PropertyProf Blog

Editor: Stephen Clowney
Univ. of Arkansas, Fayetteville

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Miller on Copyright Originality

Joseph Scott Miller (Lewis & Clark) has posted Hoisting Originality on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

Copyright's originality standard is ripe for reappraisal. Many have described how copyright exclusion claims now intrude into the everyday lives of ordinary folk - making an "infringement nation," coated in "billowing white goo." (Tehranian (2007); Litman (2008)). And many have proposed ways to cope with copyright's expansion, from strengthening the fair use privilege to trimming the derivative work right to modifying the basic "substantial similarity" infringement standard. A few have tackled the matter at the front end - putting, as it were, less goo in the billowing machine. (E.g., Hughes, Size Matters (2005); Sprigman, Reform(Aliz)ing (2004)). Virtually no one, however, has gone back to the source - copyright's originality standard. Feist, the phone book white pages case, tells us that, at least as a constitutional matter, "the requisite level of creativity is extremely low." 499 U.S. 340, 345 (1991). But the Copyright Act's statutory originality requirement can, and should, be more demanding. I pattern this exploration on patent law's rejuvenated nonobviousness requirement, which the Supreme Court's KSR decision (2007) grounds on incenting the unconventional and unexpected. We should put copyright's creativity requirement on the same footing, protecting expression in proportion to its unconventionality. Indeed, the conditions that justify a nonobviousness requirement for useful inventions - distilled to the wisdom that "[w]ith greater rights come more stringent requirements for obtaining the rights" (Duffy, Inventing Invention at 10 (2007)) - are strikingly similar to those that bear on creative expression. I also identify the critical wrong turn in Bleistein (1902), where Justice Holmes concluded that the alternative to a low creativity threshold was a stifling aesthetic orthodoxy policed by the judiciary. He was right to turn away from such orthodoxy, of course, but missed a third, and better way - rewarding, and thus encouraging, the heterodox itself. The progress at which we should aim, for copyright as much as for patent, is the new vista to which we're led by those who break through conventional boundaries.

Originality must be hot right now!

Ben Barros

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March 19, 2009 in Intellectual Property, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Parchomovsky and Stein on Originality in Copyright Law

Gideon Parchomovsky (Penn) and Alex Stein (Yale/Cardozo) have posted Originality on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

In this Essay we introduce a model of copyright law that calibrates authors' rights and liabilities to the level of originality in their works. We advocate this model as a substitute for the extant regime that unjustly and inefficiently grants equal protection to all works satisfying the "modicum of creativity" standard. Under our model, highly original works will receive enhanced protection and their authors will also be sheltered from suits by owners of preexisting works. Conversely, authors of less original works will receive diminished protection and incur greater exposure to copyright liability. We operationalize this proposal by designing separate rules for highly original works, for works exhibiting average originality, and for works that are minimally original or unoriginal. We illustrate our rules' application by showing how they could have altered court decisions in classic copyright cases in a socially beneficial way.

Gideon sure likes those one-word titles.

Ben Barros

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March 19, 2009 in Intellectual Property, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mossoff on Patent Anticommons

Adam Mossoff (George Mason) has posted A Stitch in Time: The Rise and Fall of the Sewing Machine Patent Thicket on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

Scholarly interest in how anticommons theory applies to patents has skyrocketed since Professor Michael Heller first proposed a decade ago that excessively fragmented interests in land can frustrate its commercial development. There is now a vigorous debate on whether anticommons exist in patent law, and, if so, whether these patent thickets impede innovation in patented products. As Professor Heller writes in his recently published book, The Gridlock Economy, "the empirical studies that prove - or disprove - our theory remain inconclusive."

This article contributes to this debate by analyzing the rise and fall of the first patent thicket in American history: the Sewing Machine War of the 1850s. The invention of the sewing machine in the antebellum era represents many firsts in the American legal system - the first patent thicket, the first "patent troll," and the first patent pool. Significantly, this case study verifies that patent thickets exist and that they can frustrate commercial development of new products. But it also challenges widely held assumptions in the patent thicket literature. Many scholars believe that this is largely a modern problem arising from a host of allegedly new issues in the patent system, such as incremental high-tech innovation, excessive litigation, and the rise of "patent trolls." Yet the sewing machine patent thicket exhibited all of these phenomena, revealing that patent thickets have long existed within the historically successful American patent system. The denouement of the sewing machine patent thicket in the Sewing Machine Combination of 1856, the first privately formed patent pool, further challenges the widely held belief that patent thickets are best solved through new statutes, regulations or court decisions that limit property rights in patents. To the contrary, the Sewing Machine Combination was formed against the backdrop of the strong protection of property rights in patents in the antebellum era. Thus, the story of the invention of the sewing machine is a striking account of early American technological, commercial and legal ingenuity, which heralds important empirical lessons for how patent thicket theory is understood and applied today.

Ben Barros

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March 19, 2009 in Intellectual Property, Property Theory, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Appel on Wilderness and the Judiciary

Peter A. Appel (Georgia) has posted Wilderness and the Judiciary on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

This Article examines how the decisions of four land management agencies governing wilderness areas under the Wilderness Act fare in the federal courts. Agencies normally prevail in the majority of their cases before the federal courts because courts employ doctrines of deference to agencies' decisions. In the context of wilderness management, however, the success rates of the agencies varies drastically depending on the type of challenge brought. The Article provides a historical overview of different schemes for wilderness protection, from administrative regulatory schemes to the adoption of the 1964 Wilderness Act and subsequent enactments. It then examines specific case studies and numeric information from all of the cases decided under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The numbers reveal three striking facts. First, a two-fold gap exists between agency success rates in litigation depending on who brings the challenge and the type of challenge it is. Second, the agencies tend to lose in challenges brought by environmentalists more often than not. Third, the party of appointment for the judges does not appear to affect overall distribution of their votes as measured on a simple "pro-wilderness"/ "anti-wilderness" axis. After providing some possible explanations for this apparent one-way judicial ratchet favoring wilderness protection-some of which will be examined more thoroughly in future work-the Article offer some observations about whether such a one-way ratchet will always benefit wilderness restoration and protection.

Ben Barros

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March 17, 2009 in Natural Resources, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)