Digital Copyright and the Possibility of Pure Law

Qui Parle, Vol. 14, 2003

29 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2007

See all articles by Gordon Hull

Gordon Hull

University of North Carolina at Charlotte - Department of Philosophy


This paper attempts a theoretical discussion of effects on the legal regime of copyright induced by the change from material to digital media. Specifically, a fundamental question remains unanswered: what is the relationship between an object and a copy? A conceptually clear answer to this question has been unnecessary because it has always been possible to provide an ad hoc answer through visual inspection of an object. Authorized mechanical reproductions - authorized copies - look similar to one another, and unauthorized reproductions bear tangible evidence of degradation. Digital reproduction, however, makes such visual inspection impossible, as both authorized and unauthorized digital reproductions look the same. At that moment, one "would expect" that copyright protects the essence of the object, independently of how it looks. Indeed, this is precisely what copyright jurisprudence, which emphasizes originality, tries to do. However, absent the baseline of visual intelligibility, there is no criterion for knowing which object legitimately embodies its eidos and which does not. The effects of this absence stand behind many of the battles surrounding digital reproduction. In section 2, I discuss more precisely how digital reproduction undermines the original/copy distinction. In section 3, I show how the effects of this are manifest in contemporary debates. Section 4 attempts a more theoretical discussion, organized around Deleuze's discussion of Platonism (and the degree to which, for Deleuze, the Platonic original/copy distinction functions to enable the police work of good copy/bad copy). The essay concludes with some thoughts about future developments in copyright and the suggestion that the move to digital rights management technologies are appropriately seen as a response to these conceptual limitations in copyright.

Keywords: copyright, Deleuze, intellectual property, digital media

Suggested Citation

Hull, Gordon, Digital Copyright and the Possibility of Pure Law. Qui Parle, Vol. 14, 2003, Available at SSRN:

Gordon Hull (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina at Charlotte - Department of Philosophy ( email )

9201 University City Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28223
United States

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