Content-Based Copyright Denial

52 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2016

See all articles by Ned Snow

Ned Snow

University of South Carolina

Date Written: November 25, 2015


No principle of First Amendment law is more firmly established than the principle that government may not restrict speech based on its content. It would seem to follow, then, that Congress may not withhold copyright protection for disfavored categories of content, such as violent video games or pornography. This Article argues otherwise. This Article is the first to recognize a distinction in the scope of coverage between the First Amendment and the Copyright Clause. It claims that speech protection from government censorship does not imply speech protection from private copying. Crucially, I argue that this distinction in the scope of coverage between copyright and free speech law does not suggest a tension between them. To the contrary, the distinction enables copyright to further the purpose of free speech under the marketplace-of-ideas speech theory. Through copyright, Congress may alleviate failures in that marketplace which stem from individuals determining the value of speech for the collective. Furthermore, the possibility of Congress abusing this discriminatory power poses relatively minimal threat to speech because copyright denial does not altogether prevent speakers from realizing profit from their speech. This fact, coupled with viewpoint-neutrality and rational-basis restraints, alleviates the usual risks associated with government influencing content in the marketplace. Additionally, free-speech doctrine leaves room for the sort of discrimination that Congress would exercise in defining copyright eligibility according to content. Doctrines governing limited-public forums and congressional funding allow for content discrimination akin to content-based copyright denial.

Keywords: copyright, speech

Suggested Citation

Snow, Ned, Content-Based Copyright Denial (November 25, 2015). Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 90, No. 4, 2015, Available at SSRN:

Ned Snow (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina ( email )

701 Main Street
Columbia, SC 29208
United States
(803) 777-8064 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics