Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and The Trap of Inhalt (Content) and Form: An Information Perspective on Music Copyright
Information, Communication & Society, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp. 41-64
31 Pages Posted: 22 May 2012
Date Written: February 1, 2009
In the digital environment, copyright law has become trapped in an assessment of what has been taken, rather than what has been done with copied materials and elements. This expands the scope of copyright into areas where it should not find infringement (such as sampling, mash-ups and other transformative uses) while encouraging activities that are problematic (such as hiding sources). This article argues that the trap was laid by the German idealist philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte whose influential 1793 article Proof of the Unlawfulness of Reprinting for the first time distinguishes Inhalt (i.e. content free to all) and Form (i.e. the author’s inalienable expression) as copyright categories. It is shown that Fichte’s structure conflates norms of communication and norms of transaction. An alternative path for copyright law in an information society is sketched from a separation of these norms: copying should be assessed from (i) the attribution of sources, and (ii) the degree to which original and derivative materials compete with each other. Throughout the article, transformative practices in music set the scene.
Keywords: copyright, idea-expression dichotomy, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, musical work, performance, adaptation, sampling
JEL Classification: O34, K11
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation