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Harvard Law Review Forum

Trespass-Copyright Parallels and the Harm-Benefit Distinction

Responding to Shyamkrishna Balganesh, Foreseeability and Copyright Incentives, 122 Harv. L. Rev. 1569 (2009)

Currently, the elements of a plaintiff’s cause of action for copyright largely follow the tort of trespass to land in that volitional entry (for land) or volitional copying (for copyright) gives rise to liability regardless of proof of harm and without any need for the plaintiff to prove the defendant acted unreasonably. Many scholars have criticized copyright law for following the strict liability model of real property trespass, and have suggested alternatives that would more resemble conditional causes of action such as unfair competition, nuisance, or negligence. In Foreseeability and Copyright Incentives, Professor Shyamkrishna Balganesh argues that copyright plaintiffs should be required to prove foreseeability in order to make out a copyright claim. In this response, Professor Wendy Gordon suggests some new reasons why the tort of copyright infringement should be reformulated to abandon the trespass-to-land model, and explores some of the merits and shortcomings of Balganesh’s own version of the revised tort.