Joseph Fishman presented his forthcoming paper, Creating Around Copyright at the UCLA Entertainment, Media, and Intellectual Property Colloquium Workshop this weekend. The paper argues that rather than seeing copyright as a system of access costs that create incentives, we should recognize that copyright may actually spur additional creativity by virtue of the very constraints it establishes.
I like this paper a lot, but the treatment of copyright as a singular constraint that just varies by questions of degree seemed a bit reductionist to me. The constraints copyright imposes are in fact quite uneven. For example, the fair use doctrine privileges transformative uses, however it is much easier to be confident that a reuse that criticizes the original is transformative compared to one that is simply a new work. Thus, at the margins, copyright encourages criticism, not necessarily creativity. Furthermore, the idea-expression distinction encourages differentiation at the level of superficial characteristics, but allows the uncreative recirculation of ideas. Thus Westside Story is less likely to infringe Shakespeare’s (non-existent) copyright than is the far more creative Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
This is undoubtably a clever and well-written article although some of its claims to significance may be inflated. If some all-knowing accountant were to tally up the costs and benefits of copyright, it seems quite unlikely that the generativity of constraint would count for very much in the grand scheme of things.