Digital Property and the Destruction of the Commons

Spring 2013

Spring 2013
Dr. Mark C. Vopat

Class Time and Place: T/Th, 11:00 AM – 12:15 PM, Cushwa Hall 2058

Course Description

Our general conception of property and property rights has not changed much in the last 200 years. When we think of property we normally think in terms of physical things, land, objects or the objectification of ideas (intellectual property)that takes the form of physical books or film. The advent of the internet and the proliferation of digital media has posed a challenge for these traditional conceptions of property. It has also raised questions about the whole notion of “fair use” and the idea of a “public domain”. How should we conceive of property in the internet age? How should property rights apply to bits and bytes? In this course we examine the idea of property and the public domain.

Professor Contact Information





330–577-DRMV (3768)


DeBartolo 411

Office Hours

Tues/Thurs 10:00 AM–10:50 AM; 2:00 PM –3:30 PM

Course Materials

Texts: Both texts that will be used in the course are available as open source/Creative Commons Copyrighted PDFs. I have posted the files to the course website. You may of course purchase the print copies of the books. The current price for each book on is listed below.

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind by James Boyle ($20.48)

Remix Culture by Lawrence Lessig ($12.75)

Readings: Additional course readings can be found on my website

Course Requirements




10x10pts each

Research Paper (10–15 pages)


Total Points Possible


Grading Policy

The grading scale is as follows A(90%–100%), B(80%–89%), C(70%–79%), D(60%–69%), F(59% and below).

Make-up exams will be given only for medical reasons or on compassionate grounds (documentation may be required). Students will receive a grade report prior to the deadline for student withdrawal.

Course Objectives

1. Gain an understanding of the differences and difficulties of defining and regulating digital property.

2. Evaluate the various approaches that have been proposed for regulating digital property.

3. Students should be able to argue for their own view of how society should approach various issues surrounding digital property.

General Information


In accordance with University procedures, if you have a documented disability and require accommodations to obtain equal access in this course, please contact me privately to discuss your specific needs. You must be registered with the Disability Service Office in Wick House near the corner of Wick Avenue and the East Bound Service Road, and provide a letter of accommodations to verify your eligibility. You can reach the Disability Services Office at 330–941–1372.

Center for Student Progress

The Center for Student Progress is a resource on campus established to help students successfully complete their university experience. The Center provides tutors and individualized assistance with college academic and social concerns. The Center is located in Kilcawley West under the bookstore. You may phone or visit the center to request help in your courses. The phone number of the Center is 330–941–3538.

Academic Honesty

(Refer to p. 42 of the 2007–2008 Undergraduate Bulletin or use your own version of the following.) Academic honesty is essential to the educational process and serves to protect the integrity of the University community. As an active research community, we regard academic honesty as a cornerstone of the research process, of the collecting and dissemination of research results, and the publication of research findings. Therefore, all members of the University community - both faculty and students - have a responsibility of maintaining high standards of honesty and ethical practice. Cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty constitute a serious violation of University conduct regulations. When writing your paper, if you have any questions concerning what constitutes plagiarism, you should check with the instructor before submitting your work. Cases of academic dishonesty will be dealt with on an individual basis, with sanctions based on both the severity and purposefulness of the dishonesty. Possible penalties include: warnings; a grade of “F’ on the relevant paper or exam; a grade of ”F’ for the course; submission of the case to the Student Academic Grievance Subcommittee for further review and possible action, which may include suspension from the University.

Reading List

1. Locke, John “On Property”

2. “Property and Ownership” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

3. “Intellectual Property” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

4. Hardin, Garrett, “The Tragedy of the Commons” Science 162 (1968): 1243–1248

5. James Boyle, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. 

5.1. “Why Intellectual Property”

5.2. “Thomas Jefferson Writes a Letter”

5.3. “The Second Enclosure Movement”

5.4. “The Internet Threat”

5.5. “The Farmer’s Tale: An Allegory”

5.6. “I Got a Mashup”

5.7. “The Enclosure of Science and Technology: Two Case Studies”

5.8. “A Creative Commons”

5.9. “An Evidence-Free Zone”

5.10. “An Environmentalism for Information”

6. Lessig, Lawrence Remix 

6.1. “Cultures of Our Past”

6.2. “Cultures of Our Future”

6.3. “RO, Extended”

6.4. “RO, Revived”

6.5. Cultures Compared

6.6. Two Economies: Commercial and Sharing

6.7. Hybrid Economies

6.8. Economy Lessons

7. Remainder of readings TBA