Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Copyright Law and New Technologies: A Long and Complex Relationship

From the Library of Congress:

The following is a guest post by Brad Greenberg, counsel in the U.S. Copyright Office, Office of Policy and International Affairs.

Copyright law and new technologies have a long history, arguably dating back to the Gutenberg Press in the 15th century—more than 200 years before passage of the matriarch of copyright statutes, Britain’s Statute of Anne. New technologies provide new tools for creative expression and new vehicles for sharing those works. But sometimes they also disrupt existing copyright regimes—as seen with player pianos (late 1800s), radio (1920s and 1930s), cable television (1960s and 1970s), photocopying (1970s), home video cassette recorders (1970s and 1980s), and, of course, digital downloading and streaming technology (today).

Emerging technologies continue to raise novel questions for copyright, particularly with a copyright system built around a law now more than forty years old. Is a poem written by a computer entitled to copyright protection? Does a mass digitization project for displaying snippets of in-copyright books require licenses from each copyright owner? When does copyright’s first sale doctrine apply to digital works?

Answers to such questions were debated at congressional hearings during the House Judiciary Committee’s multiyear review of copyright... fact, the goal of the review “has been to determine whether the copyright laws are still working in the digital age.”

Since the 1950s, copyright law’s application to emerging technologies has been a theme of many Copyright Office studies and reports... The Office also is examining two areas of copyright law where Congress responded to—and also sought to anticipate—technological change related to the growth of digital communications technologies, particularly the internet...

A bit of copyright music litigation history gives some shape to the relationship between copyright law and new technologies.

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