Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Should We Change Copyright Law in the Digital Age?

The law always seems to find me. Copyright law that is. Even when I try to get away from it I manage to run into something art and copyright related. While in San Francisco this past weekend I came across an article that hasn’t received much attention on the East Coast. The article concerns copyright law and media use in the “digital age.”

Pamela Samuelson, professor of law and director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology at UC Berkeley School of Law, has convened a group of legal experts over the past three years to draft 25 reforms to U.S. copyright law. Her article, Copyright Law Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade, appeared in last Sunday’s SF Chronicle, and argues for a rethinking of US copyright laws given the internet age.

With so many new participants and technologies in the copyright system, it is time for copyright law to receive an upgrade. It must become more flexible to accommodate new uses and technologies. It must also become simpler, so that everyone who creates and consumes copyrighted works can understand and use the law effectively without having to call a lawyer every time they want to download a file from the Internet.

Among the proposed changes: modernize copyright office, refine scope of exclusive rights, limit damage awards, reform judicial infringement tests, limit orphan works liability, and create “safe harbors.”

The 68-page draft, The Copyright Principles Project: Directions for Reform, can be accessed via pdf format here. Samuelson’s article in the SF Chronicle can be accessed here. The draft lists the other “legal experts” consulted, and I must admit it is impressive and seemingly diverse (Disney, Warner Bros, IBM, and a host of law schools with liberal bents). I only wish visual and performing artists–or those that represent their interests–had been asked to contribute. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ok with Disney and Warner Bros in the mix, but not all artists thrive on million dollar incomes. Word of warning: be careful what you do with the draft though, as it’s copyrighted to The Copyright Principles Project. Property…God bless it!


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