Taking the Liberty

Jason Guthrie. “Taking the Liberty: Toward a Theoretical History of Copyright Law.” Presentation at the “What is Media?” conference, Portland, Oregon, April 14-16.

Abstract: The justification for statutory copyright protection seems self-evident. Creators of copyrightable works invest substantial time, skill, and capital into the content they create, and therefore should have some legal recourse to pursue if others profit from their works without consent or use them contrary to the author’s original intent. Yet in the more than three hundred year history of copyright law, key issues surrounding authorship, ownership, and public use of creative works continue to persist. This suggests that legal protection alone cannot construct an optimum environment in which creativity can occur, and that the theorization of the nature of creative work is still incomplete. To whit, this article will review the history of copyright’s theorization in its two most prominent paradigms, Lockean classical liberalism and cultural Marxism. Based upon this review, it suggests a third paradigm, ritual economy, as capable of theorizing creative work and its protection more completely.

Jason Lee Guthrie