John Palfrey is Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. His research and teaching is focused on the impact of the Internet on democracy. John teaches courses with a focus on Internet law, intellectual property, e-commerce, and digital democracy.

John is a principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative, a collaborative research project with the University of Toronto, Cambridge University, and the University of Oxford, which involves the study of the way that countries block their citizens’ access to the Internet. He has published a number of scholarly papers related to the Internet’s relationship to Intellectual Property, international governance, and democracy. Along with Professors Jonathan Zittrain and William Fisher, he co-authored an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court in MGM v. Grokster.

Prior to joining the Berkman Center, John practiced intellectual property and corporate law at the law firm of Ropes & Gray. Outside his Berkman Center work, he is the founder of several technology start-ups, such as Top Ten Media. John worked as a White House-appointed special assistant at the US EPA during the Clinton Administration. He is a graduate of Harvard College, the University of Cambridge, and Harvard Law School.

John writes a blog at

Research interests

law, legal and regulatory control of online technologies, Internet and democracy, Internet governance, privacy, Internet filtering, citizen media, intellectual property, e-commerce, spyware

Positions held at the OII

  • Research Associate, November 2006 – November 2019


  • Beyond Byron: Towards a New Culture of Responsibility

    Recorded: 8 June 2008

    Duration: 01:00:47

    What new dangers are there for children being brought up in the digital age? Child psychologist Dr Tanya Byron reacts to the launch of the Byron Review and the feedback she has received since.

  • Oxford Union Debate: Internet and Democratisation, Part 3

    Recorded: 18 May 2007

    Duration: 00:22:55

    John Palfrey speaks. Oxford Union Debate: 'This House believes that the Internet is the greatest force for democratisation in the World'

  • ONI Conference: The Future of Free Expression on the Internet (Discussion)

    Recorded: 18 May 2007

    Duration: 01:11:35

    Attendees take part in an open discussion, facilitated by Berkman Center Executive Director John Palfrey and Jonathan Zittrain. The session includes thoughts on the product of the OpenNet Initiative's study and Q&A with the principle investigators.

  • Internet Governance for Development

    Recorded: 31 August 2006

    Duration: 01:41:29

    An overview of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the issues it plans to address under the theme 'Internet Governance for Development'. What are its overarching goals? What are its priority issues? How can people participate, and why should they?