• ADVERTISEMENT

    How would you rewrite copyright law for the digital age?

    by Mark Glaser
    March 23, 2007

    The music industry is still suing college students over file-sharing. Viacom is suing Google and YouTube for $1 billion for copyright violations. NBC and News Corp. are teaming up with their own video-sharing concept, dubbed NewCo (or “ClownCo” by Google), to help protect their copyrighted material. The increasing length of copyrights in the U.S., and the quick obsolescence of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, seems to beg for a reformed copyright law that takes into account new technology. Someone recently asked me, “Should we just change copyright law so the protection only lasts 10 years?” That’s easier said than done, as the media companies have successfully lobbied for extending copyrights while no one seems to be lobbying the other way. How do you think U.S. copyright law should change, or do you think it’s OK as is? Share your thoughts in the comments and I’ll highlight the best ideas in the next Your Take Roundup.

    Tagged: copyright law
    • Jay

      Its one of those things I struggle with answering. Being a natural sworn enemy of the music companies, anything that hastens the release of their stranglehold makes me happy. Copyright law as Ive come to understand it provides them with virtually all of the advantages, and the crafting of it in the late 90s included some 11th-hour language designed to keep them fat & happy for many years. Since thats clearly not happening (yay), should the law therefore have to change, or the companies themselves? I believe that we need to recognize a world where all our assumptions about how media is consumed is fundamentally flawed, and that when in doubt, we should side with a loose, more libertarian interpretation that benefits consumers. I suspect that at the end of the day it really wont matter what the law says, right?

    • Ben

      Honestly, I think that copyright law in any form is an outdated attempt to secure the rights to knowledge.

      As an educator, I see first hand just how far fair-use provisions are stretched in the classroom by teachers at every level. Students witness firsthand the use of copyrighted materials such as songs, videos, and text in their projects as they are being used for educational purposes only. Why should it be then, that when they leave school and want to continue their education they can’t continue to use those materials in the same manner?

      Because of this copyright law is oxymoronic; using others’ ideas for learning is protected, but take that learning experience out into the real world (as is the goal of every educational institution), and suddenly the use of any copyrighted material in a public setting is strictly prohibited, even if for educational purposes.

      It’s no wonder that so many millions of individuals have rebelled against the system, and have just started to outright ignore the current system. But then again, Congress has a fond history of passing legislation pushed by lobbyists that it can’t ever hope to enforce (prohibition anyone?), so it’s only a matter of time before politicians realize that criminalizing college students and ordinary citizens for such minor infractions is ridiculous.

    • MojaveMike

      A simple two-phase approach:

      1. Loosen up on the personal use restrictions. Big business would be wise to treat their customers with leniency and gratitude. Were it not for people sharing media (even showing a DVD to a friend who comes over) is how new markets are made from customers who wouldn’t have bought the material originally. This increases popularity and demand exponentially.

      2. Tighten the reign and increase penalties for commercial use of copyrighted material – especially with foreign markets where the problem is completely out of hand.

      P.S. As a side note I’d like to see all those corporate attorneys writing license agreements back off and understand that their game shouldn’t be to make the company more profits, but to protect the company from damages.

      Thank you for listening.

    • abelardo

      Technology will render copyright laws irrelevant.

      One of the posters suggested “tighten(ing) the reign…especially in foreign markets.” This is impossible and will never be accomplished.

      A recent lengthy trip to Thailand illustrated the impossibility of stopping piracy; every city has dozens of people selling DVDs and CDs. They show their inventory in laminated books. Crowds gather around the outdoor stands and buy many copies at a time. Families are raised on the earnings of these street corner sellers…. in much the same way as “numbers runners” provided income to their families in another industry that was illegal but rarely prosecuted.

      The sellers know the quality of their product; i.e. one of them warns against buying specific titles. “No good,” he says shaking his head. Then he adds, “not movie, quality bad.” Letting the potential buyer know he is not a movie critic, he is just making a quality control observation.

      some of the DVDs were recorded at screenings…providing a laugh track to comedies. Others are off of the masters.

