William Patry has said we are in the midst of a “copyright war.” Now that high-speed internet has become the norm, debate over the future of entertainment, culture, knowledge, and communication is heating up. Traditional content providers – book publishers, newspapers, the music industry, film studios, etc – struggle to adapt to rapid technological changes while a new generation has access to an entire universe of information with a few clicks of a button. 2Although, even buttons are becoming quaint. I’ll keep using the term, though, until someone comes up with an elegant way to describe all the finger-sliding and whatnot you use on touchscreens. At the heart of these debates is the issue of copyright. Copyright law has emerged from the little-travelled sidestreets of lawyerville into the arena of public discussion.
I read a tremendous number of well-written blogs that deal with current topics concerning copyright law, many of which you can find to the right. To those, I add my own voice. I plan on doing more in-depth writing, provide analysis to some of the headlines that fly through the 24-hour news cycle, and examine some of the deeper issues in the discussion on the role of copyright. And I hope to do this all in a way that is understandable to non-legal types – the general public, and the artists and authors whose lives are affected by these issues.
Just a note, as I am in the US, this blog will be primarily about US copyright law. I may look at other countries in future articles, but unless otherwise noted, assume I’m talking about the US.
There is a lack of balance online when it comes to talking about copyright. Writer and attorney Ben Sheffner noted this lack as one of his motivations for starting Copyrights and Campaigns in 2008, which has since become one of the most popular blogs about copyright. But still, copyright skeptics continue to dominate the blogosphere.
The result is that anyone wishing to learn more about, say the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement will walk away with little more than the repeated notion that it is bad bad bad. This one-sidedness extends everywhere online. If you read the Wikipedia entry on digital rights management, you’re bound to wonder why companies continue to use it, and why it’s protected by law, if it’s so bad bad bad. 3A recent discussion of the page on Wikipedia highlighted this problem.
Other writers, such as The Cynical Musician, have noted that the promises of “Web 2.0” to new creators have failed to materialize, despite the proliferation of hype that continues unabated. 4Full disclosure: I’ve once bought into the hype as an amateur musician, even writing about the subject on a now-defunct blog. But after 15 years of hearing the same claims, and particularly as a result of some research work I’ve done, I’ve realized that it is just hype. “The internet can make anyone a famous author/filmmaker/musician!” You would think we’d be a little more skeptical of people claiming that “the internet will solve all our problems” ten years after the dot-com bubble. But the hype remains, leaving a void for creators looking to leverage their careers online. 5It’s striking how similar the claims made in this CNN segment on IUMA from 1994 are to claims made today.
Finally, analysis of legal issues is scant in most media. Reporting is often superficial, alarmist, or just plain wrong. 6The same is true in science reporting. Chocolate is good for you! Now it’s bad for you! Online, the “reporting” is even worse. There are many well-written legal blogs, but they are aimed primarily at other lawyers – most laypeople find them too technical or boring to regularly read. But the law affects all of us; it’s fair to say that we all need some understanding of the law to function as a democratic society.
Practioners of law play a role in aiding the public with understanding of the law. The American Bar Association says in the preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct
As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.
As a soon-to-be practicing lawyer, 7I sat for the July 2010 Illinois Bar Examination one of my goals in starting this site is to provide some insight into understanding copyright issues to those outside the legal field.
The accepted wisdom is that attention spans are shrinking: we’ve gone from books to magazines to blogs to tweets. 8In the future, people will literally “send a letter.” But is this necessarily true?
The Nieman Journalism Lab released a case study of Slate magazine’s embrace of “long-form” journalism that challenges this notion. The idea is that
in order to really thrive, in order to have the kind of committed, excellent, well-educated, media-engaged audience that we’ve always had — and to build that audience — we had to do something more than just 1,500 word pieces, and more than just explainers.
There’s nothing wrong with short, frequent posts. It’s just that the web is filled with blogs that do just that. It’s easy to stay on top of the latest news, but more difficult to take a step back and analyze the issues in a larger sense. It’s my hope that this site will add to the discussion rather than the chatter.
Until Next Time
I hope you find this blog interesting, useful, or both. If you have any topics you’d like to see discussed, send them my way.
|↑1||I love footnotes.|
|↑2||Although, even buttons are becoming quaint. I’ll keep using the term, though, until someone comes up with an elegant way to describe all the finger-sliding and whatnot you use on touchscreens.|
|↑3||A recent discussion of the page on Wikipedia highlighted this problem.|
|↑4||Full disclosure: I’ve once bought into the hype as an amateur musician, even writing about the subject on a now-defunct blog. But after 15 years of hearing the same claims, and particularly as a result of some research work I’ve done, I’ve realized that it is just hype.|
|↑5||It’s striking how similar the claims made in this CNN segment on IUMA from 1994 are to claims made today.|
|↑6||The same is true in science reporting. Chocolate is good for you! Now it’s bad for you!|
|↑7||I sat for the July 2010 Illinois Bar Examination|
|↑8||In the future, people will literally “send a letter.”|