AUC introduces an innovative course on U.S. copyright laws, Copyrightx, created at Harvard University

Press release
Published September 14th, 2015 - 10:38 GMT
During the event
During the event

Students at The American University in Cairo (AUC) had the opportunity to interact and collaborate online with professors and peers from around the world through an innovative course on U.S. copyright laws, CopyrightX, that was created at Harvard University. Developed by Professor William Fisher at Harvard Law School and hosted and supported by the HarvardX distance-learning initiative and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the CopyrightX community includes Harvard students and teaching fellows, a network of affiliated universities and independent learners worldwide. This fall, Nagla Rizk, professor of economics and founding director of the Access to Knowledge for Development Center at the School of Business, will be teaching the second iteration of CopyrightX.

CopyrightX consists of three types of courses: a residential course taught by Fisher to Harvard students, online courses taught by Harvard fellows (second or third year Harvard Law School students) to students worldwide and affiliate courses taught by professors at universities outside the United States, including AUC, to their own students.   

At the heart of the course is the reciprocal arrangement of cross-cultural exposure, since students work alongside participants worldwide. “When students have questions, they can share them in forums and see how laws compare in different parts of the world,” explained Rizk.   

The international scope emanates from Fischer’s innovative attempt to bring democracy into the university education system. The online course is completely free, including all the material, and applicants do not have to be university students. In fact, the program invites anyone over 13 with a good command of English and a strong desire to learn. No legal background is necessary. From the applications, 500 people with diverse backgrounds, age groups and professions are selected.

Nagham El Houssamy, who assisted Rizk with the course last spring, took CopyrightX as an online student while on a research fellowship at the University of Cape Town. “I liked the learning style very much because everyone brought their own unique flavor to it, and the discussions were never repetitive,” she explained. “Because Copyright X is offered to such a wide community of people, you would have artists, teachers and people doing it just for fun. People think differently depending on their backgrounds, so they would bring different contributions based on their interests.”  

These diverse groups of students develop a strong community as they learn in tandem through lectures, moderated classroom or virtual discussions, and online dialogs. In Rizk’s course, students view Fisher’s pre-recorded lectures and read assigned material before attending class. Then Rizk guides them through a discussion of case studies so they can learn about U.S. copyright law, but also explore the uniqueness of Egyptian law.

Although U.S. copyright law is at the core, Rizk has tailored her weekly classes to focus on Egyptian copyright law with examples that allows students to compare and contrast the two systems. “I can customize the class by choosing readings relevant to Egypt and asking my students to look at cases specifically from here,” said Rizk.

Rizk uses real-life cases that challenged Egyptian copyright law, including instances involving shaabi (working class) music, plays or Um Kalthoum adopting poetry into song lyrics. “With these examples, it’s not as much directly discussing the content of the law, but looking at situations that bring the subject closer to the students’ everyday life,” said Rizk. 

With her guidance, students have eagerly engaged in scrutinizing these contemporary cases. “Students sometime brought other examples. They mentioned other things that they would come across, and they kept asking questions,” recalled Rizk. “I had a great class, really motivated.”

To customize AUC’s version of CopyrightX to Egyptian students, Rizk had to research, organize and adapt all the case studies used in class. “It’s very difficult to find published materials on these issues in English,” explained Rizk. “You can find the laws, but what happens in practice is not always documented. It was a challenge to collect the materials and make it interesting for the students.”

Rizk explained that one of the unique aspects of Egypt copyright law is the recognition of moral rights, or the personal rights of the creators to protect their reputation and the integrity of their work. Recently, there was a high-profile case surrounding the use of a Abdel Halim Hafez song by American rapper Jay-Z. The music was properly licensed by Jay-Z, but because he used it as a sample and not in its original form, the family is filing a lawsuit on grounds that Hafez’s music had been “mutilated” and, therefore, infringed on their moral rights. The idea of moral rights is much looser in U.S. law, but the judge in the case decided to accommodate this uniqueness in Egyptian law, and a trial is still in process. The students, Rizk noted, were not only intrigued by this pop culture reference in their University classroom, but saw this as a clear example of where copyright law in the United States and Egypt clash.       

In addition, veteran Egyptian movie producer Marianne Khoury visited Rizk’s class last spring. The lecture was recorded and put online for the rest of the Copyright X students, fellows and professors to learn about the mechanics of copyright law in the Egyptian music and movie industry.

Taught as a special topics course in the economic department, the class is also tailored to economics students. Tatum Lindsay, former CopyrightX intern at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and producer of CopyrightX AUC, noted that the economic twist makes the AUC course unique. “What’s special about the course is that we’re a group of economists teaching a course about copyright law to students in the School of Business,” Lindsay said. “The students are absolutely engaged, and the economics flavor of the course helps illustrate the effects of copyright law regimes in the U.S. and Egypt.”

Rizk is not only developing material for future CopyrightX courses; she’s educating an international community on the nuances of Egyptian copyright law and culture. Rizk and her students sparked discussion in the online forum, an essential part of the course that is available to all the students from Harvard and the 18 affiliate universities, as well as online students. “Students went on the platform and shared their views about what they learned and what it’s like in Egypt because it’s informative for people from different countries to see,” said El Houssamy.

Lindsay agreed: “They’ve adjusted well to the style of the course and spurred conversation and debate in a way that impressed the team.”

Background Information

American University of Cairo

Founded in 1919, AUC is a leading English-language, American-accredited institution of higher education and center of intellectual, social and cultural life of the Arab world. Its community of students, parents, faculty and staff, trustees, alumni and other generous sponsors represent more than 60 countries. The University stands as a crossroads for the world’s cultures and a vibrant forum for reasoned argument, spirited debate and understanding across the diversity of languages, facilities and human experiences.

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