Tim Wu, professor at Columbia Law School, has an intriguing paper available entitled, “On Copyright’s Authorship Policy”:
It has long been the stated aspiration of copyright to make authors the masters of their own destiny. Yet more often than not, the real subject of American copyright is distributorsâ€”book publishers, record labels, broadcasters, and othersâ€”who control the rights, bring the lawsuits, and take copyright as their industries’ “life-sustaining protection.” Modern American copyright history revolves heavily, though not entirely on distributors, either asking for more industry protection, or fighting amongst themselves.
Tim’s point is that copyright ends up choosing what kind of authors are allowed to make art, and which ones aren’t. For example, extending copyright over samplingâ€”but not over reproducing distinctive licks or melodic snippetsâ€”means that mashup artists’ music is illegal, but the white skiffle and R&B artists who adapted black music for their own (the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles, for example) get to make all the music they want.