John is president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

John’s writing, research, and teaching focuses on digital technologies and their effect on society.  He has written extensively on Internet law, intellectual property, diversity, and the potential of new technologies to strengthen democracies locally and around the world. He is the author, co-author, or editor of ten books, including The Connected Parent: An Expert Guide to Parenting in a Digital World (Basic Books, 2020) (with Urs Gasser); Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education (MIT Press, 2017); Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age (Basic Books, revised edition, 2016) (with Urs Gasser); BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google (Basic Books, 2015); Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems (Basic Books, 2012) (with Urs Gasser); Intellectual Property Strategy (MIT Press, 2012); and Access Denied: The Practice and Politics of Global Internet Filtering (MIT Press, 2008), Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace (MIT Press, 2010) and Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace (MIT Press, 2012) (all co-edited).

John is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member of the American Antiquarian Society, and fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society. He was a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar to the University of Cambridge. He received the U.S. EPA Gold Medal (highest national award).

John previously served as the 15th Head of School at Phillips Academy, Andover.  He served as a Trustee, as well Chair, of the Board of Trustees of the Knight Foundation. He has served as a Board member of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, the Boston Athenaeum, and MIT Press.

John served as the Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School.  At the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, he served as executive director from 2002-2008 and continued on as a faculty director through 2019. John came to work at Harvard Law School from the law firm Ropes & Gray, where he worked on intellectual property, Internet law, and private equity transactions. He also served as a Special Assistant at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration.  He previously served as the founding President of the Board of Directors of the Digital Public Library of America. He also served as a venture executive at Highland Capital Partners.  He previously served on the Board of Directors of the Mass2020 Foundation, the Ames Foundation, Data + Society Research Institute, School Year Abroad, Open Knowledge Commons, and LRNG, among others.  John was a Visiting Professor of Information Law and Policy at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland for the 2007-2008 academic year. He served as the Steven and Maureen Klinsky Professorship of Practice for Leadership and Progress at Harvard Law School for 2020-2021.

John graduated from Harvard College, the University of Cambridge, and Harvard Law School. 

(Last updated Spring, 2023)

30 thoughts on “Bio

  1. […] John Palfrey of Harvard Law’s Berkman Center, hits the nail on the head regarding Digital Natives, or DN’s as he calls them. He purports that for those who’ve grown up in the digital age, most information is scanned at the headline level, that very select pieces will be pursued for some level of detail and that those which are pursued need some level of authenticity, trust and a feedback loop. It’s a perfect explanation of why blogs and social networking are so successful with youth. They ‘get’ the technology, they’re able to build relationships based on trust and common ground and there’s tons of opportunity for immediate and interactive feedback. […]

  2. […] This is untrue. Unless, that is, Cory is implying that Radio Open Source has been somehow been tricked into releasing their content under CC license since day 1. And John Palfrey sits on the Radio Open Source board. By any measure, this is a guy who understands copyright better than most people in the world and is there to act as an advisor to Brendan and the gang. I can’t see how this claim of a grave misunderstanding holds any water. […]

  3. […] John Palfrey, on the basis of a comment to YouTube’s copyright liability risks, has made a very important and outside-the-box suggestion as to how to deal with the present copyright uncertainty in the digital realm: “One might imagine a process by which citizens who create user-generated content (think of a single YouTube video file or a syndicated vlog series, a podcast audio file or series of podcasts, a single online essay or a syndicated blog, a photo covering the perfectly captures a breaking news story or a series of evocative images, and so forth) might consistently adopt a default license (one of the CC licenses […]) for all content that they create, with the ability also to adopt a separate license for an individual work that they may create in the future. […]

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