Cory's undergrad course – just a few spots left!

Just a few spots remain in my USC undergrad course, called "Pwned: Is everyone on this campus a copyright criminal?" The course runs for one semester only, starting in January 2007, and runs Tuesdays frm 3:30-6:30. It's a rare peek behind the scenes at DRM standards bodies, Congress, activist coalitions, hacker groups and all the other players who are shaping the future of every discipline, from engineering to international development, art to economics.

It's a COMM499 course and open to all students, regardless of your major. The main class assignment is to work through Wikipedia entries on subjects we cover in the class, in groups, identifying weak areas in the Wikipedia sections and improving them, then defending those improvements in the message-boards for the Wikipedia entries.

Every garden has a snake: computers aren't just tools for empowering their owners. They're also tools for stripping users of agency, for controlling us individually and en masse.

It starts with "Digital Rights Management" — the anti-copying measures that computers employ to frustrate their owners desires. These technologies literally attack their owners, treating them as menaces to be thwarted through force majeure, deceit, and cunning. Incredibly, DRM gets special protection under the law, a blanket prohibition on breaking DRM or helping others to do so, even if you have the right to access the work the DRM is walling off.

But DRM's just the tip of the iceberg. Every digital act includes an act of copying, and that means that copyright governs every relationship in the digital realm. Take a conversation to email and it's not just culture, it's copyright — every volley is bound by the rules set out to govern the interactions between large publishing entities.

Playing a song for a buddy with your stereo is lawful. Stream that song to your buddy's PC and you could be facing expulsion and criminal prosecution.

Every interaction on the Web is now larded over with "agreements" — terms of service, acceptable use policies, licenses — that no one reads or negotiates. These non-negotiable terms strip you of your rights the minute you click your mouse. Transactions that would be a traditional purchase in meatspace are complex "license agreements" in cyberspace. As mere licensors, we are as feudal serfs to a lord — ownership is conferred only on those who are lucky enough to be setting the terms. Our real property interests are secondary to their "intellectual property" claims.

When the computer, the network, publishing platforms, and property can all be magicked away with the Intellectual Property wand, we're all of us pwned, 0wnz0red, punkd. Our tools are turned against us, the law is tipped away from our favor.

Link to course catalog, Link to draft syllabus