In the three-hundred-year history of statutory copyright debates have continued to rage about the aims of copyright law and how it can best fulfill them. Striking a balance between the disparate interests of content creators, publishers, and the public domain has proved persistently difficult. Yet, a myopic focus on the intricacies of legal policy has often obscured the underlying issues that plague copyright law on a fundamental, ideological level. This article will argue that the fundamental problem in copyright law is an incomplete theorization of the nature of creativity and creative work. It will trace an intellectual history of copyright theorization in two major theoretical frameworks: classical liberalism and cultural Marxism. Based upon this review, it will suggest a third framework, ritual economy, as capable of theorizing the economics of creative work more completely. It concludes with an application of ritual economy to the popular music industry.
Keywords: copyright law, intellectual history, legal history, music industry, ritual economy