Do Copyright Laws Limit Creativity?

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In a perfect world, everything that was created could be in an open domain because there would never be a concern that someone would steal another person's hard work. Unfortunately, because some people want to make an easy buck off another person's labor, copyright law must exist. Copyright law protects original works so that the creators can profit off their work and devote their time and effort into making new creations. However, legal efforts to protect these works sometimes can be seen as counterproductive to creativity.


Copyright is federal law established under the power given to Congress by the Constitution to promote artistic expression by giving authors exclusive rights for a limited period of time. Copyright protects almost any creative work that can be fixed in a medium, including literary works, musical works, dramatic works, motion pictures, sculptures, graphics, pictures, sound recordings and architectural works. By owning a copyright, you have the exclusive right to publish it, make copies or derivative works, or otherwise make money off of it.

Creativity Incentive

A copyright holder in America gets up to 95 years of protection. By giving a copyright holder such a long period of protection, this can provide incentives for people to create. A person may not want to spend the hours and stress that are required to write a book if she can only profit off the book for a limited period of time. However, by giving a long time for potential marketing and profits, along with spin-offs and sequels, a creator has a bigger incentive to put in the time necessary to make the first product.

Protecting Form, Not Ideas

A staple of copyright law is that it protects expressions that have been put into words or music, for example, but not ideas themselves. In this way, it encourages creativity. For example, consider the scenario in which you write a book with a character named Blake Lyons who is a quarterback with schizophrenia. The character of Blake Lyons is protected by copyright from anyone profiting off of using him in a derivative work. However, the idea itself is not protected. Someone could write a book with another quarterback as the main character, even one suffering a mental illness, as long as it's not overly similar to the first story.

Stifling Through Licenses

The long length of a copyright can stifle the creative efforts of people who want to make derivative versions of works they don't own. For example, smash-ups of two songs, remixes of one song and fan fiction are all types of derivative works that require licenses. But sometimes getting a license isn't easy. The fee for a license can be expensive and, in cases of older works, finding the owner of a copyright can be difficult. Some argue that the solution is to make the protection term for a copyright shorter, perhaps only 28 years, and then renewable only if the original author requests a renewal.

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