Generativity of Sony v. Universal, The: The Intellectual Property Legacy of Justice Stevens

Intellectual Property and Copyright and Trademark

Article Snapshot


Pamela Samuelson


Fordham Law Review, Vol. 74, No. 4, pp. 1831-1876, 2006


This paper looks at how Justice Steven’s ideas changed copyright law.

Policy Relevance

The idea that copyright law should be limited to support new technologies and to recognize other public benefits has had tremendous influence over copyright law.

Main Points

  • Justice Stevens views copyright law as a limited statutory monopoly that must serve the public interest.


  • He is skeptical of the expansion of intellectual property (IP) through case law, and sees the importance of public access to knowledge as explaining limits on IP rights.


  • Justice Steven’s views as expressed in Supreme Court’s decision about Sony’s VCR recorder have helped many different groups defend against claims of copyright liability. These groups include software reverse-engineers, add-on software developers, Internet service providers, and search engines.


  • Sony was also influential in the Supreme Court’s decision about the peer-to-peer service Grokster.


  • When the Sony case was decided, the Court was uncertain whether consumers should be allowed to record programs to view later (“time-shifting”). Today the consensus is that this is fair use. 

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