Freedom to Copy: Copyright, Creation and Context

83 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2007

See all articles by Olufunmilayo Arewa

Olufunmilayo Arewa

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: February 19, 2007


Although much separates them musically, George Harrison and Michael Bolton share a common legal fate. Both have been held liable in copyright infringement cases in which a court articulated theories of liability based on subconscious infringement. This Article discusses how decisions in the Bolton, Harrison, and other copyright infringement cases reflect a common failing. Such decisions highlight the incomplete nature of the theories of creativity and creation processes in copyright doctrine.

After discussing current approaches to questions of creation, this Article suggests ways in which copyright theory can better incorporate a contextualized understanding of creativity and creation processes. Creativity in copyright is frequently characterized as not involving copying, which is typically thought to be antithetical to both originality and creativity. This stigmatization of copying, however, means that copyright theory cannot adequately account for the reality of not infrequent similarities between works that are a result of copying both ideas and expression in the creation of new works. This missing theoretical link has significant implications for copyright in practice. The lack of legal analysis of the full range of creativity and processes of creation is also a major reason why copyright theory often has such difficulty delineating what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate copying of existing works.

Keywords: Creativity, Literary Criticism, Musicology, Copyright, Substantial Similarity, Borrowing, Copying, Intertextuality, Formulaic Works, Narratives, Sociocultural Factors

JEL Classification: K11

Suggested Citation

Arewa, Olufunmilayo, Freedom to Copy: Copyright, Creation and Context (February 19, 2007). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 07-06; UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2007. Available at SSRN:

Olufunmilayo Arewa (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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