Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Northover on a Lockean Theory of Copyright and the Merger Doctrine

Alexander D. Northover, Emory School of Law and George Washington University, is publishing 'Enough and as Good' in the Intellectual Commons: A Lockean Theory of Copyright and the Merger Doctrine in volume 65 of the Emory Law Journal. Here is the abstract.

Embedded in our national identity, the right to reap the fruit of one’s labor defines the quintessential American Dream. This ownership right seems so intuitively obvious that it needs no logical explanation, and thus John Locke’s foundational theory of property rights is often misinterpreted from the start. Locke’s labor theory of acquisition has perpetuated a kind of philosophical circuit split among scholars, relegating his ideas to a realm of partisan politics. These misinterpretations are unfortunate because, when properly applied, Locke’s property theory holds the promise of resolving complex issues in copyright law and theory. In the tradition of Locke’s contextualist interpreters, this Comment examines Locke’s philosophy and its context with the aim of describing a theory of Lockean copyright that is compatible with the basic tenets of American copyright law. Because the Lockean copyright theory offered here accounts for both procedural and consequential goods, it has stronger prescriptive power than the current utilitarian model and can do more work. Also, because Lockean duties lend well to bright-line rulemaking, applying Lockean thinking to legal analysis can streamline litigation. As an example of Locke’s cash value to copyright law, this Comment expounds upon his thoughts on the natural law duties of property owners and the state’s role in mitigating transaction costs of private ownership to assign burdens of proof at trial. This framework is utilized to outline a potential solution to the circuit split over whether the merger doctrine should apply during the copyrightability stage or the infringement stage of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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