From Sony to SOPA: The Technology-Content Divide

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From Sony to SOPA: The Technology-Content Divide

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Title: From Sony to SOPA: The Technology-Content Divide
Author: Zittrain, Jonathan L.
Citation: John Palfrey, Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert, and Lisa Brem, From Sony to SOPA: The Technology-Content Divide, Harvard Law School Case Studies (2013).
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Abstract: Copyright law, which is intended to provide creative rights and financial protection to content creators, has been challenged by technology innovators whose products have the potential to promote free speech, but could also be used to infringe on or facilitate infringement of existing copyright. From the invention of the printing press, technological innovations in communication have been accompanied by concerns for how the technology impacts copyright protections. The advent of the Internet and electronic devices spurred unprecedented accessibility and connectivity of information and ideas, while courts, regulators, and legal scholars in the United States sought to clarify how copyright law applied to these technologies.

This case reviews the recent history of copyright law and explores the conflict between three stakeholders in intellectual property law: copyright holders, technology producers, and legislative enforcers. Beginning with the decision of Sony v. Universal Studios (known colloquially as the “Betamax case”) in 1984 and culminating with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2011, the legal precedents for intellectual property have yet to mutually satisfy copyright holders and technology producers.

Addressing the Digital Millenium Copyright Act as well as peer-to-peer, torrenting, and other file sharing platforms, this case provides an overview of the touchstone technology and the verdicts associated with these products. This background note prepares students to analyze the 2011 SOPA legislation and discuss its repercussions for copyright law and technological innovation. During class discussions, students analyze the SOPA legislation and articulate their opinions on how it would impact various stakeholder groups. Students then work in groups to amend the legislation with the goal of creating a bill more likely to be signed into law.
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