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Expression, Selection, Abstraction: Copyright's Golden Braid

Dan L. Burk

University of California, Irvine School of Law

Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-14

Copyright protects the original expression of authors, but by definition protects neither abstract ideas nor functional elements. Yet digital media seems to transform creative subject matter either into its most elementary, functional sub-units, or into its most incorporeal abstract concepts. Thus, from a reductionist viewpoint, it now seems that nothing can be protected by copyright, but from a holistic viewpoint, it now seems that everything can. This conundrum is not unique to copyright; it is well known in studies of pattern recognition, cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence. Thus, understanding and resolving this copyright dilemma requires us to address some of the most intractable issues in science and philosophy, and to draw upon expertise of disciplines across the range of human knowledge.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: Copyright, levels of abstraction, artificial intelligence, cognition, holism, reductionism, digital media

JEL Classification: O31, O32, O33, O34, L86

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Date posted: April 5, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Burk, Dan L., Expression, Selection, Abstraction: Copyright's Golden Braid. Syracuse Law Review, Vol. 55, p. 593, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=699541

Contact Information

Dan L. Burk (Contact Author)
University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )
4500 Berkeley Place
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
949-824-9325 (Phone)
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