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Current Legislation

The United States Code, of course, carries the authoritative version of the Copyright Act of 1976 (Pub. L. No. 94-553, 90 Stat. 2541; Oct. 19, 1976), as amended. The Act is codified in the Code at Title 17.

Proposed Legislation

If you are seeking to track new or pending legislation that affects existing copyright laws or policy,electronic resources generally are superior to printed resources. BNA's Patent Trademark & Copyright Journal, however, reliably tracks important copyright legislative information. The Journal also publishes important copyright cases.


The Code of Federal Regulations publishes the regulations that govern the activity of the U.S. Copyright Office. These regulations are promulgated at 37 C.F.R. Parts 201-260.


Of course, West Publishing's Federal Reporter and Federal Supplement are the official reporters for copyright cases that are decided in the federal circuit and federal district courts, respectively. There are some important alternative sources, however, for these cases.

  1. Copyright Law Decisions (CCH): Decisions is a reporter that publishes only copyright law decisions from around the nation. Decisions is updated on a monthly basis; this frequency is important because the reporter often serves as the sole citation for many copyright cases, until such time West Group can publish the same cases in one of its reporters.
  2. Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (BNA): The Patent Trademark & Copyright Journal has a slightly broader scope than U.S. Patent Quarterly, its sister publication. In addition to cases, PTCJ includes information on treaties, legislation, rules from each of the three federal intellectual property Offices, and professional conferences. PTCJ is updated weekly.
  3. U.S. Law Week (BNA): U.S. Law Week provides a summary and analysis of significant state and federal court opinions. Updated weekly, USLW does not focus on copyright, but it does a good job in publishing digital copyright cases.
  4. U.S. Patent Quarterly (BNA): Despite its name, U.S. Patent Quarterly, now in its second series, publishes copyright cases in its Digest. USPQ has its own classification scheme, but works much like the West Digest system. New cases are added on a weekly basis.
  5. Legal Newspapers: Another way to get a printed (albeit unofficial) version of an important copyright case is to check regional legal newspapers, especially in places like California, New York and Washington, D.C. — areas where there tend to be many members of the copyright bar. For example, the New York Law Journal publishes significant copyright opinions within a week to 10 days of the judge's decision. NYLJ reports cases from the New York's federal courts, which are particularly influential in shaping the course of copyright jurisprudence.


Given the multidisciplinary scope of copyright in digital creations, this list necessarily includes titles that extend beyond pure copyright law.

  1. Copyright Law Reporter (CCH, 1978). CCH's Copyright Law Reporter and its companion publication, Copyright Law Decisions, are the most current print publications devoted solely to copyright law. With an emphasis on case reporting and analysis, its audience is experienced copyright and intellectual property practitioners.
  2. Copyright (Aspen, 1996): Written by Stanford Law Professor Paul Goldstein, this four-volume treatise is a respectable substitute for the Nimmer treatise (see 6, infra). This work has two distinct advantages over Nimmer. First it is shorter (four volumes, compared to Nimmer's 10 volumes), and therefore easier to navigate. Second, Goldstein's work probably does a better job at explaining fundamental copyright law to non-specialists than Nimmer.
  3. Copyright Laws and Treaties of the World (BNA): A joint venture of the U.S. Copyright Office, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and others, this three-volume set is the definitive source for the world's copyright laws. The title has become increasingly important to researchers as multinational copyright holders seek to "harmonize" copyright laws from one nation with similar laws from other nations.
  4. Copyright Registration Practice (West, 1999): James Hawes' single volume looseleaf treatise is the best resource available for explaining copyright registration issues and how they affect federal copyright law. The treatise also thoroughly discusses Copyright Office policies, procedures, forms and fees. Updated twice each year.
  5. Information Law (WGL, 1996): Raymond Nimmer, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, is the author of this well-regarded looseleaf treatise. Nimmer's scholarship tends to support the preeminence of contractual rights in intellectual property transactions, which should be no surprise given his role as the chief reporter and drafter of UCITA.
  6. Multimedia Law: Forms & Analysis (Law Journal, 1994): This title by Peter Brown and Richard Raysman, partners at the New York law firm that bears their names, was one of the first treatises to analyze the intersection of law and technology. It remains one of the best.
  7. Nimmer on Copyright (Lexis, 1976): Nimmer is widely considered to be the leading treatise on copyright law. Federal courts cite to Nimmer more than any other treatise by a wide margin. It is massive - 10 volumes in all - and exhaustive in its coverage and scope. It is unparalleled as a copyright resource, but its coverage often makes it difficult to find answers to simple questions. If you need a cite, Nimmer is the standard resource. If you need an explanation, however, other treatises may be better.


This list includes instructional resources (Crews, Strong) as well as calls to action (Lessig, Litman).

  1. Kenneth D. Crews. Copyright Essentials for Librarians and Educators (American Library Association, 2000): Despite its orientation toward librarians and educators, Crews' book is a clear and concise explanation of modern copyright law. It also includes clear explanations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  2. Paul Goldstein. Copyright's Highway: From Gutenberg to the Celestial Jukebox (Hill and Wang, 1994); International Copyright (2001, Oxford): Highway provides a good history of the development of copyright law. By virtue of its publication date, however, it is best used as a primer on copyright protection for print resources. International Copyright, on the other hand, has become increasingly relevant given copyright's importance in today's digitized and international society. Given the speed with which copyright developments occur these days, it is possible that International Copyright may become its own treatise — or that much of International's updating may be published in Goldstein's treatise.
  3. Lawrence Lessig. Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace (Basic, 1994); The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World (Random House, 2001): Stanford's Lessig has become known as the leading copyright scholar in the country. These two books ultimately argue that government has a place in guiding the Web in its development (Code) because if the Web is left to commercial interests alone, large corporations will dominate its landscape and control the transfer of information and ideas (Future).
  4. Jessica Litman. Digital Copyright: Protecting Intellectual Property on the Internet (Prometheus, 2001): A professor at Wayne State University, Litman argues that recent copyright law amendments — many made in response to digital technology — are upsetting the constitutional balance between the public and copyright holders. Litman's description of how copyright laws are made (Chapters 2 and 3) is particularly useful for those who need information on the modern legislative process.
  5. Edward Samuels. The Illustrated Story of Copyright (St. Martin's, 2000): Samuel's book analyzes modern copyright law by looking at the doctrine's historical foundation. With its many anecdotes and illustrations, it is the best single volume work on the history and development of copyright law.
  6. William Strong. The Copyright Book: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition (MIT, 1999): Authored by a Boston intellectual property lawyer, this title is a thorough, simple treatment of a complex subject. Copyright rules are laid out simply and in plain English.
  7. Siva Vaidhyanathan. Copyrights and Copywrongs (New York University, 2001): Vaidhyanathan is an information studies professor who argues that copyright has transformed from a system of bargained-for exchange into a system that improperly affords a cultural monopoly to a few vested corporate interests. His arguments and analysis are particularly effective because they are stripped of much legal analysis.