Restatements of Statutory Law: The Curious Case of the Restatement of Copyright

How to Cite

Balganesh, S., & Menell, P. S. (2021). Restatements of Statutory Law: The Curious Case of the Restatement of Copyright. The Columbia Journal of Law & The Arts, 44(3).


For nearly a century, the American Law Institute’s (ALI) Restatements of the Law have played an important role in the American legal system. And in all of this time, they refrained from restating areas of law dominated by a uniform statute despite the proliferation and growing importance of such statutes, especially at the federal level. This omission was deliberate and in recognition of the fundamentally different nature of the judicial role and of lawmaking in areas governed by detailed statutes compared to areas governed by the common law. Then in 2015, without much deliberation, the ALI embarked on the task of restating U.S. copyright law, an area dominated by a detailed federal statute. In so doing, the ALI ignored not just calls to revisit the form and method of its traditional Restatements projects but also the extensive history of the deep mismatch between the Restatements and statutory domains that has informed the working of the enterprise over the course of the last century.

This Article explores the analytical and historical foundations of that mismatch and shows how the Restatement of Copyright reinforces the need to tailor a methodological template and perspective that is sensitive to the nature of statutory interpretation. It explains why perfunctory extension of the common law Restatement model to copyright law produces incoherent, misleading, and seemingly biased results that risk undermining the legitimacy of the eventual product. Finally, the Article explains how the mismatch between the two is capable of being remedied by a series of modest—yet significant—changes, which could allow the project to serve as a template for future statutory Restatements. These include: emphasizing the centrality of the statutory text and relevant interpretive sources, adopting crucial perspectival differences between incremental lawmaking and statutory interpretation, and highlighting the unique legislative process through which the statute was developed.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Shyamkrishna Balganesh & Peter S. Menell