      The latest titles are on the stands. I could buy “Deja Vu” the weekend it opened in the states if I wanted to.

      The Thai government will not take actions to curb these sales. Neither will China, Chile, Mexico or any other country where I have seen these sales in public. They have enough on their hands without trying to stop something from which they have no direct interest.

      Also there is a growing culture that does not care about the reasons for copyright or understand the need for protection of intellectual property. there will very soon be no moral counterbalance to pirating.(If there is any such thing right now.)

    • Stochastio

      It’s obvious I’m dreaming, but the reality of it remains that the communications industry will, for the largest part, remain lucrative despite the illegal activities which are going on. It’s interesting to notice that in the current so-so-wild-west of the new media, business is served, artists are noticed and their works are spreading like never before, just as they should. What I propose, therefore, is to free distribution of all commercial works once a decent profit has been made out of them. Profitability being served, the 75 years (or so) limit would be otherwised reduced to a moral ownership of one’s work. In the meantime, property owners may continue to sell the value added material they have freed. It would only become illegal for them to restrict their distribution, as these works would become close cousins of public property.

      Again, what I’m proposing couldn’t possibly be considered realistic by most lobbies from pre-Internet era industries, as they have been accustomed to considerate privileges. New business models will have to rise through independent and collective effort in order to compete with the dominant one, as they already are, before this reality makes this letigation self-evident to any decent person.

    • TJ

      In their rebellion it seems that people are forgetting that there are other classes protected by copyright law as well. Recordable media is the only industry so far to attempt to punish people for personal use. I’m pretty sure the New York Times has never sued its customers for having multiple readers in a household.

      I’m all about the free exchange of information, but I also recognize that the systems that support that exchange cost money to create and maintain. Generally (outside of the entertainment industry), the amount charged to obtain copies of materials doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of staffing, system support and hardware maintenance needed to make the materials available.

      The people behind copyrighted materials put a lot of energy into creating their works. Why should their protection ever lapse? It doesn’t matter whether it is a second grader’s essay, a story appearing in a major newspaper or a blog. They created it. It belongs to them.

      If anything, the copyright law should extend copyright protection to accomodate the extended life-cycles that the digital age represents. The problem is not so much with our copyright law, but with our courts. They are the ones interpreting license use agreements as limited in scope and broad in application, and changing the copyright law won’t do anything to change that.

    • Copyright law came about originally to protect the creators of content, not the distributors, funders, marketers, etc. I know we can’t just do away with copyright entirely because that leaves artists and other content creators completely unprotected…but at the same time, the way most distribution systems work today (I’m thinking primarily of music recordings and movies), the artist is not the one who benefits from the copyright protection anyway.

      I would love to see wider adoption of “copyleft” systems like the GNU or Creative Commons. Most of these systems allow for reproduction of a creative work under certain rules, e.g. the resulting copy must be released under the same protection scheme. This would allow for more remixes, mashups, sampling, etc. without the fear of lawsuits and jail time.

      Copyleft systems don’t allow free pirating of protected works (though many big companies seem to think they do), but they do make it vastly easier for people to use and re-use creative works – and many copyleft variations allow the original creator some creative control over any derived works.

      I wish I had the answer for a system that would allow artists to make a real living off their art, but I’m afraid I’m not that savvy. I do know that in the age of digital self-publishing, there is no reason why the major record labels should own the copyrights to an artist’s work. And there’s no reason why the major record stores should be able to keep CD prices artificially high – supposedly “for the benefit of the artists.” Just ask Tower Records.

    • Update: Salon has an interesting interview with author Jonathan Lethem about copyright issues. Lethem’s new novel deals with these issues, and according to Salon, he’s come up with an innovative way to release the film rights to the book – by giving them away on his web site to the filmmaker with the best proposal.

    • Michael Antebi

      It’s amazing that the laws were to protect originators for a limited number of years to increase dissemination of ideas while temporarily protecting rights of making a profit. Today the extension of copyrights assures us that large corporations can make profits forever. Why not extend copyrights for 500 years!

