Copyright Reform

Copyright law is one of the most outdated laws worldwide and it is badly in need of reform. The main rationale behind the existence of this legislation – the desire to provide authors with an incentive to create new works while providing society with the ability to make fair use of these works – is still an important issue that needs to be addressed, but copyright law today does not seem to fulfil this need.

A fundamental issue with copyright law is that it tries to achieve its goals by regulating the act of ‘copying’ – while this is the core of the ‘copy’right, this concept does not properly fit in the digital world where every single use of the work requires creating a copy, whether it was in the process of copying a song from a CD to an iPod or copying an application from the hard drive of a computer to its RAM to run that application. All these acts are regulated by copyright and will by definition require the approval of the copyright owner for the end user to carry them out – obviously this extensive scope of copyright is not a proper development of the copyright law, but an unintended result of the extension of the law to new technologies.

Another peculiar feature of copyright is that it is automatic in the sense that the author does not need to take any action upon the creation of the work to be granted protection, while this may seem like an advantage, it also grants copyright protection to many works whose authors do not necessarily care about copyright protection and makes it hard to access copyright works whose authors are dead or unknown.

A more philosophical problem with copyright law is that it does not acknowledge the major shift in the creative culture brought by technology as the tools for creating high-quality video and audio became democratized and accessible to any person with a computer. Few people in this generation express themselves by writing a poem or a short story and instead rely on rich media such as videos and graphics to communicate and express their thoughts. It may not be necessary to create such rich content by building on works of others, but the majority of people express their creativity by taking small bits of different works, editing them, and remixing them into a new work that has in this remixed form its own unique value. This is what you see when going on YouTube and look at all the parodies, tributes, and short films made up of remixed scenes and soundtracks taken from famous movies.

The majority of these remixed works by young people are not made with the intention of making money and do not have the result of lowering the commercial value of the original works they are building upon, yet copyright law does not make special provisions for such uses and requires the user to seek the approval for every single piece of copyright work he has used in his work. The reality, of course, is that the users do not acknowledge copyright because it is impossible for the system to work in their favour and businesses cannot practically enforce their copyright against every single violator on the internet making the law nothing more than written words that cannot be practically enforced. The sad result of this is the lack of respect for the law by young people as they do not understand how their innocent participation in the remix culture violates the law and their definite knowledge that the law is incapable of being enforced.

There have been independent attempts to work around the drawbacks of the law through initiatives such as the creative commons, but that will not solve the fundamental problems of the copyright law. Unfortunately, copyright law is regulated by a number of international treaties that make it very difficult to change the basic principles that govern the system. Our only hope is that governments realize that copyright law is a fundamental aspect of today’s global economy and international efforts have to be made to help make the system fairer.

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