Pamela Samuelson and Copyright Law

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on March 11, 2013


TAP scholar Pamela Samuelson is recognized as a pioneer in digital copyright law, intellectual property, cyberlaw, and information policy. In her recent papers, Professor Samuelson explores copyright law from three different perspectives: an author’s exclusive rights to derivative works; whether application program interfaces (APIs) of computer programs are copyrightable; and, she examines proposals for copyright reform.

In The Quest for a Sound Conception of Copyright's Derivative Work Right, Professor Samuelson explains that the exclusive right to prepare derivative works is narrower in scope than many have thought. Derivative works is defined as “a work based upon one or more preexisting works.” The article considers numerous provisions and doctrines of U.S. copyright law that limit the reach of the derivative work right. Professor Samuelson shows that the derivative work right of U.S. copyright law clearly gives authors the right to control translations of books, arrangements of music, and other types of exemplary derivatives; however, it was not intended to create a vast and open-ended expansion of derivative work rights.

Professor Samuelson examines the most definitive ruling to date that addresses whether application program interfaces (APIs) of computer programs are protectable by copyrights. Oracle v. Google: Are APIs Copyrightable? walks through the origin of the Oracle v. Google lawsuit and outlines the arguments from each side. Professor Samuelson then explains why she believes the judge’s ruling that rejects Oracle’s claim of copyright, which suggests APIs are not copyrightable, will hold through an appeal.

With Is Copyright Reform Possible?, Professor Samuelson reviews two books that examine the need for copyright reform: William Patry’s How to Fix Copyright and Jason Mazzone’s Copyfraud and Other Abuses of Intellectual Property Law. While each book makes powerful arguments and offers important insights, this article shows that Patry is mainly concerned with articulating principles that should be used to re-craft copyright law; and, Mazzone seeks to sanction those who claim copyright in public domain materials and those who attempt to thwart the exercise of fair and other lawful uses of copyrighted works. Professor Samuelson also considers some substantive reform proposals beyond those recommended in these two books. Professor Samuelson believes that the most promising way to work toward more comprehensive copyright reform would be for an entity such as the American Law Institute (ALI) to develop a project to articulate principles for a well-balanced and public-spirited copyright regime.

Pamela Samuelson is the Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor of Law & Information at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1996, she has held a joint appointment with Boalt Hall and UC Berkeley's School of Information. In addition, Samuelson is director of the internationally-renowned Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. She is a Fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.