The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, introduced in early 2012, sought to protect content producers, like record labels, from websites that illegally distribute copyrighted works. But the bills failed amid wide protest that they overstepped. We wondered, can you enforce copyright in the internet era? Here, three Tech experts weigh in. Amy Bruckman is an associate professor in the School of Interactive Computing. She researches copyright with Casey Fiesler, a PhD student in human-centered computing. Parag Chordia is an assistant professor who is leaving after the spring semester to become chief scientist of Smule, a music app developer.
Balance Is Crucial
By Amy Bruckman & Casey Fiesler
Are you allowed to use part of a commercial song in the home movie you post online? How long of a part? What if the video is just intended for your friends and family? What if the song is only playing in the background on the radio? These issues are complex. It’s no surprise that ordinary internet users are confused, because in many cases the law is ambiguous and the specific issues have never been litigated. Copyright law was once of interest mostly to corporate copyright owners and intellectual property attorneys. However, today it affects a large number of ordinary internet users—anyone who posts content online.
The appropriation of previously existing content into new creative work is a huge part of today’s internet culture, from remix videos on YouTube to image memes circulating on Tumblr. One of the challenges facing copyright owners and policymakers seeking to enforce copyright is how to avoid collateral damage to legitimate fair uses, and they are not always successful. It is easier to send a DMCA takedown notice than to fight one, and the result is a chilling effect for content creators who may not post their work online for fear of getting into trouble.
In our empirical research studying remix artists and online communities of content production, we have found that the following five dimensions are different: what the law is, what people think the law is, what people think is ethical, community norms and what people actually do. Further, social norms tend to vary by medium. What video artists consider ethical fair use is different from writers or graphic artists. By better understanding the beliefs and practices of content creators, we can guide both policy makers and content creators in better balancing the interdependent interests of property and creativity.
Content Will Evolve
By Parag Chordia
Technology has created a trillion-dollar market for content: books, music, movies, video games, blogs and now apps. For example, there would be no market for music as a product, rather than an ephemeral experience, if it were not for the rise of recording technology in the 20th century. These technologies elevated the economic value of artistic expression, yet at the same time created the incentive and means for unauthorized reproductions.
Copyright laws are meant to balance the incentive to create original work, by protecting the creator’s ability to profit from it, while preserving the rights of the public to enjoy and build upon it.
Are current copyright laws effectively preserving this balance in the
21st century? In 2000, just after the founding of Napster, Nielsen SoundScan estimated that 35,516 albums were produced, while in 2007 there were 79,695. The Recording Industry Association of America estimated that in one year during that period 803 million CDs were sold and 2.1 billion were pirated. In other words, piracy didn’t kill creativity. The incentive to create seems stronger than ever, while at the same time billions of people, particularly in the developing world, have been given access that they otherwise would not have had.
What about other media? What would happen to authors if books were largely free? Would they stop writing? I doubt it. The opportunity for your ideas to reach millions of people is a powerful incentive, and it’s likely that some would find ways to support themselves, and a few would even get rich.
Books and music are often created by one person, or a small group of people, with relatively little monetary investment. But what about large-scale movies and video games, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and require hundreds of people? What if profits were smaller or distributed to other parties, such as technology companies? Would this change how and what sorts of movies are made? I suspect that small-scale movies will be produced and distributed more cheaply than ever, and that blockbuster movies, because they are primarily consumed in the theater, will continue to thrive. Content will evolve, and history suggests that it will be more diverse and more abundant than ever before.
SOPA and PIPA assumed that current copyright laws were broken and proposed measures that would have suppressed legitimate speech and interfered with the basic openness of the internet. Before we make copyright even more restrictive, let’s remember the balance that copyright was supposed to preserve and that has allowed the spread of knowledge and entertainment to billions of people.
What do you think? Should copyright be strictly enforced online? Or does the internet age call for a new set of laws? Share your opinion in the comments.