Wednesday, February 07, 2007

For the first several weeks of Copyright, I thought it was fun and a little bit tricky. Then last weekend the professor gave us a problem set and a memorandum opinion from the Copyright Office. I spent a little bit of time on it and realized that this stuff was actually a good bit harder and more abstract than I originally thought. It occurred to me that it was hard enough that not too many people can do it well, which led to two possibilities--either it's worth putting in the effort to become one of those people because you'll be in demand, or it's hard enough that it's just not worth it to worry about learning it real well.

Then we went over the problems in class this week, and now I don't know how anyone can do copyright well. It's absurdly abstract, with different time limits, deadlines, and contingencies coming into play depending on the circumstances of creation and the date of creation and publication of the work. It's a morass, and the reason is the bundle of sticks.

First-year law students here repeatedly that "property is a bundle of sticks." So often do we hear this that we may want to beat people with a bundle of sticks if they say it to us again. What does it mean? Well, it means that having a "property right" means having all or some of the bundle. You could have a right, for instance, to possess something but not to sell it (think: your dry cleaner holding your shirt). The right to sell and the right to possess are separate sticks, and you can have none, either or both. In copyrights there are a whole lot of sticks, old trees are different from new trees, filmed sticks have different rules from written or recorded sticks, and someone might be able to come along and reclaim your tree 56 years after you bought it. That barely scratches the surface of the issues involved, and we're four weeks in.

Bottom line: If I ever become a copyright lawyer, I'm either pretty smart or totally faking my way through.

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

I loved my Copyright class, did well in it, and even wrote my Law Review comment on a copyright topic...but I never felt like I was completely on top of things in the way I should've been....

You probably already check out William Patry's Copyright Blog. If not, you might enjoy it.