In this essay I will examine the difficulties in regulating Copyright law in the Internet Age. Discussing the dichotomy between the political and corporate versus the creator consumer, exploring how together a blending of education and reform is the only way for users and the next generation of users to learn how to “respect” the values of copyright.
Act and Reform
When surveying the landscape of technology and copyright one can clearly see a divide, one that began to develop in the later half of the 1990s. With the Internet becoming commonplace by 1996–and in 1998 with the inception of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act–the challenges began. The conflict, the participants and the issues are often blurred– as is the application of this copyright law.
With every onset of a new technology (printing press, camera, copy machine) threats and challenges to copyright law inevitably ensued. Naturally the power of the World Wide Web has created further challenges to the established copyright regulations. Suddenly with ease just about anyone could reproduce, disseminate and store digitally created material. In the 1990s a CD could store 600 MB, today devices like iPods can hold 70% that amount, about 10,000 songs– all that can be transferred and reproduced with speed and perfection. (Peters, 2008)
One of the largest issues surrounding the validity of modern copyright is economics. The copyright laws were established to protect and reward the creator–to protect the economic rights of ones work and the future use of it. This market driven system that was created prior to the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies that allowed for entertainment corporations to thrive economically and control works through established copyright regulations. It is these corporations that have or had a vested interest in strict copyright control through established law and it is these industries that are attempting to hold on to their control by means of legislation.
However; in this new digital landscape, their control is dwindling and a power shift has developed between these corporations and the creators/artist and consumer who have made them so much revenue in past decades.
In a video lecture given by Dr. Maja Bogataj Janči, in connection with The Intellectual Property Institute in March of 2008, she posed the question to the audience–
“Do you respect Copyright Law?”
No one in the audience of scholars and professionals could honestly answer yes. (Bogataj Jančič, 2010)
The capabilities of Internet living make it impossible to “respect” copyright law, particularly for the younger upcoming generation of “digitally native” individuals. For those who have not experienced life without the World Wide Web the current copyright laws have no relevance, they have no desire or motivation to “respect” copyright law. They come from a place where technology is a way of life, a mash-up, a collaboration and shared social culture. A space in which the creator and consumer have become one in same, the economic relations between creator to consumer has been altered with the inceptions of the Internet. What is important to keep in mind is that this new consumer creator does not always have commercial/monetary incentives in mind when creating new works.
Everyone has the right to create, we are and will always be standing on the shoulders of those before us, we build on previous ideas and creations. In our current digital setting this has expanded beyond imagination. The amount of collaboration and “mash-up” works created have expanded exponentially in the last ten years.
For decades now core industries–movies, music and software have profited from copyright law. This shift and current conflict between government agencies coupled with cooperate business versus consumer creators and “open-source” advocates runs deeper than money, it involves such core issues as freedom of speech, suppression of cultural production, and the stifling of artistic freedom.
There is no one way to solve this problem–the space the Internet inhabits is ingrained with the freedom of creation and the dissemination of information. Dr. Maja Bogataj Jančič calls the Internet the “perfect machine” in that it allows for new creative models, with new distribution models, created by a new form of creator, with new modes of distribution. However; she also points out it can also be the “perfect machine” for control–control of access and use of works, and subsequently suppress the original intent of copyright– “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”
There has to be a blended solution to the issues surrounding copyright law in the digital age and cannot all be in the form of legislation. It will need come in the form of law, limitations and exemptions, redefinition or a dissolving of fair use and fair dealing, open licensing, an embracing of open source communities, and education.
