IP Things as Boundary Objects: The Case of the Copyright Work

45 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2013 Last revised: 22 Jan 2020

See all articles by Michael J. Madison

Michael J. Madison

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Date Written: March 31, 2013


My goal is to explore the meanings and functions of the objects of intellectual property: the work of authorship (or copyright work) in copyright, the invention in patent, and the mark and the sign in trademark. This paper takes up the example of the copyright work.

It is usually argued that the central challenge in understanding the work is to develop a sensible method for appreciating its boundaries. Those boundaries, conventionally understood as the metaphorical "metes and bounds" of the work, might be established by deferring to the intention of the author, or by searching for authorship (creativity or originality) or both. Or, those boundaries might be located by identifying authorship by reference to reader, viewer, or listener experience. The two perspectives might be blended.

I set authorship to the side. I argue instead that the idea of the work, and processes of interpreting it both as concept (type) and thing (token), play central roles in constructing expressive culture itself. Boundary-making and boundary-identification with respect to the copyright work are processes of community and group formation and governance.

I rely on literature exploring boundary objects, physical and intangible things that bridge distinct but complementary communities in flexible ways. I argue that copyright law adopts and uses the copyright work in several ways, all of which can be unified conceptually in the sense that the work operates as a boundary object across a number of different legal and cultural divides, clarifying the distinct status of relevant communities and practices but also distinguishing and where appropriate bridging them in the construction of culture. None of the boundaries represented in these boundary objects is fixed or impermeable. Their very dynamic and sometimes porous character is, in fact, precisely the culture to be illuminated.

Keywords: Intellectual Property, Copyright, Originality, Creativity, Copyright Work, Work of Authorship, Boundaries, Boundary Objects

JEL Classification: K11, O34

Suggested Citation

Madison, Michael J., IP Things as Boundary Objects: The Case of the Copyright Work (March 31, 2013). 6 Laws 13 (2017) , U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-12, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2256255 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2256255

Michael J. Madison (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-648-7855 (Phone)
412-648-2648 (Fax)

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