Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law


Tom W. Bell

First Page



Technological advances, because they have radically lowered the costs of creating and distributing expressive works, have shaken the foundations of copyright policy. Once, those who held copyrights in sound recordings, movies, television shows, magazines, and the like could safely assume that the public would do little more than passively consume. Now, though, the masses have seized (peacefully acquired, really) the means of reproducing copyrighted works, making infringement cheap, easy, and, notwithstanding the law's dictates, widespread. Copyright holders thus understandably fear that their customers have begun to treat expressive works like common property, free for all to use. That, the specter of copyism, does risk upsetting copyright policy, leading to a market failure in the production of expressive works. Even as we recognize that threat, however, we should also appreciate that technological advances have greatly reduced the costs of creating and distributing new works of authorship. Thanks to those savings, we can increasingly count on authors who care little about the lucre of copyright--"blockheads," as Samuel Johnson called them--to supply us with original expressive works. This article describes the economic push and pull between distributed infringement and distributed authorship--between copyism and blockhead-created content, we might say--and discusses how copyright policy should mediate between those forces.