      As far as protecting their work, the five separate world DVD regions prevented me from viewing a DVD included in a design magazine I bought from England. Aslo what rights do I get when I buy a DVD that no longer works under regular use? Ink in books do not simply disappear one day.

      After complaining about colorization of old movies and artistic integrity of the director being compromised, movies are now on 2 1/2″ ipods instead of 40-foot screens, they are chopped up to fit TV time-slots and DVD Director’s cuts mean they didn’t like what originally appeared in the movie houses. The list goes on and on.

      Corporations have hoodwinked the courts into forcing legitimate buyers into throes of pain in dealing with technology. I have just learned that Microsoft software has to be reactivated from time to time or it won’t work period. Try doing that 1:00 A.M when you have to rush out a project. How about smaller companies who will do this and then go out of businesswho gets stuck with dead software that their business run on?

      We are in for a rude awakening when these protective schemes start to go amuck.

    • Michael Antebi

      It’s amazing that the laws were to protect originators for a limited number of years to increase dissemination of ideas while temporarily protecting rights of making a profit. Today the extension of copyrights assures us that large corporations can make profits forever. Why not extend copyrights for 500 years!

      As far as protecting their work, the five separate world DVD regions prevented me from viewing a DVD included in a design magazine I bought from England. Aslo what rights do I get when I buy a DVD that no longer works under regular use? Ink in books do not simply disappear one day.

      After complaining about colorization of old movies and artistic integrity of the director being compromised, movies are now on 2 1/2″ ipods instead of 40-foot screens, they are chopped up to fit TV time-slots and DVD Director’s cuts mean they didn’t like what originally appeared in the movie houses. The list goes on and on.

      Corporations have hoodwinked the courts into forcing legitimate buyers into throes of pain in dealing with technology. I have just learned that Microsoft software has to be reactivated from time to time or it won’t work period. Try doing that 1:00 A.M when you have to rush out a project. How about smaller companies who will do this and then go out of businesswho gets stuck with dead software that their business run on?

      We are in for a rude awakening when these protective schemes start to go amuck.

    • Tonsotunes

      As consumers get their panties in a bunch because their hands are getting slapped for breaking the law … it might be useful – just for a fleeting moment – to consider those who are really taking it in the ear as their livelihoods are being drained away because what they do for a living, apparently, isn’t worth paying for.

      I’m talking about musicians, songwriters, artists and everyone else involved in the making of the ‘worthless’ music everyone craves.

      Stop focusing on the RIAA and start focusing on the creators of music.

      If all of the major record labels are taken down and the independent artist is left to go it alone … be truthful … you’ll take his livelihood away from him in a heartbeat because you believe unlimited access to music is your entitlement.

      The only music you are entitled to is the music you make yourself … you are not entitled to mine!

      In reality there are two groups that must be made happy as we move into the digital future .. consumers and creators … neither group is happy today …

      It’s up to the new middlemen to facilitate the needs on both ends of this spectrum.

      We want you to love our music and consume tons of it … but, if you do, what’s unfair about us getting paid?

      And, by the way, Mark, your question was loaded in such a way as to attract the types of responses you got … very beneath the standards one would expect from PBS.

    • Tonsotunes,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m not sure how you could possibly ask this question — “How would you rewrite copyright law for the digital age?” — without people taking it the way they are. Not sure what you mean about it being “beneath” PBS standards.

      I haven’t heard anyone in this forum or elsewhere say:
      * music is worthless
      * musicians shouldn’t be fairly compensated

      What you are hearing is that the music companies have not set a fair price for music. Please explain how a CD recording is worth $18.95? Why? To pay whom? I see tons of artists selling their homemade CDs on the road for $10. What’s wrong with that?

      Why do we need “new middlemen”? The last middlemen made a mint exploiting artists and ripping off the public. Shouldn’t we find a new way that consumers can buy directly from artists WITHOUT the middlemen? Isn’t that the promise of the Net?

  • ADVERTISEMENT
  • ADVERTISEMENT
  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »

    Follow us on Social Media

    @MediaShiftorg
    @Mediatwit
    @MediaShiftPod
    Facebook.com/MediaShift