CIPP Seminars 2012-2013 in collaboration with Lallemand – The Future of Things: The Copyright Work as Legal Object


Michael J. Madison is a Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Innovation Practice Institute at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. He specializes in the law, policy, and theory of intellectual property. His scholarship on intellectual property law, property theory, and commons has appeared in law reviews at Cornell University, Fordham University, Boston College, the University of Notre Dame, the College of William & Mary, and Case Western Reserve University, among others, and he is the co-author of a casebook on intellectual property law published by Aspen Publishers, now in its third edition. Professor Madison has been a member of the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh since 1998. A complete biography and list of publications can be found at



This presentation explores the meanings and functions of the objects of intellectual property: the work of authorship (or copyright work) in copyright, the invention in patent, and the mark and the sign in trademark. It is usually argued that the central challenge in understanding the copyright work is to develop a sensible method for appreciating its boundaries, in the sense of its metaphorical “metes and bounds.” The boundaries might be established by deferring to the intention of the author, or by constructing a sense of the work with reference to reader, viewer, or listener experience, or perhaps by mediating between those two poles.

The presentation re-considers the copyright work as a fundamental object of copyright. It rejects the premise that the purpose of interpreting the work is to properly understand its metes and bounds, either as a concept or as a token. The de-materialization of the work over the last century made that project deeply problematic from the beginning of modern copyright, and digital technology has made it even more difficult.

I argue instead that the idea of the work plays a central role in constructing expressive culture itself.

This content has been updated on August 16, 2015 at 20:40.