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Joseph P. Fishman’s Creating Around Copyright advances a provocative thesis: some restrictions on creativity can spur the development of additional creative solutions, and (some level of) copyright might be one of those restrictions. If Picasso was right that “forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention,” then being forced by law to use restricted means might do the same thing, ultimately leading to more varied and thus more valuable works.

At the outset, it’s important to know the baseline against which we ought to evaluate Fishman’s claims. Most copyright restrictionists, of whom I count myself one, don’t want to eliminate all copyright law. Fishman’s argument is directed at creators who want to take an existing work and do something with it — incorporate parts of it into a new creative work or make a derivative work based on it. Because the question is the proper scope of copyright as applied to these works, the comparison should not be to a world without copyright, but should instead focus on the marginal effects of expanding or contracting copyright’s definitions of substantial similarity and derivative works. Once the question is properly framed, I have concerns about the major analogies Fishman uses — patent law and experimental evidence about other types of constraints on creativity — as well as his model of the rational creator.

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128 Harv. L. Rev. (Forum) 125