Copyright Article

The Obligatory Structure of Copyright Law: Unbundling the Wrong of Copying

Vol. 125 No. 7 Courts and scholars today understand and discuss the institution of copyright in wholly instrumental terms. Indeed, given the forms of analysis that they routinely employ, one might be forgiven for thinking that copyright is nothing more than a comprehensive government-administered scheme for encouraging the production of creative expression and is therefore quite legitimately the subject matter of public law. While this instrumental focus may have the beneficial effect of limiting copyright’s unending expansion, it also serves as a source of distraction. It directs attention away from the reality that copyright is fundamentally a creation of the law and is thus endowed with a uniquely legal normativity that instrumental accounts find difficult to capture. In so doing, it also glosses over the rather crucial fact that copyright law’s basic structure is and indeed always has been that of private law.
Intellectual Property Article

Foreseeability and Copyright Incentives

Vol. 122 No. 6 Copyright law’s principal justification today is the economic theory of creator incentives. Central to this theory is the recognition that while copyright’s exclusive rights framework provides creators with an economic incentive to create, it also entails large social costs, and that creators therefore need to be given just enough incentive to create in order to balance the system’s benefits against its costs. Yet, none of copyright’s current doctrines enable courts to circumscribe a creator’s entitlement by reference to limitations inherent in the very idea of incentives. While the common law too relies on providing actors with incentives to behave in certain ways, it recognizes that its incentive structure has outer limits and that failing to calibrate an entitlement or liability with these limits in mind is likely to prove inefficient. The principal mechanism that it employs to this end is the concept of foreseeability. Premised on the idea that individuals do not ordinarily consider consequences that are temporally or causally far removed from their actions, foreseeability allows courts to balance a regime’s ex ante incentive effects against its ex post costs when determining liability.