UChicago to offer free online course on technology and law

How do government regulators around the globe scrutinize the decisions made by Internet giant Google on the controversial issue of “search market power?” What exactly is net neutrality, and what is the legal basis for implementing it in the United States? How are music, video and ebooks changing—and what do the legal fights over each look like?

These will be some of the topics covered in a free online course that the University of Chicago will launch this summer for its alumni and the public. Randal C. Picker, AB’80, AM’82, JD’85, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law and senior fellow at the Computation Institute, will lead a course that explores the complex and sometimes adversarial relationship between law and modern technology.


The seven-week class, “Internet Giants: The Law and Economics of Media Platforms,” will be available beginning July 13.

“Technological progress is an important source of economic growth and raises broader questions about the human condition,” said Picker, an expert on antitrust and copyright issues in high-technology industries. “And technology itself is powerfully shaped by the laws that apply in areas as diverse as copyright, antitrust, patents, privacy, speech law and the regulation of networks.”

The course draws on three courses that Picker regularly teaches at the Law School: antitrust, copyright and network industries. Picker said the class will highlight the major legal battles that have defined how the public experiences the Internet today. By examining the memos, cases and briefs between major corporations like Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon, students can learn how law has shaped the technology and media platforms of our modern age.

The course, UChicago’s first self-paced online offering, is provided through Coursera, an educational technology company that specializes in massive open online courses or MOOCs. It will cover seven topics:

  • Microsoft: The U.S. and European Union cases against Microsoft that arose when competition between the free-standing personal computer and the Internet world was at its height;
  • Google: The fight over Google search in the United States and Europe;
  • Smartphones: The complex legal infrastructure of smartphones and tablets and the ongoing antitrust, patent and copyright litigation among manufacturers and over the iPhone/iOS and the Android operating systems;
  • Net neutrality: The debate over network neutrality and efforts by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to produce sensible and sustainable nondiscrimination conditions for the Internet;
  • Music sharing: The history of music technology in the home (the Victrola and the player piano), the creation of radio and then the modern era: the rise of peer-to-peer music sharing and the copyright issues and litigation that have followed and then digital distribution (iTunes and Spotify);
  • Video—listening and watching: The road from government regulation of the radio spectrum to the development of cable TV, the VCR, DVDs, digital television and the challenges faced by emerging video distribution technologies like Netflix and Aereo;
  • Ebooks: The rise of the electronic book and the era of the mediated book, focusing on Google, Amazon and Apple.

While the class is self-paced and without prescribed start dates and deadlines, the course also features a private community in which Picker and his teaching staff will guide discussions about the content for a cohort of UChicago alumni learners over a period of eight weeks. They will be able to watch additional content specifically developed for alumni, and participate in live video chats with the professor to discuss class topics and current events related to law and technology.

Alumni can find additional information here. Those who are interested can sign up to be notified when the course is available.