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The copyright course I teach at Columbia Law School begins with a survey of what copyright is not: it is not a patent, a trademark, or an object of physical property. Nor, as the course examines a little later on, does copyright protect every object of economic value whose worth might be further enhanced were it to be shielded from unauthorized copying. However, the frontiers between copyright and mere commercial value have never been well defined. Not only may the same item be simultaneously the object of copyright and of other legal rights, but copyright increasingly covers – or is invoked to extend to – products far from the "beaux arts," but that present strong economic claims to security from copying. Digital technology does not initiate this phenomenon, but it accentuates the longstanding pressure on the copyright system to encompass a broad variety of information products.

Ironically, at the same time as new entrants (as well as some old suitors in newfangled, binary garb) are pushing at the borders of the subject matter of copyright, a variety of extra-copyright devices are emerging to ensure the protection of works of authorship. This survey of the placement of copyright's boundaries therefore requires examination also of the frontier between protection granted under the copyright law, and under other laws invoked to prevent unauthorized copying or public performance.

In this presentation, I propose first to outline ways in which the borders of copyright may be drawn ... or overrun (I). I will consider the boundaries both of subject matter (A), and of rights (B). I will then examine the international consequences of locating the borders in the various ways suggested (II). While many of my examples will feature digital media, much of the analysis that follows would apply to analog media as well.


Intellectual Property Law | Law