laws denote a set of legitimate rights, existing worldwide, that allows the maker of a unique work selective rights to decide if, and under what conditions, this unique work might be utilized by others. It is normally temporary and not absolute, but rather constrained by limitations and exemptions to copyright law, including fair use. A noteworthy limitation of copyrights on ideas is that it protects only the original way the idea was articulated, and not its underlying fundamental thoughts.
Copyrights are granted by public law and are considered regional rights, in that copyrights, are allowed by the law of specific states and do not stretch out past that region’s jurisdiction.
Copyrights of this sort differ from nation to nation, and once in a while an expansive gathering of nations make new agreements with each other on appropriate methodology when copyrighted works cross national boundaries and the said rights are inconsistent.
Most jurisdictions perceive copyright restrictions, permitting special cases to the maker’s restrictiveness of copyright and giving users certain rights.
The advancement of computerized media and technology has incited reinterpretation of these exemptions, presented new troubles in implementing copyright, and roused extra difficulties to the philosophical premise of copyright law. Simultaneously, organizations with massive monetary reliance upon the copyright, for example, those in music, have supported the augmentation and development of copyright and sought stronger enforcement. A landmark case in copyright law was of a group of music companies, A&M Record Inc taking the helm, suing Napster of copyright infringement as the latter had introduced new peer-to-peer file-sharing technology that enabled users to share their music for free.
The following discussion would engage to discuss different forms of copyright laws that have appeared throughout the years, and how they have in one way or another found themselves stifling innovation in some form.
The first copyright bill to be discussed is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) introduced in 2011 by the U.S. It sought to help battle online copyright infringement and web-based trafficking in counterfeit merchandise. It incorporated the asking for court orders to banish advertising and payment systems from doing business with infringing sites, stop web search indexes from connecting to them, and require ISPs to ban access to these websites. This proposed law would have extended existing criminal laws to incorporate unapproved streaming of copyrighted material, forcing a maximum punishment of five years in jail.
Under SOPA, it states that a website is committing theft of U.S. property if it is marketed by its operator or an accomplice in offering goods or services that engage in, enable, or facilitate copyright infringement. If enforced, such a statement would be too sweeping. It would not only mean targeting sites that directly broke the copyright laws but also any affiliated website that helped them to do so in a broad sense, being so expansive that it could unjustifiably be used to target any of them. This is the case even when they only perform auxiliary helping functions that make it easier for others to access the copyrighted content on the original targeted website. Holding such a gold standard would trap numerous innocent websites and services that enable the sharing of content, such as YouTube, Google, Facebook, etc., and stifle the then-new and upcoming forms of user-generated content websites.
SOPA also imposes specifics such as service providers, search engines, payment network providers, and advertising services being required to implement technically feasible and reasonable measures to prevent any access to an infringing site. These requirements inflict additional costs on actors that play an important role in the Internet economy. It is no wonder that the online technology businesses launched a protest against SOPA in 2012 with as many as 7000 websites shutting down in defiance including Wikipedia.
Another form of copyright law would be the U.S. PIPA, the Protect IP Act that was introduced in 2011. It had the aim of providing the law with more ways to deal with rogue websites dedicated to participating in the transactions of infringing or counterfeit goods online, with a special focus on those registered in foreign countries.
PIPA provides that an Attorney General can sue an owner of a website dedicated to infringing activities that have no significant use other than engaging in, enabling, or facilitating copyright infringement. Therefore, to not be subject to liability, the technology that the owner of the website employed must have other significant uses. However, this is again too broad a concept. Even if a website is only occasionally used to infringe, its primary functions that enable its legal significant use could be able to in some manner engage, enable or facilitate copyright infringement, and that would be a breach of PIPA. The word “significant” is also up to many interpretations, and copyright accusers could simply claim a website’s non-infringing uses to be insignificant to support their arguments, and with their usually greater resources would lead to a higher likelihood of a successful lawsuit. Also similar to SOPA, PIPA also places a burden upon actors to set up measures to prevent infringing activities, once again disincentivizing any online forms of innovation.
Another act would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), or more specifically its intellectual property chapter. It is a proposed trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and United States in 2016.
The TPP mandates legal restrictions that punish innovators for bypassing Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, even if the said bypasses were for a lawful purpose. To explain, DRM software is special code installed on electronics to limit the further usage of content after-sales, such as disallowing copying of contents of eBooks, CDs, or DVDs. This is to prevent copyright infringements. However, DRM technologies do more harm than good, in the form of it supporting anti-competitive business practices and stifling innovation that builds upon these existing technologies. For example, businesses could misuse this privilege by labeling software or content “illegal” by their standards from working with DRM-inserted devices.
Another aspect of the TPP is that it disallows “temporary reproductions” of copyrighted works without permission under it is copyright infringement. This would seem fair but owing to its overbroad definition is not. In computers, it is common or even essential for the computer operating system to help store temporary copies of programs and files into the RAM for faster performance. But under this provision, this and other legal activities could be punished. There is a history of cases in the U.S. where companies rely on the overly broad definition to sue independent creators and innovators for bankruptcy. Cablevision, a cable TV provider, was sued over its service that allowed subscribers to record TV programs and playback whenever they want to. In an even more ludicrous case, a computer repair technician was sued for copyright infringement for just loading a computer program into his computer’s memory.
However, they are arguments for copyright laws being essential for innovation, one of which is that copyrights promote and secure the commercial distribution of creative works. Only with copyright law in place can there be a sense of ownership of an original work upon which a right is conferred, and the right would then be able to be passed on to 3rd parties, usually distributors or publishers, to promote the product. One can see copyright laws as a property right, in that it helps the transfer of valued assets from creators to users and ensures the intermediaries gain just their rightful amounts without exploitation. Without such laws, no original content creator would innovate as another could simply steal their creation and market it as their own.
Perhaps measures should be put in place to curb or alleviate the negative side effects copyright laws have on innovators. One common trend with copyright as seen above is that it targets the actors and perhaps not the main perpetrators who are the individual users that misuse the websites for their gain, such as with users on Napster exploiting the peer-to-peer sharing technology to get free music. Thus, a way would be to explore alternatives to suing actors, but the individual perps themselves.
Firstly, a way would be to lower enforcement costs. It is currently unattractive to convict all infringers because of the heavy litigation costs, be it financial or time-consuming. If the enforcement is made cheap, quick, and certain enough, it could be a real possibility in bringing each perp to justice. This would be done by suing enough infringers to reduce the problem to manageable amounts through the act itself and also deterrence.
Secondly, it was difficult or impossible to track every perp on the network in the past, but with current technology and security measures in place, this task is made simpler. Tracking technology could be further developed to accurately detect wrongdoers that misuse online mediums to infringe copyrights.
Copyright laws may currently stifle innovation but it is necessary for innovation to even happen. However, careful considerations should be placed on new copyrights to be passed and sweeping statements should be avoided and terms explicitly more defined. This would prevent companies from misusing their ambiguity and subsequently the laws. A new avenue in targeting individuals instead of the company themselves can also be looked into and perhaps a hybrid penal system can be implemented that can help both companies and people to be more responsible entities.