Thoughts on Changes in Copyright Law

Moore et al. book coverOpinion drawn from readings in Moore et al. Advertising and Public Relations Law (pictured left).

The purpose of copyright law is to recognize the contribution of the creator or creators of original works and provide them with protection, thereby encouraging citizens to contribute to the arts (Moore et al., 171). I have a unique perspective on copyright law as I often compose original music and literary works that are published and performed in the public sphere. While modern technology has certainly made violating copyright law simple and easy-to-get-away-with, I do not believe Congress should repeal or alter copyright law to make it more lenient.

Making copyright law more lenient because people can easily download material is like arguing to remove all speed limits on highways because most everyone goes at least five miles-per-hour greater than the posted speed. Laws are in place to prevent people from being harmed (e.g. OVI laws). Similarly, copyright law prevents creators from being harmed, be it financially or morally if the integrity of their work is compromised.

Speaking as an artist, any repeal of current copyright laws would make me far less willing to distribute, publish or perform my own work, just as inventors would be less encouraged to innovate and make their inventions available to the public if they were not protected from imitators to some degree.

The government should regulate principal vehicles from which most people are able to download another’s work without payment, such as the vast array of file-sharing sites/search engines (e.g. FilesTube, 4Shared and MediaFire). File-sharing sites certainly can be useful for sharing works part of the public domain or those out-of-print. However, people who use sites to download works available for purchase or share works available for purchase are abusing the technology, just as those who use long-lens cameras to shoot through drawn curtains are abusing technology and violating privacy laws.

Sites like FilesTube seem to avoid prosecution by serving as engines to direct users to other sites hosting the files. I would argue, regardless, the sites are advocating downloading files from the hosts to which they direct users. While FilesTube does not explicitly say “we’re here to help you download copyrighted music, movies and games,” their about page does feature the following statement:

“With our unique approach to crawling you can find the files shared on uploading sites that the other crawlers miss. Also our search engine collects rich and relevant metadata for each page. As a result, when you search for files (video, music, software, documents etc) with FilesTube, you can always find high-quality, relevant search results,” (FilesTube.com, 03-02-2013).

Furthermore, their slogan is “Download everything!” Unlike YouTube or Vimeo, the service is not simply advocating people view material. It is specifically advocating downloading what you come across, making no disclaimer about the legality of the material’s presence on the Internet. Therefore, I do not believe file-sharing sites can make the argument Sony made in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. Sony did not develop their videocassette recorders with the intent of marketing them as a pirating/illegal downloading instrument.

Consequently, a step the United States government should take is putting in place legislation making file-sharing sites like FilesTube, 4Shared and MediaFire illegal. Congress could do this in a simple amendment to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Making examples of several file-sharing sites and their users would greatly curb the issue. I do not think the nation would fundamentally disagree. A 2003 CBS poll found only 14 percent of those surveyed thought file sharing was appropriate at all times (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/18/opinion/polls/main573990.shtml, 03-02-2013). However, solving the problem cannot fall solely on the back of the government.

To make copyright law completely effective, major content creators who have the means to do so need to help the effort by policing sites and prosecuting those who are illegally distributing their work. As Moore et al. points out, there is no copyright police, and it would be unreasonable to expect such a thing. Creators need to be vigilant and prepared to defend their work. It is part of what comes with the territory of being a published artist.

Copyright law provides the limitations and gives the appropriate rights to copyright holders; copyright holders need to defend those rights. A simple change in the laws is not enough, as proven in the years after Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed. To completely eliminate the issue, a joint effort between government and copyright holders is necessary.

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