Gutenberg's legacy: Copyright, censorship, and religious pluralism

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Abstract

This Article argues that some recent copyright-infringement cases illustrate how courts sometimes fail to take seriously the needs of religious believers to reproduce and distribute their religion's core texts for purposes of their religious practice. More specifically, although the Establishment Clause poses no obstacle to the government's conferral of a copyright "subsidy" upon the authors of religious texts, a variety of copyright doctrines, including rules relating to authorship, copyright estoppel, and merger, suggest that some otherwise copyrightable religious texts may lack copyright protection due to the religion's attribution of the text to supernatural origin or to the needs of the faithful to access the precise words of the text. In addition, although the Free Exercise Clause does not require the government to exempt religious believers from general compliance with the Copyright Act, the fair-use doctrine should in some instances shield believers from liability, particularly when the copyright owner has sought to use copyright as a tool for suppressing the practice of a breakaway sect. If the law knows no heresy, then copyright law should not serve as a tool for repressing religious dissent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-392
Number of pages70
JournalCalifornia Law Review
Volume91
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2003

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