Wu is a scholar of the media and technology industries, and his academic specialties include antitrust, copyright, and telecommunications law. Wu was named to The National Law Journal's "America's 100 Most Influential Lawyers" in 2013, as well as to the "Politico 50" in 2014 and 2015. Additionally, Wu was named one of Scientific American's 50 people of the year in 2006, and one of Harvard University's 100 most influential graduates by 02138 magazine in 2007. His book The Master Switch was named among the best books of 2010 by The New Yorker magazine, Fortune magazine, Publishers Weekly, and other publications.
From 2011 to 2012, Wu served as a Senior Advisor to the Federal Trade Commission, and from 2015–2016 he was senior enforcement counsel and special advisor at the New York Office of the Attorney General. In 2016 Wu joined the National Economic Council in the Obama White House to work on competition policy.
Wu was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Basel, Switzerland and Toronto, Canada. His father, Alan Ming-ta Wu, was from Taiwan and his mother, Gillian Wu, is British-Canadian. They both studied as immunologists at the University of Toronto. Wu and his younger brother were sent to alternative schools that emphasized creativity. At school, he befriended Cory Doctorow. Wu's father died in 1980 and his mother bought him and his brother an Apple II computer using some of the insurance money, starting Wu's fascination with computers.
Wu attended McGill University, where he initially studied biochemistry and later switched his major to biophysics. He graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1995 and received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1998. At Harvard, he studied under copyright scholar Lawrence Lessig.
Wu worked with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, after graduating from law school, and before starting a clerkship with Richard Posner on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998-1999. He also clerked for Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court in 1999-2000. Following his clerkships, Wu moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, worked at Riverstone Networks, Inc. (2000–02) and then entered academia at the University of Virginia School of Law.
Wu was Associate Professor of Law at the University of Virginia from 2002 to 2004, Visiting Professor at Columbia Law School in 2004, Visiting Professor at Chicago Law School in 2005, and Visiting Professor at Stanford Law School in 2005. In 2006, he became a full professor at Columbia Law School and started Project Posner, a free database of all of Richard Posner's legal opinions. Wu called Posner "probably America's greatest living jurist."
Wu is credited with popularizing the concept of network neutrality in his 2003 paper Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination. The paper considered network neutrality in terms of neutrality between applications, as well as neutrality between data and Quality of Service-sensitive traffic, and proposed some legislation to potentially deal with these issues.
In 2006, Wu wrote "The World Trade Law of Internet Filtering", which analyzed the possibility of the World Trade Organization's treating censorship as a barrier to trade. In June 2007, when Google Inc. lobbied the United States Trade Representative to pursue a complaint against China's censorship at the WTO, Wu's paper was cited as a "likely source" for this idea. In 2006, Wu was also invited by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help draft the first network neutrality rules attached to the AT&T and BellSouth merger.
In 2007, Wu published a paper proposing a "Wireless Carterfone" rule for mobile phone networks; the rule was adopted on July 31, 2007 by the Federal Communications Commission for the United States 2008 wireless spectrum auction, with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps stating: "I find it extremely heartening to see that an academic paper—in this case by Professor Timothy Wu of Columbia Law School—can have such an immediate and forceful influence on policy." In November 2007 BusinessWeek credited Wu with providing "the intellectual framework that inspired Google's mobile phone strategy."
With his Columbia Law School colleagues Professors Scott Hemphill and Clarisa Long, Wu co-directs the Columbia Law School Program on Law and Technology, founded in 2007. In August 2007, in collaboration with the University of Colorado School of Law's Silicon Flatirons Program, the Columbia Law School Program on Law and Technology launched a Beta version of AltLaw, which he produced.
Wu has appeared on the television programs The Colbert Report and Charlie Rose.
Wu's 2010 book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires described a long "cycle" whereby open information systems become consolidated and closed over time, reopening only after disruptive innovation. The book shows this cycle develop with the rise of the Bell AT&T telephone monopoly, the founding of the Hollywood entertainment industry, broadcast and cable TV industries, and finally with the internet industry. He looks at the example of Apple Inc., which began as a company dedicated to openness that evolved into a more closed system under the leadership of Steve Jobs, demonstrating that the internet industry will follow the historical cycle of the rise of Information empires (though Wu discuss Google as an important counterpoint). The book was named one of the best books of 2010 by The New Yorker magazine, Fortune magazine, Amazon.com, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and others.
Wu ran for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor of New York against Kathy Hochul, a conservative Democrat, the running mate of incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo. Hochul won; Wu took 40% of the popular vote. Wu campaigned alongside law professor and progressive activist Zephyr Teachout who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor of New York.
In a Washington Post interview discussing his candidacy, Wu described his approach to the campaign as one positioned against the concentration of private power: "A hundred years ago, antitrust and merger enforcement was front page news. And we live in another era of enormous private concentration. And for some reason we call all these 'wonky issues.' They're not, really. They affect people more than half a dozen other issues. Day to day, people's lives are affected by concentration and infrastructure... You can expect a progressive-style, trust-busting kind of campaign out of me. And I fully intend to bridge that gap between the kind of typical issues in electoral politics and questions involving private power."
In late August 2014, The New York Times editorial board endorsed Wu for lieutenant governor in the Democratic Party primary. Wu was the only one of the four candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial races (governor and lieutenant governor) whom the paper endorsed. The primary took place September 9. The day after the Times endorsement, Wu was endorsed by the editorial board of Daily Kos.
In September 2015, the New York Times reported Wu's appointment to the Office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Wu works on issues involving technology, including protecting consumers and ensuring fair competition among companies that do business online. Commenting on his appointment, Wu stated: “If I have a life mission, it is to fight bullies, I like standing up for the little guy, and I think that’s what the state A.G.’s office does.”
He is married to Kate Judge, also a Columbia Law professor, and they have two daughters.
Books:Tim Wu (2010). The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. New York: Knopf (ISBN 0307269930, ISBN 978-0-307-26993-5)
Goldsmith, Jack L., and Tim Wu (2006). Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World. New York: Oxford UP (ISBN 0195152662, ISBN 978-0-19-515266-1)
Tim Wu (2016) The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads. New York: Knopf (ISBN 978-0-385-35201-7)
Articles:(2013) "How the Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz—And Us", The New Yorker News Desk blog, January 14, 2013.
(2007) "Wireless Net Neutrality: Cellular Carterfone and Consumer Choice in Mobile Broadband", New America Foundation: Wireless Future Program. Working Paper No. 17, Newamerica.net
(2005) "Copyright's Communications Policy", Michigan Law Review
(2004) "The Broadband Debate: A User's Guide", Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law 3.69
(2003) "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination", Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law 2.2
Features:"Airports". Timwu.org. Accessed August 24, 2008. (Personal Webpage review.)
"Keeping Secrets: A Simple Prescription for Keeping Google's Records out of Government Hands". Slate, January 23, 2006. Accessed August 24, 2008.
"Network Neutrality FAQ". Timwu.org. Accessed August 24, 2008. (Personal Webpage feature; hyperlinked articles by Wu and others.)
"No Ice". Timwu.org. Accessed August 24, 2008. (Personal Webpage feature.)
"Why You Should Care about Network Neutrality: The Future of the Internet Depends On It!". Slate, May 6, 2006. Accessed August 24, 2008.
"A Historic Decision": Tim Wu, Father of Net Neutrality, Praises FCC Vote to Preserve Open Internet. Democracy Now!, February 27, 2015. Accessed October 20, 2015.