Document Type


Publication Date



Copyright protection attaches to an original work of expression the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible medium. Yet modern copyright law contains no viable mechanism by which to examine whether someone is causally responsible for the creation and fixation of the work. Whenever the issue of causation arises, copyright law relies on its preexisting doctrinal devices to resolve the issue, in the process cloaking its intuitions about causation in altogether extraneous considerations. This Article argues that copyright law embodies an unstated yet distinct theory of authorial causation, which connects the element of human agency to a work of expression using the myriad goals and objectives of the copyright system. This theory of causation would be best realized through an independent requirement – copyrightable causation – that the creator of a work must satisfy in order to qualify as its author for copyright protection. Tracking authorial causation, the requirement would embody both a factual dimension (creation in fact) and a normative component (legal creation). The former would exam­ine the connection between the work and the putative author as a purely epistemic matter, while the latter would do so through an evaluative understanding of copyright’s myriad goals and policies. The Article unpacks the structural and substantive foundations of authorial causation in copyright law and argues that making causation an explicit requirement for protection would introduce a measure of coherence and rationality into the question of copyrightability while simultaneously allowing copyright law to overtly affirm and promote its various institutional ideals.


Intellectual Property Law | Law | Science and Technology Law


This article originally appeared in 117 Colum. L. Rev. 1 (2017). Reprinted by permission.