Explaining Copyright: The Normative Implications of its Sociotechnical Construction
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The construction of copyright law can be causally explained by two possible types of explanation: dialectical explanations and material explanations. I argue that an adequate causal description of the copyright discourses of Western legal systems must incorporate a material explanation in order to account for many of the general and particular characteristics of the evolution of copyright. As a vast variety of contingent and interactive social and technical conditions have caused the evolution of copyright, we should expect a plausible material explanation to be multifaceted and multi-layered. However, in addition to providing a causal sociohistorical description, a good legal explanation should also seek to include a normative account detailing the moral grounds of the law, or lack thereof. Dialectical explanations can be teleological: they can presuppose that the law is directed towards a perfect legal state and that it is essentially guided by a set of moral ideals. Material explanations, on the other hand, are essentially non-normative and do not explicitly address moral questions. But this does not entail the elimination of moral considerations from material explanations. As I aim to show, we should not address the moral and sociohistorical elements of copyright legal discourses independently because they are causally connected: moral justifications have been rhetorically used by social actors to influence lawmaking processes, and conversely, changes in technical conditions have given rise to sociotechnical formations that enable and structure the norms of copyright. Given this, I propose that lawmakers should adjudicate and legislate from a broad and flexible standpoint. They should not attempt to merely apply old principles to new problems, but should comprehend new moral norms introduced by new conditions, and balance them against the older, more established principles enshrined in traditional intellectual property theories.