The Nature of Copyright
A Law of Users' Rights

L. Ray Patterson and Stanley W. Lindberg


"This timely and useful book presents a legal and historical interpretation of copyright as a law of users' rights, rather than a private property right. . . . Although a work of sound legal scholarship, this 'explanation of the underlying constitutional premises of copyright' is fully accessible to laypersons. The authors make a convincing case that 'copyright exists principally for the benefit of the public' and should ensure the free flow of information. . . . Recommendation—This controversial but well-informed challenge to the usual perceptions of copyright is highly recommended to librarians and should be read by legislators, judges, and copyright lawyers."
Journal of Academic Librarianship

"The Nature of Copyright is a lucid and dispassionate illumination of the mysteries of copyright—its original, its anomalies, its future. It is the ideal user's guide."
—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"Patterson and Lindberg intelligently and articulately sound the alarm against acceptance of inflated claims for copyright protection that are based on misunderstandings and misreadings of copyright’s history and purpose."
—Howard B. Abrams, University of Detroit, Mercy School of Law

"Professor Patterson, with the skillful collaboration of the editor of The Georgia Review, here presents at book-length his vigorous and unconventional views, with no holds barred. He and Professor Lindberg draw on history, principles, and policy to show how copyright should first assist those—all of us—who use works of authorship, second those who create them, and third (a distant third)—those who market the galaxy of protected works."
—Ralph S. Brown, Yale Law School

"Anyone who knows the field of copyright will welcome this splendid new work by Ray Patterson and Stanley Lindberg. At a moment in time when the field in becoming increasingly complex it is extremely valuable to return to first principles, and to recall, as Patterson and Lindberg invite us to do, that copyright is justified not only by what it promises eventually for the enrichment of the public domain, but also, meanwhile, by what it offers immediately to those who use the works the copyright system embraces."
—David Lange, Duke University School of Law

"Will cause the reader to look at copyright in a new light. Even those who ultimately reject the authors' theories will be left with a more complete picture of the development of copyright law and alternatives to the assumptions commonly made."
—Lydia Pallas Loren, Michigan Law Review

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This forthright and provocative book offers a new perspective on copyright law and the legal rights of individuals to use copyrighted materials. Most Americans believe that the primary purpose of copyright is to protect authors against the theft of their property. They are wrong, say L. Ray Patterson and Stanley W. Lindberg. Guaranteeing certain rights to authors (and to the entrepreneurs who publish and market their creations) is only an incidental function of copyright; it exists ultimately for the public’s benefit. The constitutionally ordained purpose of copyright, the authors remind us, is to promote the public welfare by the advancement of knowledge. In The Nature of Copyright they present an extended analysis of the fair-use doctrine and articulate a new concept that they demonstrate is implicit in copyright law: the rule of personal use.

Viewing copyright in a historical context, Patterson and Lindberg show how its original purposes—to prevent both the monopoly of the book trade and the official censorship of writings—have been lost largely as a result of uninformed jurisprudence. Contributing to the problem have been special-interest groups that have circulated official-looking but misleading copyright “guidelines” for copyright users, librarians, and others. According to the authors, the claims in these intimidating guidelines, such as copying restrictions based on specific word counts, are not legally binding and indeed are often groundless. If the current trend to give publishers and other vested interests even wider protection under copyright continues, warn Patterson and Lindberg, knowledge could become a private commodity to which access is tightly controlled.

The authors also address the effect of recent court rulings in such cases as J. D. Salinger v. Random House, Inc., and New Era Pub. Int. v. Henry Holt & Co. (the L. Ron Hubbard biography case). Severely hampering the work of biographers and historians, these controversial rulings appear to have increased the protection of unpublished materials under copyright.

Although copyright as a concept has existed for 450 years, The Nature of Copyright represents the first significant, in-depth examination of its basic philosophical premises. The authors’ ideas and opinions, certain to be viewed as controversial, have implications not just for the print media but for all areas of mass communication and entertainment, from television to music. By focusing on the basic policies and principles of copyright, rather than on case precedents, the authors present a strong argument for preserving the integrity of copyright law and the free flow of information and ideas.

Page count: 288 pp.


List price: $29.95

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