Copyright Is Dead! Long Live Copyright!


Infringement. File sharing. Piracy. Counterfeiting. Plagiarism.
Whatever you call it, the theft of copyrighted material is just about impossible to control in our ever-expanding, ever-increasing digital age. In fact, there is a widely held belief that technology has made copyright impossible to enforce.
Take the entertainment industry, for example:
While all school children are taught the dangers of plagiarism of print materials when they write their first term papers, many of these same kids are some of the greatest offenders who believe that internet file sharing of their favorite music is their due simply for being fans of this or that rock or rap group.
The music industry, of course, has been vigorously fighting back with numerous lawsuits, many of which target these same young people. And, while some progress seems to have been made, the reality is that the problem is so massive, it is all but rendering music artists’ copyrights useless. While it may be possible to bring some control to the internet, with just a bit of internet savvy and searching, you can find and download programs which can be used to “unlock” the various security features built in to all music and video CDs. With that kind of tool, it’s possible to pirate this type of intellectual property without leaving a trail on the internet.
Like musicians, photographers are finding that anyone with minimal skill and the right software can alter the original image and use it on websites, narrowcasts and the like. In an interesting twist, a Florida photo printing lab refused to print an amateur photographer’s digital photos because they looked too professional, and the lab managers feared that doing so might violate someone’s copyright. On the more unsavory side, phone cameras are now being used to clandestinely copy and use everything from drivers’ licenses to copyrighted artwork.
Writers are equally concerned. For example, Google recently announced its intention to put the libraries of four major universities on line to make previously inaccessible material available to researchers. The outcry of the publishing industry, professional associations and even a country (France) was immediate, strong and negative. While copyright for many of the works has expired, critics say the effort could have financially troubling outcomes.
So, is copyright truly “dead” – a meaningless exercise in the digital age? Is the creator of intellectual property to assume that their right to profit from his or her creative product is lost?
While clear solutions are yet to emerge, the important thing to know is that digital gurus as well as legislators in several countries are developing technology and updating laws to assure that all types of works remain protected. You also would be well advised to pay close attention to how this issue continues to unfold and develop. Do your own internet searching to find and bookmark blogs, discussion groups and websites serving as copyright “watchdogs”. Then visit often and pass along what you learn to your own professional groups and colleagues. One final caveat: Be sure to consult your IP attorney with any concerns and questions.
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