Government / Corporate View
The American Government acknowledges the current flaws existing within the realm of copyright, they did so by enacting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) on October 12, 1998. The legislation was supported by the software and entertainment industries and generally opposed by scholars, librarians, and science fields. Some of the main issues in the DMCA include — criminalizing the “un-locking” of built in anti-piracy code within proprietary software and outlaws the sale of such code cracking devices–with an exception for “encryption research” as well as exemptions under certain circumstances for nonprofit libraries, archives, and educational institutions. Under the DMCA “webcasters” are required to pay licensing fees to record companies. The Act circumvents Internet Service Providers from copyright infringement liability, but does hold them responsible for the actions of their users and requires them to take necessary steps to prevent and prosecute any infringement of the copyright terms. (UCLA 2001)
On September 20, 2010 the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy. COICA partially constructed as a preventive measure against copyright infringement activity purports to take action against any site/domain name found infringing on copyrighted material, by shutting them completely down, suspending their Internet operation by locking their site/domain name. Supporters of the bill include the Motion Picture Industry and the US Chamber of Commerce. Proponents of the Act include Tim Berners-Lee -the man credited with the invention of the World Wide Web, The American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Internet civil liberty groups, and digital rights activists.
COICA, established to protect copyright holders and prosecute violators and those who infringe, according to proponents, is a dangerous bill to our freedom of speech and is simply another attempt at control through copyright legislation. It is also an attempt for the entertainment industry to regain the economic control it once had. Sites that could possibly be shut down by this measure include hosting websites such as, consumer creator sites, music mash-up sites, and peer to peer sharing sites (p2p). Digital rights activists consider the act to be an extreme measure and that it will open door to Internet censorship.
While these two pieces of legislation attempt to answer the challenges of copyright in a digital age, they neglect to take into account the spirit and freedom in which the Internet was developed and what it has since grown into. The restrictions and controls that the DMCA and COIAC place on Internet providers and users will not work alone to solve the problem of copyright infringements in our Web 2.0 culture. Alone this legislation has and will cause protest if not world wide revolt.
Change needs to move beyond the economic pursuits of politics and entertainment industries and into a level of control that is matching the current shared “social reality.” (Lesig, 2010) As the Digital Future Coalition so succinctly states, there needs to be an “appropriate balance in law and public policy between protecting intellectual property and affording public access to it.”
Education, information, new business models and an understanding of this new landscape of shared cultural production is needed if the original intent of Copyright– to “Promote progress of science and useful arts”– is to prevail over the copyright that protects huge corporations
Many of the organizations that support copyright reform also foster the growing “participatory culture” that has developed from Web 2.0 technologies further strengthening the consumer creator dynamic.
Non-profit organizations like the Participatory Politics Foundation who aid in operating Open Congress allow users to obtain a better understanding of government and legislation. Pulling form official government data, news, blogs, online social networks, and user participation allow for a greater knowledge of what the DMCA means and how potential Acts like the COIAC could play out in our Internet world. Their organization is focused on sharing within our online community and even have a social network to facilitate those connections. Some highlights of their “public-mission include the following principles;” (Open Congress, 2010)
- “Copyleft–content is free to share, reuse, and remix in non-commercial ways
- Free culture–working toward a fairer and more democratic media space
- Net neutrality– advocates of internet freedom and the broadest possible public access online
- Free of charge to everyone and non-commercial
- Open Standards”
Another important organization and major proponent of COICA working to educate and reform is The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international “digital rights advocacy and legal organization.” In their mission they strive to:
- Engage in and support educational activities which increase popular understanding of the opportunities and challenges posed by developments in computing and telecommunications.
- Develop among policy-makers a better understanding of the issues underlying free and open telecommunications, and support the creation of legal and structural approaches which will ease the assimilation of these new technologies by society.
- Raise public awareness about civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancement in the area of new computer-based communications media.
- Support litigation in the public interest to preserve, protect, and extend First Amendment rights within the realm of computing and telecommunications technology.
- Encourage and support the development of new tools which will endow non-technical users with full and easy access to computer-based telecommunications. (EFF, 2010)
These non-profit organizations strive to work with law makers in finding a suitable solution to keep the freedom of the Internet open to shared creation and content.
Education is of great importance as part of this blending of structures to create a balance in face of copyright challenges. Copyright is not something that is taught, it is rarely talked about– unless one happens to be specifically studying copyright law or being faced with the ramifications of violating copyright–when in actuality we all need to know about its use and the ramifications of its misuse.
