Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Moment of Publication

Deborah Gerhardt, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Law, has published Copyright Publication: An Empirical Study in volume 87 of the Notre Dame Law Review (2011). Here is the abstract.

The Article presents the first empirical study of copyright publication, a concept that can mark a critical moment in the life of a creative work. Books, magazines, films, software and plays, as well as works of art, architecture, music, and even choreography may be protected by copyright. For works created before 1976, knowing whether a work is published is often necessary for determining whether it is in the public domain so that anyone can use it, copy it or adapt it in other media without risking copyright liability. A court’s determination of whether a work is published also may be dispositive of issues such as the duration of the copyright, if others can make fair use of it and whether, in litigation, statutory damages and attorney’s fees are available. Despite the obvious import of this concept, it remains one of the most ambiguous features of copyright law. How do judges decide whether a creative work is published? This article presents the first comprehensive and systematic answer to that question. Based on a dataset of federal judicial opinions, this article analyzes the extent to which accepted notions of copyright publication conform with legal doctrine. The results reveal that often they do not. In particular, this article demonstrates that publication has a surprisingly inconsistent meaning across copyright issues, differing dramatically between the public domain and fair use contexts. The analysis shows that the characteristics of the work, as well as how it is distributed and accessed are important to courts when deciding whether a work is in the public domain. These findings are especially noteworthy, since contrary to popular belief, courts increasingly encounter the issue of publication when answering a wide variety of copyright questions. Drawing upon the empirical findings, the Article recommends that the commonly used definitions of publication be changed to reflect the factors upon which judges actually rely in deciding these cases.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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