Essay, Digital Bowdlerizing: Removing the Naughty Bytes


Unlike Dr. Bowdler, who republished the works of Shakespeare with the naughty bits removed, the modern digital Bowdlerizer deletes offensive content from digital works in a variety of ways. This Essay will analyze the technologies used by the modern Bowdlerizer to determine when, if, and which technologies make copies in violation of the copyright owner’s § 106(1) right to control reproduction or make derivative copies of a preexisting work that may infringe the copyright owner’s 17 U.S.C. § 106(2) right to authorize the creation of derivative works. These technologies not only support militant prudery, but they also may add new functionality and capabilities that expand consumer choice. The answer to many of these technological, social, and legal problems is a careful consideration of the scope of the derivative work right in a digital economy rather than the traditional approach of waiting until infringement. This Essay proposes a test to determine whether a technology produces a derivative work. This Essay concludes that the balance of the equities and the public policies behind the copyright law protect digital bowdlerizing.


Communications Law | Computer Law | Consumer Protection Law | Intellectual Property Law | Law and Society | Science and Technology Law

Date of this Version

May 2004