The Public Display Right: The Copyright Act's Neglected Solution to the Controversy Over 'Ram Copies'
69 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2001
Copyright holders and some courts have urged the "RAM copy" doctrine in an attempt to extend copyright to computer networks. The controversial doctrine - the notion that accessing a work on a computer infringes the reproduction right because it requires a temporary copy in the computer's random-access memory ("RAM") - is a strained and problematic attempt to use copyright law's familiar reproduction right to solve some of the problems raised by the use of copyrighted works over computer networks. The doctrine threatens to create significant problems as more works are used in digital form, and has the potential to give copyright owners excessive control over use of their works.
The "RAM copy" doctrine is not needed. Congress created the public display right precisely for the purpose of controlling the use of copyrighted works on computer networks. The right to display a copyrighted work publicly is probably the least familiar exclusive right of a copyright owner; until recently it was not needed to resolve any important controversies. Changing technology is now presenting precisely the problem that the display right was designed to solve, but courts and lawyers continue to neglect the right. Reinvigorating the public display right would provide a more balanced mechanism for protecting copyright owners' incentives to create and exploit works in a digitally networked world without unduly diminishing access to those works.
JEL Classification: K39, 034
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation