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The First Amendment Encyclopedia

Presented by the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies

Case Categories: Copyright and Free Expression

The Supreme Court acknowledged the compatibility of copyright and free expression in Harper and Row v. Nation Enterprises (1985), when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “The Framers intended copyright itself to be the engine of free expression. By establishing a marketable right to the use of one’s expression, copyright supplies the economic incentive to create and disseminate ideas.”

Tension does exist, however, between copyright and the First Amendment, as copyright owners often seek to assert their property rights and thereby limit the dissemination of information. Copyright law attempts to reduce this tension in part through fair use, a safety-valve concept codified by the Copyright Act of 1976.

Following are cases involving copyright and the First Amendment.

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