Modern copyright law seems determined to impede people’s engagement with creative expression. Rock-bottom creativity requirements, the abolition of formal prerequisites to copyright ownership, and an irrationally long copyright term ensure that nearly all recorded culture is encumbered not merely for years, but for generations. Today, however, change is in the air—for all the wrong reasons. By historical accident, the same foundational properties of copyright law that have long undermined creators and audiences now pose an existential threat to generative AI. Tech companies and their allies are pushing to reform the very aspects of copyright law that impoverish traditional readership and authorship. But by and large, their proposals would change these doctrines only in ways that benefit the generative AI enterprise. This essay offers an alternative: copyright accelerationism. Instead of seeking exceptions to copyright law that, in purpose and effect, serve only the interests of AI firms, take the law’s principles at face value and push them as far as they will go. Then push them some more. Our copyright regime falls short of its constitutional mandate to promote the progress of knowledge. We will never correct course by letting the powerful exempt themselves from the copyright regime and leaving its intended beneficiaries to bear an inequitable burden. But we will correct course if we insist that copyright applies to everyone on equal terms—because it will make a regime that has long been untenable for some into a regime that is untenable for all.
Ben Sobel is a scholar of information law. He examines the way digital media, artificial intelligence, and networked devices influence the law of tangible and intellectual property, privacy, competition, and expression—as well as the distribution of wealth and power more generally. The question motivating his current research in copyright and privacy law is, “When does the law treat information about something as constituting the thing itself?”
Before coming to Cornell Tech, Ben was a law clerk to Chief Judge David Barron and Judge Michael Boudin of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and to Judge Pierre Leval of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Ben also previously served as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.
Ben’s scholarship has been cited in briefs submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, and it has been published by the Lewis & Clark Law Review, the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts, and Oxford University Press. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. His publications and syllabi are available on his homepage, bensobel.org.