Copyright gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights for a certain time period in relation to that work, including its publication, distribution, and adaptation. Copyright applies to any expressible form of an idea, or information that is substantive and discrete.
Defending the Right of Creators
As technological advances have tested and expanded the limits of copyright law, the Law School has been fortunate to have on its faculty Professor Jane Ginsburg, who is widely respected for her classic casebooks and presentations at prestigious conferences. A staunch defender of the rights of artistic and literary creators, she notes that the public’s demand for greater access to more works of authorship as quickly as possible has pressured the legal system to deal swiftly with issues of copyright.
“Five years ago, music downloading was the issue,” says Professor Ginsburg, the Morton L. Janklow Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law. “Now movies are a concern.”
As the advent of new technologies of creation and dissemination of works challenges traditional creation models, Professor Ginsburg has been led to explore the role of actual authors—as opposed to industry “content owners”—in copyright. In an article titled “The Author’s Place in the Future of Copyright,” Professor Ginsburg is optimistic that digital technology may be used to help authors maintain more control over their copyrights through creative distribution methods. “The future of copyright for professional authors is likely to depend on the development of consumer-friendly payment and protection mechanisms,” she says.
Professor Scott Hemphill’s scholarship has taken him to ateliers of fashion designers, where he has sought evidence to answer a question that has agitated the industry for decades: Do original fashion designs warrant intellectual property protection?
Hemphill has concluded that they deserve limited protection. “Close copying,” when a dress matches the original down to pattern and embellishments, should be considered infringing. By contrast, a coat based on another creator’s original design but with its own unique elements ought to be permitted.
The Ground Rules for Information
A key factor that drew Professor Tim Wu to Columbia Law School was the opportunity to live and teach in the epicenter of intellectual property. “In New York, you realize the effect the law has or doesn’t have on creation,” he says.
Professor Wu is known in the wired world for coining the phrase “network neutrality,” which represents the principle that information carriers should carry Internet information equally and not discriminate in favor of certain content. To describe it, Wu uses the analogy of the nation’s electric grid. “The grid doesn’t care if you plug in a toaster, an iron, or a computer,” he says. “What works for the radios of the 1930s works for today’s flat-screen TV. It’s a model of a neutral, innovation-driven network.”
Professor Wu sees in copyright the ground rules that help determine which information flourishes in our society. He plays down the “Wild West” reputation of the Internet, saying that e-businesses — even the corporate giants — need governmental support to function well and stay safe from fraud.
Students in his copyright course benefit from his current research into copyright’s role in the evolution of new communications technologies, from radio to cable television.
Adding further breadth to the Law School’s IP faculty is Clarisa Long, who also teaches the basic copyright course and has written on the subject. Her article “Information Costs in Patent and Copyright,” which appeared in the Virginia Law Review, examines various doctrines in copyright law and compares them to their counterparts in patent law. It explores why, for example, our society has a system in which an inventor does not have a patent unless the federal government grants it, whereas copyright holders get copyright protection without needing the imprimatur of the state.