What Is the Importance of Copyright Laws on the Web?

By David Carnes

During times of rapid technological advance, the law often lags behind. This is nowhere more true than on the Web, where technological advances and the sheer volume of traffic have resulted in countless copyright violations. Although legislation and enforcement strategies are adjusting gradually, serious challenges remain.

During times of rapid technological advance, the law often lags behind. This is nowhere more true than on the Web, where technological advances and the sheer volume of traffic have resulted in countless copyright violations. Although legislation and enforcement strategies are adjusting gradually, serious challenges remain.

Scope of Protection

Technological innovations appearing on the Web have significantly expanded the types of works that are entitled to copyright protection. Protected works include links, digital graphics, digital audio and video, markup language sequences such as html and other unique elements of websites. Even compiled lists of websites can be protected if they are unique enough. Future technological innovations will likely further expand the scope of copyright protection.

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Illegal Uploading and Downloading

Illegal uploading and downloading of copyrighted material, such as on peer-to-peer file sharing networks, has become possible because of advances in digital technology. Although copyright law prohibits such activity, strict enforcement is virtually impossible because of the number of violations that occur. Instead, interested parties are attempting to deter copyright violations by launching high-profile infringement lawsuits against users. The Recording Industry Association of America, an organization that represents several major record labels, has filed hundreds of infringement lawsuits against users of peer-to-peer networks.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act went into force in 1998 to implement two copyright treaties signed by the U.S. Its purpose is to revise copyright law to account for technological advances. The portion of the law most relevant to the Web insulates interactive websites such as YouTube and Facebook from legal liability when users upload infringing material. To obtain immunity from liability, these sites are required to institute procedures to allow copyright holders to file complaints about infringing uploaded material and to remove the material in response to these complaints. Without the DMCA, interactive websites might be forced to shut down because of the potential legal liability.

Fair Use

The fair use doctrine allows users of the Web to upload or download limited portions of a copyrighted work for purposes such as education, parody, criticism or commentary. Fair use never permits the use of an entire work, however. The fair use doctrine appears to be widely misunderstood by users who upload videos featuring entire songs to websites such as YouTube and include a statement asserting that the fair use doctrine applies to their use of the work.

Jurisdiction

Since the Web is global, copyright violations occurring in one jurisdiction affect every other jurisdiction -- illegal uploads, for example, can be downloaded worldwide. Copyright law, however, is national, although international copyright treaties have added a global element to protection. Copyright holders in one country have difficulty enforcing their rights in other countries where enforcement is weak.

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Fair Use Copyright Laws for Education

References

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Copyright Law on Streaming PPV Events

Copyright law in the United States continues to evolve as technology changes and new ways to copy and distribute creative works are developed. Streaming of live and recorded events is the latest technology to test the efficacy of the copyright laws. In the same way that the music and movie industries have been battling downloading and file-sharing services for the past decade, sports leagues and pay-per-view (PPV) producers are trying to assert their intellectual property rights against websites that siphon off profits through unauthorized streaming of live and recorded performances over the Internet. Legislators have begun to tackle the problem of willful unauthorized streaming that significantly damages an industry, and new copyright laws have been proposed to clarify civil penalties and establish criminal penalties.

Implications of Copyright Law

A copyright grants its holder a legal monopoly on the use and commercial exploitation of an original work of authorship. Copyright law is authorized by Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Copyrighted material can include such diverse works as musical compositions and software algorithms. The protection of copyrights has a profound effect on the economy.

The Most Important Limitations of Fair Use Copyright Laws

"Fair use" is a doctrine in copyright law that can be used as a defense to unlicensed use of a copyrighted work provided certain conditions are met. Keep in mind that the application of the fair use doctrine does not give you the right to use copyrighted materials, but rather a defense that may be raised once you have been sued for copyright infringement. Although the doctrine of fair use is broad, there are many limitations to common notions of fair use.

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