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Copyright Law - Research

Research Guide Created for Prof. Callister's Copyright Course

Summary of Research in Primary Sources of Authority

Copyright law is code driven.  Congress is appointed by the Constitution Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."  Consequently, starting with the code, Title 17, is often the most useful way to commence research, once a basic familiarity with the code has been established.  Finally, it should be noted that the Copyright Code preempts state law in most instances.

The United States also has a common law tradition with copyright that it inherited from the British (e.g. Statute of Anne).  In fact, Congress attempted to capture the doctrine of "fair use" (in section 107) that had evolved from the courts.  Indeed, the federal courts have continued to take the lead in interpreting "fair use" under section 107.  They also play a role in interpreting other sections of the copyright code (Title 17).  Researching case law, often by using annotated codes provided by Thomson Reuters West or Lexis, is a prime legal research technique.

Finally, there are times when Congress designates the Copyright Office in the Code to provide regulations to cover certain transactions.  For instance, pursuant to section 1201 of the code, the Copyright Office issues regulations every three years to grant exceptions from the non-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, provisions which protect technical measures used to control access to and the reproduction of copyrighted works.  The regulations also establish the proper notification libraries are to give to patrons using copiers and scanners to reproduce printed works in the library--thereby limiting the library's liability if the patron is in fact infringing on copyright.

With all three branches of government--Congress, the Courts, and the Copyright Office playing important roles--this tab has been divided into three sub-tabs.  Each illustrates research for the given branch of government.