COPYRIGHT HARM AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Copyright law is a glaring and unjustified exception to the general rule that the government may not prohibit speech without a showing that the speech causes harm. While the First Amendment sometimes protects even harmful speech, it virtually never allows the prohibition of harmless speech. Yet, while other speech-burdening laws, such as defamation and right of publicity laws, require demonstrable evidence that the defendant’s speech causes actual harm, copyright law does not make harm a requirement of infringement. Although copyright law considers harm to the market for the copyrighted work as a factor in fair use analysis, harm is not always required and is so poorly defined that the concept has become circular. Moreover, the defendant ordinarily bears the burden of proof to show the absence of harm. As a result, courts often find liability for infringement (and therefore burden speech) where harm is purely speculative.
Potential explanations for copyright’s anomalous treatment are unpersuasive. Copying involves speech as well as conduct, and the fact that copyrights are in some sense property does not come close to justifying its aberrant treatment. Moreover, copyright’s role in encouraging creative expression does not obviate First Amendment concerns. Rather, it provides a way to reconcile copyright law and free speech. Drawing substantially from First Amendment cases holding that speech restrictions must be justified by a governmental interest, this article argues that the First Amendment requires real proof of harm to the copyright holder’s incentives in order to impose liability for copyright infringement. It also explores the types of harm that might arise in copyright infringement cases and considers whether the First Amendment permits recognition of these types of harm. The article concludes that although demonstrable market harm is cognizable under First Amendment principles, recognition of harm to the reputation of copyrighted works, the author’s right not to speak or associate, or the copyright holder’s privacy interests is generally not compatible with the values of free speech.
Christina Bohannan. 2009. "COPYRIGHT HARM AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT" ExpressO
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/christina_bohannan/2