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Efficient Copyright Infringement

67 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2012 Last revised: 7 Mar 2016

Dave Fagundes

University of Houston Law Center

Date Written: August 20, 2012


Copyright infringement is said to be socially costly because it robs owners of due recompense and depresses incentives for creative production. This Article contends that in order to achieve copyright’s goal of maximizing cultural production, this dominant story of infringement’s costs requires alongside it a counter-story identifying the rare but important instances where copyright infringement enhances social welfare. Part I explains the need for an account of the novel notion of efficient copyright infringement. Other types of unlawful conduct may also be beneficial, but copyright in particular warrants exploration of efficient infringement because maximizing creative production requires some level of unauthorized use, and because copyright’s political economy tilts in favor of expanding owners’ rights. Part II explores efficient copyright infringement’s domain, showing that unauthorized use of protected works of authorship will be prosocial where traditional private ordering is unavailable (or strongly undesirable) to facilitate a given use, and where that use is welfare-enhancing. Part III outlines broadly how a law of efficient copyright infringement might look. It first explains how the Copyright Act has failed to fully account for beneficial unauthorized use. It then considers a variety of ways that copyright damages could be structured to better accommodate efficient infringement. The Article concludes by situating this argument in the context of a growing literature that explores the surprising and underappreciated upside of unauthorized use of copyrighted works of authorship.

Keywords: Arts and Entertainment, Economics, Intellectual Property Law, Law and Economics, Law and Society, Property-Personal and Real, Public Law and Legal Theory

Suggested Citation

Fagundes, Dave, Efficient Copyright Infringement (August 20, 2012). Iowa Law Review, Vol. 98, 2013. Available at SSRN: or

Dave Fagundes (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

Houston, TX 77003
United States
713.743.1431 (Phone)
713.7432238 (Fax)

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