781.01 Music's Copyright: A Historical, Incentives-Based, and Aesthetic Analysis of the Law of Music


This course will begin by exploring the historical structure of incentives in music and the changing economics of music production, including the preconditions for thinking of music as "property" and the gradual shift from patronage to a market-oriented system. It will then proceed to examine music's unusually complex and increasingly fraught relationship with copyright law. The fundamental notions of originality and illicit copying are at odds with both functional limitations and long-standing aesthetic practices in music, such as the long history of accepted borrowing. As a result, there is an unusual body of music-specific case law that features intriguing circuit splits, vigorous disputes about expert testimony and prior art, and specialized doctrinal issues. Students will gain an in-depth knowledge of these issues, and their application in prominent cases involving the songs "Blurred Lines," "Stairway to Heaven," and Katy Perry's "Dark Horse," as well as pending disputes over Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" and "Baby Shark," and then apply this knowledge in a mock trial. The course will also cover the complicated licensing schemes that attach to different uses of music, from traditional revenue streams to fresh disputes regarding royalties for new uses such as ringtones and streaming services. This portion will include a discussion of the new Music Modernization Act. Finally, the class will conclude with an in-depth examination of the ongoing debates about how both the law and business practices might adapt to the new musical forms (such as sampling and remixing) and business models (such as do-it-yourself distribution) enabled by digital technology. Throughout the semester, the course will include a special focus on current and ongoing disputes, issues, scholarship, and proposals.

The writing for this course may be used to satisfy the JD Substantial Research and Writing Project Requirement.

Enrollment Pre-/Co- Requisite Information

Law 270 IP or Law 322 Copyright are pre/co-requisites for the course

Fall 2023

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Reflective Writing
Research paper, 25+ pages
Oral presentation
Class participation
Jennifer Jenkins
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW-781-01-F23
Email list: LAW-781-01-F23@sakai.duke.edu