Politics of Digital Piracy Syllabus- Spring 2013

Info 198: The Policits of Digital Piracy

Facilitator: Angelica Tavella (


Grading: 2 units, P/NP

Faculty Sponsor: Paul Duguid []


      1. Introduction
      2. Assignments
      3. Schedule
      4. Contact
      5. Texts
      6. Instructor Supervision
  1. Introduction

Thanks to the use of personal computers , copying has become easier than ever before, whether it be maintaing audio or video files, literature, code, or any other digital medium. From a historical perspective, the term piracy is often associated with theft, like in the case of Captain Hook stealing a chest full of gold though as historian Adrian Johns has shown, it was appropriated to describe the theft of ideas from the 16th century. However with piracy in the digital age, the so called “booty” is digital data, and instead of tangible stolen property, such as a golden ring, we are dealing with intellectual property, which is not always physically tangible per se, and is governed by a number of influences including copyright law, technology, and culture, all of which will be discussed.

In this class, we will delve deeper into exploring the ways in which intellectual piracy has played a prominent role in intellectual culture since the 16th and 17th centuries, and the way it has progressed into the digital age. We will explore anti-pirating sentiments coming from leading organizations such as the MPAA and RIAA, as well as the ways that piracy has been an engine for social, technological, and intellectual innovation.

What is piracy? How does it affect the economy? Is there such a thing as “good” piracy? Over 57 million Americans have shared files on P2P networks—that’s more than the population of California and New York combined. Are all of these people pirates? Is it time to rethink our definition of piracy? How has the political environment in America contributed to stringent intellectual property protections? These are all questions this class will seek to answer, via a series of weekly readings, the following of related current events, films, and guest speakers. Additionally, students will engage in a semester-long project, either engaging with a Wikipedia article(s) based on Wikipedia’s Global Education Program, or participating in the UC Berkeley Re-mix contest (put on by the Students for Free Culture Group), which will require students to make an original creative work based on already existing works in the public domain.

  1. Assignments
  • Weekly Reading Response/ Current Event :

    The class will be split into two groups, which will alternate bi-weekly between weekly homework assignments of a. reading responses and b. current events.

    a. Reading Responses: should be about 1 page long (double spaced) with thoughtful and insightful personal response to the articles, films, and listenings assigned for the week. Some questions and ideas will be presented in the preceding week to guide student responses, and all questions provided are expected to be answered and discussed during discussion.

    b. Current Event: Students should find a current event related to the topics within the scope of this course, post the link on the class website, and will present it to the class. Some recommended websites to find related news include (but are definitely limited to):,,

    Bi-weekly reading responses and current event presentations will comprise 20% of your grade.

  • Attendance/Class Participation :

Because this class is discussion-based, attendance and active participation are crucial, and is expected each week. No more than one absence will be excused. Please talk to the facilitator if you must miss class and have a valid excuse. Participation includes actively partaking in discussions, asking questions, engaging with current event presenters and guest speakers, and participating in classroom debates.

Attendance and participation will consist of 30% of your final grade.

  • Contribution to the World (Wide Web) Assignment

    The progression of this assignment will be both your midterm and final grade, and will be a semester-long project with the purpose of creating or adding to already existing content on the web. Students will have a choice to either a.) Create or significantly edit a Wikipedia article of a related class topic; or b.) Participate in the Cal Remix Contest.

  • a.) Wikipedia Assignment
    • Midterm Roadmap Assignment: a 200 word propsal posted on your Wikipedia user talk page with a specific Wikipedia articles(s) that is to be edited or created by you, and at least two sources as potential Wikipedia article references.
    • Final: if contributing to a previously existing article, must have at least 2 major edits from your Wikipedia account and must be active on the discussion page of the articles.
  • b.) Cal Re-mix Contest
    • Participants must follow the school-wide guide lines of the competition which will be announced early in the semester, however for the purpose of the class a roadmap of your re-mx project must be completed and discussed by the date of the midterm.

The midterm roadmaps will comprise 20% of your grade, and the final project will comprise 30%.

  1. Schedule

Week 1: Introduction

-Review syllabus

-Watch film

-Quick discussion introducing class, class interests

Week 2: What is Piracy?

Required Reading:

  • Jeffrey R. Young, “Yo Ho Ho and a Digital Scrum” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2010,

Suggested Listening:

  • Interview with “Adrian Johns on Piracy”: an interesting intverview with U of Chicago Professor and author of Piracy: from Gutenberg to Gates discussing the origins of copyright law in London, the first pirates, and today’s digital piracy.

Week 3: What is Copyright?

Required Reading

Suggested Reading:

  • “AGCOM Sector Inquiry on Copyright” Section 2.1 (pg 30)

Week 4: Copyleft and Open Licensing

Required Reading:

  • “What is Copyleft?” GNU Project- Free Software Foundation

  • “Guide to Open Licensing” Knowledge Foundation,

  • Creative Commons “Share Alike(SA)” Licensing

Suggested Reading

Week 5: Discuss and present ideas for Contribution to the World (Wide Web) assignment

No Homework

Week 6: Digital Rights Management and DMCA

Required Reading

    • Pamela Samuelson, “Toward More Sensible Anti-Circumvention Regulation”, UC Berkeley.


Week 7: Musical Piracy and P2P Technology

Required Reading:

Suggested Reading:

Week 8: Open Access

Required Reading

Week 9:Collaborative Culture

Required Reading:

Week 10: Precursors to Wikipedia and Early Collaborative Culture

Required Reading

Week 11: Speaker (to be announced)

No Homework

Week 12: Conceptions of Content Theft

Required Reading:

Week 13: Final Presentations

  1. Contacts
  1. Texts

All required readings and media for this course are available for free online and will be provided either by hyperlink or class website. Students are required to complete a weekly reading and provide a bi-weekly personal response to a given prompt, in which they must identify important arguments and analyze them critically. Opinions are encouraged so long as they are justified with evidence from the readings.

  1. Instructor Supervision

The instructor will oversee the student facilitator by frequently exchanging email and meeting in person as necessary in office hours or by appoitment. Further, the instructor will visit the first class of the semester and be available to meet with students of the class throughout the semester.


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