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Abstract

Copyright law does not explicitly impose content-based restrictions on the copyrightability of works. As long as a work is original and fixed in a tangible medium of expression, it is entitled to copyright protection and eligible for registration, regardless of its content. Thus, child pornography, snuff films or any other original works of authorship that involve criminal activities are copyrightable. Such work can be highly profitable for its makers even though society does not necessarily benefit from, and might even be harmed by, the work. Along with revenue from sales, the author of an illegal work may also be able to collect damages for infringement. This scheme does not benefit society and should be revised. After examining how the current copyright regime deals with works involving illegal activity, this article suggests a new framework. First, I review the elements of copyright and consider existing content-based restrictions in copyright, trademark, and patent law. After evaluating whether copyright law should impose content-based restrictions on illegal works, and whether such impositions would be constitutional, I conclude that creators should not benefit from works that are linked to harmful criminal activities. I propose a new framework for the copyright of such works that de-incentives their creation by eliminating profits from the works themselves and reducing profits from the felon’s other works due to his or her notoriety, while also compensating victims.

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