Copyright as Contract

55 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2014 Last revised: 12 Feb 2016

See all articles by Jeffrey Lynch Harrison

Jeffrey Lynch Harrison

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: July 22, 2014


Copyright is essentially a contract between the author and the public with the government acting as the agent of the public. The consideration received by authors is defined by duration and breadth of exclusivity. The consideration for the public is the creation of a "work" that will be available on a limited basis for the life of the author plus 70 years and then available without limit after that. If there were no transaction costs at all, it would be possible to "pay" authors different amounts of exclusivity. Perhaps a greeting card would get one holiday season of exclusivity, if anything. Works that are not original and do not demonstrate a modicum of creativity would not qualify as consideration and receive no exclusivity in return. And, in some cases, an author - say one writing a book that will be a guaranteed best seller - could be required to pay a considerable amount of the right to exclusivity that makes those earnings possible. By necessity the contract in question is a form contract which, unlike other forms, is drafted to the disadvantage of the drafter. This Article tracks the similarities of copyright law and contract law and suggests that viewing copyright as basically contractual would result in a much more rational system of copyright law. Specific proposals include 1) incentives for greater formality; 2) distinguishing copyright dependent works from those that are not; 3) sanctions for the false claims of copyright; and 4) the use of a liability rule as opposed to a property rule in instances of infringement.

Keywords: copyright, contract, remedies, transaction costs, bargain

JEL Classification: K2, K19

Suggested Citation

Harrison, Jeffrey Lynch, Copyright as Contract (July 22, 2014). 22 J. Int’l. Prop. L. Rev. 279 (2015) , University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 16-5, Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey Lynch Harrison (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

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