In Italy copyright is now being taught in grade school in a presentation style settings.(Bogataj Jančič, 2010) This approach is one that could easily be adopted on a global scale. Copyright law cannot be “respected” or understood, if it is not known. In my own experience in the online community I have, on a number of occasions, heard people declare that “if it is online, then it is in the public domain.” This is what people think–this a subsequent effect of the lack of education surrounding copyright.
In the United State the Copyright Alliance Education Foundation a non-profit group has taken on the mission to educate a younger generation of creators and consumers so they can succeed within the realms of the law. According to their website, The Foundation develops and implements educational projects designed to meet two goals:
- Aid in maintaing a copyright-aware environment throughout the nation’s classroom
- Provide educational recourses for future creators
The organization has created a teaching curricula for teachers of all grade levels, matching and applying them to various subject matters. This group along with the acknowledgement from educators about the issues and challenges we face in creating in an online environment shows the dedication this organizations holds to enhance a better understanding of copyright law and how we as users can learn to “respect” them.
Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has been a leader in facilitating the ideas of open-source movement by becoming the first university in the United States requiring faculty member to allow their scholarly publications to be available free online. Every article written by a member of the faculty will be held in an accessible online repository. This action on the part of Harvard demonstrates that the academic community believes they should have more control over their works in how they are produced, reproduced and disseminated. (Guterman,2008)
In an essay by Marybeth Peters for the U.S. Department of State publication, Focus on Intellectual Property Rights, she acknowledges the challenges the Government faces when attempting to regulate and preserve the rights of the creator. The article directly connects a thread to copyright being controlled by the economic market– of which current legislation, such as the COIAC do nothing to circumvent.
Reform of current copyright is needed, but again I want to emphasize this blending of this legislation, commerce, and freedom between government and consumer creators. There needs to be redefinition of copyright and fair use within our digital system that expands beyond the United States. We must keep in mind when adopting policy and passing legislation that the digital realm is global and our laws will play out global arena. Within this redefinition of users rights and limitations officials must consider the creator and consumers as one, and keep in constant mind our right to free speech, our right to be informed, the rights we hold to create, the right to education and to educate, and our rights to privacy. (Bogataj Jančič, 2010)
Creative Commons, founded in 2001 by Larry Lessig, Hal Abelson, and Eric Elder with support from the Center for the Public Domain has developed a reform that is working on a global scale.
By creating a licensing system that the creator applies directly to their work, one that best suits their needs and wants. There are six main licenses to choose and mix from. The conditions a creator can place on their work ranges from open to strict and can easily be customized–it is a licensing mash-up suited to Internet age. The Creative Commons website is devoted to informing the user on how to apply the appropriate license that best suits the creators wishes, it is user friendly and supports a shared culture of creation, reproduction, remixing, and dissemination of ideas.
Creative Commons is devoted to the cause of copyright reform on an International level. The organization has expanded its efforts globally and has worked diligently to create licenses that apply to 53 different countries working within each countries separate copyright legislation and those countries involved continues to grow. This is a huge achievement to expand and connect on a global level.
Copyright within in the Internet Age cannot be a localized issue–together we must consider blending ideas on a global scale–the Internet is not centralized, but expansive as should our freedoms and the regulations surrounding them. This is not something that happens automatically and not something that can be solved with legislation alone. We live in a new economy that surpasses boundaries and can no longer be controlled by restrictive laws placed on creation controlled by the economics of politics and the entertainment industry.
There are many considerations to keep in mind on global level and on a personal level. As we embrace the “openess” that is the internet we should commit to a certain levels of values within this open community. These values should be spoken of and taught in grade school and beyond. The next generation of consumer creators should obtain a certain level of values in this shared culture of Internet space–and it is us that must teach, educate and support the values that allow us the freedom to create. The limits and regulations of copyright legislation should allow for the consumer creator to inspire, educate and share–once this happens so to will “respect” for copyright.
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Open Rights Group : Protecting your rights in the digital age
The Digital Future Coalition (DFC)
Open Source Initiative
Students for Free Culture
Act and Reform : Creating Respect for Copyright Regulation