The Concept of Authorship in Comparative Copyright Law

The Concept of Authorship in Comparative Copyright Law

Ginsburg, Jane C., "The Concept of Authorship in Comparative Copyright Law" (January 10, 2003). Columbia Law School, Pub. Law Research Paper No. 03-51.

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    In contemporary debates over copyright, the figure of the author is too-often absent. As a result, these discussions tend to lose sight of copyright's role in fostering creativity. I believe that refocusing discussion on authors - the constitutional subjects of copyright - should restore a proper perspective on copyright law, as a system designed to advance the public goal of expanding knowledge, by means of stimulating the efforts and imaginations of private creative actors. Copyright cannot be understood merely as a grudgingly tolerated way-station on the road to the public domain. Nor does a view of copyright as a necessary incentive to invest in dissemination of copy-vulnerable productions adequately account for the nature and scope of legal protections. Much of copyright law in the US and abroad makes sense only if one recognizes the centrality of the author, the human creator of the work. Because copyright arises out of the act of creating a work, authors have moral claims that neither corporate intermediaries nor consumer end-users can (straightfacedly) assert. This makes it all the important to attempt to discern just what authorship means in today's copyright systems.

    This Article endeavors to explore the concept of authorship in both common law and civil law jurisdictions. It considers legislative, judicial and secondary authorities in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, as well as in the civil law countries of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The legal systems here examined appear to agree that an author is a human being who exercises subjective judgment in composing the work and who controls its execution. But that description may neither fully capture nor exhaust the category of "authors." Contending additional or alternative authorial characteristics range from sweat of the ordinary brow, to highly skilled labor, to intent to be a creative author, to investment. The under- or over-inclusiveness of the subjective judgment criterion depends on which of these other characteristics national laws credit. Despite these variations, I nonetheless conclude that in copyright law, an author is (or should be) a human creator who, notwithstanding the constraints of her task, succeeds in exercising minimal personal autonomy in her fashioning of the work. Because, and to the extent that, she molds the work to her vision (be it even a myopic one), she is entitled not only to recognition and payment, but to exert some artistic control over it. If copyright laws do not derive their authority from human creativity, but instead seek merely to compensate investment, then the scope of protection should be rethought and perhaps reduced.

Facts on copyright

  • A common and simple practice to obtain evidence in favour of authorship is to place the copyright material in a envelope or package together with a document signed by several people stating that they have examined the work prior to it being sealed and that in their opinion it is original. Once this is done the package is mailed to the owner by recorded delivery, which helps to establish when the work was created, who the originator of the work is and that there are signatory validators prepared to state that it is original.
  • With the exception of a small number of countries which still require notices to be on works, this requirement is generally optional except for works which were originally created before the particular country became a member of the Berne Convention (the members of which are collectively known as the Berne Union).
  • Copyright is a type of intellectual property. Designs or industrial designs may be a separate or overlapping form of intellectual property in some jurisdictions. Copyright law only covers the particular form or manner in which ideas or information have been manifested, the "form of material expression". It is not designed or intended to cover the actual idea, concepts, facts, styles, or techniques which may be embodied in or represented by the copyright work.

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