, the author of the weak argument may be facing Rule 11 sanctions. If a question asks for an argument, make one; if it asks for both sides, make two arguments and be sure you label which is which.

My grades have been disappointing. What can I do to improve?

The first thing to do is to make an appointment with the professors who gave you the disappointing grades in order to discuss the exam. Although your professor cannot change the grade, you should find out what went wrong so that you can avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

I never did much writing in college, where I can I get writing help now?

If you have reason to believe that you need additional help, feel free to talk to me. Also, you should watch for announcements about the U.M. Writing Center. Note, however, that the kind of help you are likely to be offered from me will probably mean extra work for you, such as writing additional practice essays.

What can I do to help me become a better lawyer?

One of the best things you can do is become well-informed about the world around you. Subscribe to a national newspaper such as the New York Times.

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Version 1.01 Last modified: August 17, 1998