Friday, September 14, 2007

Michelangelo Illuminates Copyright

One of my favorite quotations comes from Renaissance master, Michelangelo: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal to other eyes what mine have already seen.” Michelangelo, genius in many ways, may have intuitively understood the steps by which the law protects rights of authors.

My first true academic love was philosophy; I spent the better part of my undergraduate career contemplating the works of great thinkers over endless cups of espresso. Much to my surprise, I am currently re-discovering philosophy, metaphysics actually, in Copyright Law. While Metaphysics wasn’t a subject I thought I would employ in legal studies, its emergence in class this week was both exciting and refreshing.

The subject of copyright in the United States seems to be comprised of three distinct ontological entities: the idea of the work (somewhat akin to a Platonic form, in that it exists only intangibly, in the conceptual realm of the author), the first copy (our colloquial reference to an “original work” – for instance, David, the “original”), and the copyright (the protection which attaches at the point in time the work is fixed in a tangible medium). As a novice to the subject, and as one who learns by analogy, Michelangelo’s quote perfectly illustrates this somewhat nebulous idea to me. Michelangelo, as artist, conceives of the work. He sees in the block of marble the fully formed apparition before it ever is brought into a form that others can perceive and appreciate, his perception constitutes the work. As he “hews away the rough walls,” to reveal his work to the world, he is creating the first copy, while simultaneously (in this case) fixing his work in a medium. He has bound (fixed) the work in the marble, thus acquiring the protection of the copyright. (*Of course, there is much to be said of the fixation itself, particularly when thought of in light of Heidegger’s later work, “The Origin of the Work of Art.” However, I will refrain from earth, world and thingly character at the present moment!) While this may seem sophomoric to many, I am thrilled to see another link between my two academic loves.

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