If there’s one thing that most creators can agree on, it’s that copyright law could use a spit shine for the digital age. For all the good its underlying principles do in terms of protecting original creative works, technology is fast outpacing its application.
The practical ability of authorities to pursue piracy advocates and curb copyright infringement is limited by the outdated provisions of some areas of copyright law. Those laws were crafted for a time when consumers got online via a noisy modem and could barely download an album without dedicating a day to the activity, making illegal file sharing a major effort, and streaming unlicensed content completely out of the question.
Fast forward a little more than a decade and we have blazing fast connections with the bandwidth to access any form of content via all kinds of channels, legal or otherwise. Torrent sites and apps like Popcorn Time are the new challenge to rightholders, and it’s not a fight that’s easy to win with copyright enforcement as it stands.
Thanks to dedicated advocacy from creative rights advocates, US lawmakers know this is an issue and have been working hard to better understand how they can craft copyright law for the digital generation and beyond.
Few are more prominent in this policy making endeavor than the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, whose name is now synonymous with the two-year-long review of US copyright law that condluded earlier this year.
This week Goodlatte was back in action, conducting a ‘listening tour‘ that stopped in both Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, with the aim of obtaining wider views on the myriad demands on US copyright law. Some excellent coverage of the viewpoints heard can be found under the #CopyrightListening stream on Twitter.
A selection of those comments shows how important many creators view the modernization of copyright law:
Over in Europe, things are even more complicated.
With 28 member states that make up the European Union (EU), copyright must cross more than just borders, working with multiple languages, varying cultural values, and different approaches to creativity. Nonetheless, the EU is planning a broad review of copyright in 2016, encompassing everything from a single digital market to more coordinated anti-piracy efforts.
The latter is particularly timely, as studies continue to show that piracy sites are significantly motivated to conduct their operations by the profits received from advertising and subscriptions. A key paragraph in the leaked correspondence on the EU’s plans makes specific mention of targeting this problem:
“[Anti-piracy measures] can deprive those engaging in commercial infringements of the revenue streams (for example from consumer payments and advertising) emanating from their illegal activities, and therefore act as a deterrent.”
All of this is music to the ears of rightsholders, who must often feel like they’re protecting their work with one hand tied behind the back.
Even when a creator knows where their work is being taken without permission and where to report it, the hit-and-miss complaint procedure and temporary nature of takedown notices makes for a time-consuming process. That’s time that most creative folks will tell you they’d rather spend, well, creating!
None of which is to say that copyright law is ineffective, but that its authority and enforcement measures must adapt as quickly as the technology that defines content distribution. Creators on both sides of the Atlantic will be hoping that their elected representatives can find a way to craft legislation that safeguards their work for generations to come.