As explained above, the exclusive rights that copyright law grants to encourage creativity can impose costs in terms of reduced access and cumulative creativity. The exceptions and limitations to copyright can be understood as attempts to contain these costs and maintain an overall balance in copyright policy. Fully evaluating copyright policy requires that we understand not only how well the law motivates creativity, and how well the rights it creates are enforced and transacted, but also how its limits operate. Copyright needs to be seen as part of a larger policy environment related to creativity and innovation, an environment that includes other mechanisms that may serve as complements or even alternatives for copyright’s particular mechanism of promoting creativity.
One way copyright law balances competing interests is by term limitations; another is by permitting certain uses of copyrighted works without permission from their owners under various exceptions and limitations. These include some narrow exceptions that allow very specific uses of certain types of works by statutorily-identified classes of users. Other exceptions—including the fair use and first sale doctrines—are more generally applicable.
Valuable research could build upon initial attempts to quantify the benefits of exceptions and limitations in terms of the economic outputs and welfare effects of those individuals, businesses, educational institutions and other entities that rely on them. These include search engines whose practices (e.g., embedding thumbnail versions of copyrighted images in search results) have survived copyright challenges on the basis of fair use, for example; used book sellers and movie rental businesses that rely on the first sale doctrine; libraries that rely on fair use; publishers of books for which copyright has expired; and a variety of music outlets that rely on the complex scheme of limitations and compulsory licenses applicable to music copyrights. A variety of practices in the education and library contexts are also shaped by fair use, first sale, and other exceptions. Assessing the effects of copyright limitations would also require studying how, if at all, they affect copyright holders. Research should also aim to understand these benefits and costs dynamically, exploring how copyright and its limitations affect the emergence of innovative and/or disruptive technologies and platforms.
Limitations may also be affected by developments in technology and business practices. Where the sales of books to libraries are replaced by