Friday, April 30, 2010

Justifying Limitations on Copyright...

In this ongoing digital debate, there are those who believe that the idea of copyright is sacrosanct, and that copyrighted material can never be used without the author's permission. Of course, those individuals are completely clueless about actual copyright law, which expressly allows the fair use of such material for a range of purposes including commentary, criticism, satire, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship.

One problem that Fair Use advocates always run into is how to quantify the value of such unauthorized uses of copyrighted works with a positive social value. After all, when the movie and music industries cite statistics on exactly how much money is lost to digital piracy, it would be nice to have some quantitative data to counter them.

Well, according to a new study by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and reported on the Google Public Policy Blog, $4.7 trillion is the amount of revenue generated in the U.S. by the “fair use economy” -- industries that rely on fair use and other limitations on copyright. They account for 1/6th of U.S. GDP, one out of eight jobs, and $281 billion in exports.

Copyright law not only provides artists with certain protections, but also includes important limitations that promote innovation and legitimate re-use of information.

For example, without limits on copyright, search engines would not exist. Indexing the Web would be illegal, because that requires creating a copy of websites first.

The importance of well-designed copyright goes much further, though. iPods, Tivos, and any other digital media device that is capable of making copies depends on balanced copyright.

This is what is meant by calling for "copyright reform". It is not, in any way, a call for the abolition of creators' rights, but rather is a call for legislation that ensures that fair use remains possible. Digital technologies have been used in recent years both to enable individuals to pirate copyrighted works and to empower corporations to restrict the fair use "copying" of those works as well. Reform involves re-balancing the two, and having the law recognize a new equilibrium appropriate for the 21st-century.


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