Towards a Doctrine of 'Fair Access' in Copyright: The Federal Circuit's Accord

43 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2005

See all articles by Zohar Efroni

Zohar Efroni

Stanford's Center for Internet and Society


This Article argues that the Federal Circuit in Chamberlain and Storage Tech is developing a parallel common law doctrine of fair access. As applied, this doctrine manifests the court's approach as to the appropriate balance between the interests of copyright owners and information users in the context of access to copyrighted works. It is parallel to the statutory approach due to its deviation from Congress's policy as reflected in the DMCA.

Applying the Hohfeldian model of fundamental jural relations to the anti-circumvention norms, the Article criticizes Chamberlain's theory, which argues that the anti-circumvention law did not establish a new property right allowing owners to prohibit access to their digital works.

In connection to a possible interpretation of the fair access doctrine that would allow fair use (and other copyright defenses) as a valid protection against anti-circumvention and anti-trafficking claims, it shall be argued that the Federal Circuit's decisions have paved the way not only for the incorporation of traditional copyright infringement defenses into the anti-circumvention law, but also provided solid arguments to defendants in cases where such defenses, and particularly statutory fair use, are inapplicable.

The court's analysis effectively opens up the door to an alternative judicial approach of anti-circumvention construction - the fair access doctrine. In light of the legislature's bewilderedness as to if and how to modify the flawed access control provisions of the DMCA, Its development in the course of future disputes could furnish an effective shield for defendants in circumstances of unjustified application of the anticircumvention rules.

Keywords: anticircumvention, dmca, chamberlain, copyright, storage technologies, access

JEL Classification: K10, K11, K20, K42

Suggested Citation

Efroni, Zohar, Towards a Doctrine of 'Fair Access' in Copyright: The Federal Circuit's Accord. IDEA: The Intellectual Property Law Review, Winter 2006, Available at SSRN:

Zohar Efroni (Contact Author)

Stanford's Center for Internet and Society ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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