Discrimination in the Copyright Clause

51 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2016

See all articles by Ned Snow

Ned Snow

University of South Carolina

Date Written: April 1, 2016


Does Congress have power to deny copyright protection for specific content? The Copyright Clause grants Congress power to “promote the Progress of Science” by legislating copyright laws. Certainly some content may reasonably be viewed as failing to promote the progress of science. Violent video games or pornography, for instance, may reasonably be viewed as not promoting progress in science, even though they receive protection as free speech under the First Amendment. So even if the Free Speech Clause bars Congress from banning content, does the Copyright Clause provide Congress a permissible means to discourage production of that content?

This Article considers whether such content-based copyright denial is permissible under Congress’s copyright power. Neither courts nor scholars have considered this question, despite the fact that lawmakers are presently seeking to control negative effects of specific content. This Article posits that the copyright power provides Congress that means. The Copyright Clause’s mandate to promote the progress of science suggests a power to exercise content discrimination. At the same time, denying copyright to content would not prevent content creators from engaging in, and even profiting from, any speech protected by the First Amendment. The Article concludes that the Copyright Clause provides a constitutional tool for fixing content-based problems.

Keywords: copyright, constitution

Suggested Citation

Snow, Ned, Discrimination in the Copyright Clause (April 1, 2016). Alabama Law Review, Vol. 67, No. 3, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2757751

Ned Snow (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina ( email )

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