Reviewing copyright law

I’ve been wanting for a while to put together a list of copyright law review materials. This might be useful to someone reviewing for an exam, but I’m particularly thinking of a professional who wants to solidify her overall knowledge of the subject before diving more deeply into a particular part of it. I have two teaching gigs coming up that will focus on fair use, so that’s the nudge I needed to prepare this list.

The fifteen-minute review:

For someone who’s very limited in terms of time, I would recommend using an “attack outline,” the very short summary law students sometimes prepare when studying for finals. Attack outlines are essentially a checklist of items to address in an exam. I developed a copyright attack outline during my first year as a CopyrightX teaching fellow. Here is the latest version as a slide deck and as a one-page PDF.

This outline is helpful for remembering how the different pieces of copyright doctrine fit together, which is about what can be done in fifteen minutes.

The one-hour review:

With a bit more time, I would recommend reading through an attack outline or copyright syllabus and then taking those questions to one of the many good free online summaries of copyright. These are essentially more detailed outlines of the same material. I particularly recommend the following:

Two non-free alternatives to these sites would be the major treatises, Nimmer on Copyright and Patry on Copyright. They are probably too lengthy to be useful during a quick review, unless you’re really comfortable with treatises.

Another option for answering questions left by the attack outline is Terry Fisher’s Copyright Law Map. I relied on it when creating the attack outline provided above, but it is far more detailed. It is organized as a “mind map” — some people really appreciate this as an alternative to more traditional formats.

The fourteen-hour review:

If you have time for it, a great way to review copyright law is to watch Terry Fisher’s CopyrightX lectures. In theory, this can be done in about fourteen hours — there are twelve 90-minute lectures, but someone seeking only to review the substantive law of copyright could skip the second, fourth, and tenth lectures, which are devoted to the theories underlying copyright law. If you are truly reviewing copyright, and certainly if you have seen the videos before, you may wish to speed up playback to save more time. Instructions for doing so are available at the bottom of the page linked above.

The lectures are very dense, so first-time viewers may wish to pause, replay a portion, look up a term, etc., any of which would increase the time beyond fourteen hours. I would also advise spreading the lectures out (no binge-watching!).

Videos are often tough for review because they aren’t indexed or searchable. In the case of the CopyrightX videos, transcriptions prepared by the FLAX project make things somewhat easier. Also, the 90-minute lectures are further subdivided by topic, so it’s possible, for instance, to review works for hire without watching the entire authorship video.

If you have additional suggestions for reviewing copyright law, please share them in the comments.

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