If Copyright Is About Incentive, Should It Allow Total Control Over The Work?
from the questions-being-asked dept
William Patry points us to an interesting draft of an article by Prof. Shyamkrishna Balganesh (of University of Chicago Law School) for the Harvard Law Review concerning how the courts rarely take into account the real purpose of copyrights in deciding what copyrights allow people to do. The basic premise is that copyright is designed solely to be an incentive to get people to create new works — and, as such, some of the powers that the courts and Congress have added to copyright seem to go well beyond that core purpose. Specifically, Balganesh suggests that copyright shouldn’t prevent others from using the content in ways that the original author never foresaw, as those uses clearly should not have influenced the original incentive to create, since they were never even thought about. While Patry gives some compelling reasons why Balganesh’s current argument is a bit flawed, it does bring up a variety of interesting and important questions concerning what copyright really should be doing.
Most specifically, this argument is going to become more and more important as content creation increasingly moves away from a “broadcast” model to a many-to-many “communications” model. In such a world, things like fair use, derivative works and whether someone should “own” all downstream uses become much more important:
None of copyright’s current doctrinal devices enable courts to circumscribe a creator’s entitlement by reference to the incentive structure that the institution is premised on. As a direct consequence, creators (and their assignees) are often thought to be ‘rightfully entitled’ to any revenue stream associated with their creation, whether or not it owes its existence solely to the creator and regardless of it having been developed well after the creation of the work…. Individuals will (and can) not factor the unforeseeable consequences of their actions into their ex ante reasons for acting. Consequently, limiting copyright’s grant of exclusivity to uses of the creative work that were foreseeable to a creator at the time of creation is likely to better align creators’ creative decision-making with their incentives.
In other words, just because your work is used in part by another to create something new and different, it often doesn’t make sense to give the original creator control over that work — especially if it has nothing to do with the original incentive to create. Somehow, I’d imagine that JK Rowling would disagree.