The Jurisprudence of Transformation: Intellectual Incoherence and Doctrinal Murkiness Twenty Years After Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music

By: Matthew D. Bunker and Clay Calvert

Examining recent judicial opinions, this Article analyzes and critiques the transformative-use doctrine two decades after the U.S. Supreme Court introduced it into copyright law in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music. When the Court established the transformative-use concept, which plays a critical role in fair-use determinations today, its contours were relatively undefined. Drawing on an influential law-review article, the Court described a transformative use as one that adds “new expression, meaning or message.” Unfortunately, the doctrine and its application are increasingly ambiguous, with lower courts developing competing conceptions of transformation. This doctrinal murkiness is particularly disturbing because fair use is a key proxy for First Amendment interests in copyright law. This Article traces the evolution of transformative use, analyzes three key paradigms of transformative use that have gained prominence in the post-Campbell environment, and offers suggestions for a jurisprudence in which transformative use is a less significant component of the fair-use analysis.

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Cite: 12 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 92

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