During the previous two weeks, we have surveyed two major areas of business law: contracts and torts. In summary, the law of contracts tells us when our promises are legally enforceable, while the law of torts tells us when we are legally liable for someone’s else injuries. In our next class, by contrast, we will survey a third major area of the common law — the law of property — and we will focus in particular on intellectual property or “the law of ideas.” Although Anglo-American law does not create property rights in ideas per se, intellectual property law does allow you to protect the expression of your ideas, if certain legal requirements are met. By way of example, Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg may have created several valuable forms of intellectual property when he registered the domain name for “www.thefacebook.com” in January of 2004 and began building the prototype of his Facebook website (pictured below), which he launched from his dorm room on February 4, 2004. But what type of intellectual property did Zuckerberg create? In addition, we will also debate in class whether Zuck “stole” any intellectual property from the Winklevoss twins, who gave Zuckerberg access to the computer code for a similar website they were developing at the time, or from Aaron Greenspan, who claims that he founded Facebook a few months before Zuckerberg did.
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