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Copyright and Democracy: A Cautionary Note

Christopher S. Yoo

University of Pennsylvania Law School; University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication; University of Pennsylvania - School of Engineering and Applied Science


Vanderbilt U Law & Economics Research Paper No. 99-26; Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 01-06

This article responds to recent attempts to use democratic and republican principles as a basis for reforming copyright law. Taking the recent work of Neil Netanel as its text, the article begins by challenging the claim that media concentration necessarily reduces program diversity in a way that justifies reducing the duration and scope of copyright protection. An analysis of the theoretical and empirical literature on the economics of program choice reveals that the relationship between concentration and program diversity is more ambiguous than democratic theorists suggest. Whether concentration increases or reduces diversity depends on additional factors, such as the structure of viewer preferences, the availability of excess channel capacity, program costs, and the availability of direct viewer support in addition to advertising support. It is impossible to determine the impact of concentration on program diversity without analyzing these other factors.

The article also challenges the claim that free speech principles support reducing the duration and scope of copyright protection. To reach this conclusion, democratic copyright theorists rely on an instrumental vision of free speech that values speech only to the extent that it supports democratic decisionmaking. This vision of speech will draw little support from those who view rights as moral constructs, or from those who value speech for its furtherance of other values. Furthermore, any democracy-centered approach must necessarily offer some standard for determining whether copyright is providing the degree and type of public discourse required by the body politic. The failure of democratic copyright theorists to specify a baseline of the amount and type of speech required by a properly functioning democracy makes it impossible to evaluate the propriety of any of the proposed copyright reforms.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 32

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Date posted: November 29, 2000  

Suggested Citation

Yoo, Christopher S., Copyright and Democracy: A Cautionary Note (2000). As published in Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 53, No. 6, 2000. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=251029 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.251029

Contact Information

Christopher S. Yoo (Contact Author)
University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )
3501 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6204
United States
(215) 746-8772 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.upenn.edu/faculty/csyoo/
University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication ( email )
3620 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6220
United States
(215) 746-8772 (Phone)
University of Pennsylvania - School of Engineering and Applied Science ( email )
3330 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6309
United States
(215) 746-8772 (Phone)
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