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Appunti di Diritto dell'informazione e della comunicazione con analisi dei seguenti argomenti: critically analyze the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law, the concept and its importance, the origins of the dicothomy, some cases: the level of abstraction.

Esame di Diritto dell'informazione e della comunicazione docente Prof. G. Vigevani



Critically analyze the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law.


The idea/expression dichotomy is traditionally one of the basic topics in copyright law.

This essay will give a definition of the concept and point out why it is considered one of


the main themes in copyright law. The work will proceed with a brief on the

origins of the dichotomy and its philosophical background. Then, the discussion will

move from a theoretical to a pratical perspective and it will concern the judicial

application of the idea/expression division, which has primary importance for the solution

of many infringement controversies. The cases’ reading will demonstrate that the so called

idea/expression dichotomy is not really a dicothomy, a strong division, but a simple line,

which the judges have to draw after a global consideration of the case’s circumstances.

Last but not least, some lines will report the main opinions about the destiny of the

idea/expression dividing line in the digital era.

The concept and its importance

The idea/expression dichotomy is a concept which means that copyright cannot exist in an

idea, but only in its material expression. Copyright, indeed, covers original expression of

ideas, and not ideas themselves. To be protected, the mental process (idea) has to be

materially expressed in a cultural medium, has to be“clothed” in some way. According to

Donoghue v. Allied Newspapers,

judge Farwell, “if the idea, however original, is nothing

more than an idea, and is not put into any form of words, or any form of expression such


as a picture, then there is no such thing as copyright at all” 1

Copyright “does not extend to ideas (...), it is confined to their expression; and if their

expression is not copied the copyright is not infringed” .


Donoghue v Allied Newspapers Ltd [1938] Ch. 106 1937 WL 8075

1 Hollinrake v Truswell

Lord Herschell, in [1894] 3 Ch. 420 1894; the Plaintiff claimed copyright in a cardboard


pattern sleeve containing upon it scales, figures, and descriptive words for adapting it to sleeves of any

dimensions, and it was decided that it was not capable of copyright. 1

The non protection of ideas is a long established principle, and it’s deeply connected to the

essence itself of copyright law. The copyright law, indeed, is, as many authors have

pointed out, an “uneasy compromise” between the two divergent principles of the private

3 etc.

authorial rights and the more general public rights, such as free expression The

balance of interests is in the hearth of copyright law, that is all inspired by the exigence of

reconciling protection with public domain. In this perspective, it appears clear that the non

protection of ideas is the most suitable judicial technique to use in order to reconcile these

opposite interests.

The origins of the dicothomy. ratio

Many arguments can explain the of the exclusion of ideas from the scope of


According to the natural law doctrine of possession, ideas are incapable of possession. “If

nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action

of the thinking power called an idea ”, as Thomas Jefferson stated.


In terms of law and economics, the exclusive property or monopolization of ideas fights

with the creation of an efficient marketplace for ideas.

Free use of ideas, however, is essential for a democratic society, based on constitutional

Oratio publicata libera est,

rights like freedom of expression. as the Romans said: once the

ideas start circulating in the world, they can be used by everyone. Victor Hugo , clearly


expressed this concept, by saying that as soon as the work is published, “the author is not

any more the master. It is then that other people seize it: call them what you will: human

spirit, public domain, society”. Dear Images: Art, Copyright and Culture

Daniel Mc Clean, “Introduction”, in D. McClean and K. Schubert,


(2002), p. 15.

an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it



forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it”

Association Littéraire Internationale.

in the 1870's, in a speech at the

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Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in giurisprudenza
A.A.: 2008-2009

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher melody_gio di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Diritto dell'informazione e della comunicazione e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Milano Bicocca - Unimib o del prof Vigevani Giulio Enea.

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