Computer Ethics, Summer 2017

Corboy 302, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Class 1

Week 1 Readings

Read the first three sections of Baase chapter 1 and at least the first section of chapter 4, especially:
    Video sharing in §1.2.1
    Cellphone case-study in §1.2.2
    What is intellectual property?: §4.1.1

Before class 2, finish reading chapter 1 and read the first three sections of chapter 4.

The main course notes are in the Notes Organized by Topic section on the main web page. Reading assignments, comments on the class discussion and occasional special notices are in these week-by-week notes.


The Supreme Court patent case TC Heartland v Kraft Foods wasn't even on my radar. But the decision announced Monday, May 22 has the potential to have a huge impact on software-patent cases. The court decided that a patent-infringement case must be brought "in the judicial district where the defendant resides". For companies, that means the district where they are incorporated.

In 1948, Congress decided that general lawsuits against corporations can be brought anywhere the company is "doing business". But in 1956 the Supreme Court ruled that, in patent cases, a different law applied, and lawsuits must be brought "where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business." Congress changed the general rules again in 1988, and so the patent-suit question came up soon after. But this time the case was heard by the patent-plaintiff-friendly Federal Circuit (created in 1982 which basically ruled "yeah, sue 'em anywhere".

In the intervening years, the Eastern District of Texas has become a popular location for infringement lawsuits, because it is perceived as "plaintiff friendly". One reason for that is while Texans often talk about conservative values, actual juror comments suggest that they are strong believers in big-government handholding, protectionism, and world socialism. To give an idea of the scope of East Texas' popularity, one judge there heard, for the last couple years, a quarter of all patent infringement cases filed in the United States. There are entire hotels that have been built in Marshall TX specifically for the patent-lawsuit trade.

Kraft sued TC Heartland in Delaware, and Heartland argued that it should be sued in Indiana. The Supreme Court ruled that the 1956 standard was still good law for patent cases, despite changes to the venue rules for other types of cases, and that patent cases must be brought "in the judicial district where the defendant resides".



There will be three papers. For the first paper, you will be given an opportunity to rewrite it.

Plagiarism rules: be sure ALL quotations are marked as such, and also cited.

When you write, be sure you organize your points clearly and address the question. Grammar and style count for MUCH less!

You will each participate in one "debate". I will publish a list of topics soon, and create a sign-up site. Topics will be in the form of declarative sentences; topics based on the examples above might be
  1. We need a strong DMCA takedown process to protect copyright holders
  2. Mass communications monitoring should be abolished; no government agency should be able to access even communications metadata without a finding of probable cause.
At the start of class on the designated day, you'll present either the for position or the against position. Your presentation should take 3 to 5 minutes. Someone else will then take the opposing position.

The catch is that you won't know which position you'll have until the actual start, so you'll have to think about both sides.

You may use notes.

We will not have exams.

Example: is file-sharing stealing, if nobody lost anything?

Overview of some of the issues we will discuss this semester:

Michael Eisner's June 2000 statement to Congress (edited, from Halbert & Ingulli 2004).