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Copyright Laws: What About the Internet?
Natalie Roberts
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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It seems that the people in Hollywood are not getting along very well with the people who are working to advance the Internet, computer systems, and digital tools. There are two main groups in the struggle against technological innovation in the Internet world, and how it is kept under control. In Mike Godwin's article, "Hollywood vs. the Internet," the difference in opinion of how technological innovation can affect society is discussed and analyzed. The main crisis right now facing the Internet is copyright piracy. There is already a copyright law that applies to Internet users and if many more are added it will pose an innovation problem for the technology industry, unless copyright standards can somehow coincide with advancing technology in a way that would maintain a balance between society's public and private interests.

The Internet is a useful tool, because it can copy and distribute information easily over a broad area. Because the Internet is capable of doing such distributing, it is vulnerable to abuse, and copyrighting materials becomes an issue. That is why copyright laws are needed. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 "prohibits the creation, dissemination, and use of tools that circumvent DRM (digital rights management) technologies" (Godwin 175). This law protects copyrighted works, and yet a group of people, known as the Content faction, which includes copyright holders such as movie and TV studios, record companies, and book publishers (Godwin 173), does not think it is enough. "All of them tend to talk about the problems posed by computers, digital technology, and the Internet in apocalyptic terms" (Godwin 175), and "the Content Factions says it needs… a standard to survive" (Godwin 176). The standard they proposed is the Hollings Bill, which would "make it a civil offense for anyone to develop a new computer or operating system…that does not incorporate a federally approved security standard preventing unlicensed copying" (Godwin 177). This law could have been helpful in protecting the Content Faction and its members, but if laws like this are passed then innovation in technology will slow down tremendously if not altogether.

Computer systems and technology are increasing every day, and innovation in these areas is important, but this innovation is at risk because of copyright laws. The Hollings bill did not pass because of rationality, and as stated by Les Vadasz, "the bill would have suffocated innovation in the high-tech industry" (1), "and the bill never moved forward" (Vadasz 1). The Content Faction did not give up here, but instead, they introduced another, similar bill. This one was known as the "Induce Bill," and this bill would be a problem for the people who make computer systems as well as a few others, because it would make liable anyone who "intentionally aids, abets, induces, or procures" a copyright violation (Vadasz 1). Innovation would slow down with more and more copyright laws because computer programmers and designers would be taking a risk while creating newer, improved computer systems. Godwin states: "Programmers trying to come up with, say, the next great version of the Linux operating system may find their development efforts put them at risk of civil and criminal penalties" (Godwin 173).

The decrease of innovation, if more strict copyright laws are passed, will not only affect the computer designers and such, but it would also affect the Internet users themselves. It was estimated that about 40 million people used the Internet in 1997, and that number has definitely increased since then (Thi Phan 187). These people use the Internet for many reasons because the World Wide Web contains so much information from various sources. "The World Wide Web is… a simple method of organizing and retrieving information that is widely dispersed across the Internet" (Thi Phan 187). Internet users will not be able to enjoy and use the Internet in such ways as sharing files, and downloading music and mp3s anymore if too many copyright laws are passed, especially the laws that deal with watermarks.

With watermarks people may no longer be able "to move music or video files easily from one of their computers to another, even if the other is just a few feet away, ... their MP3s may be moveable to a limited extent, unless their hardware doesn't allow it," and " the digital videos they shot in 1999 may be unplayable on their desktop and laptop computers" (Godwin 173). Too many copyright laws mean a lot of upset Internet users because their choice of doing things on the Internet will be more limited than ever before, and this could cause trouble.

The Content Faction is so worried about protecting copyrighted material that they forget about what it would do to the Internet and how it would affect the users. A stricter standard of copyrighted materials and more laws would upset the users, and this could lead to a higher crime rate. This idea also, comes from the watermark laws that have been proposed because a law like this would "develop an incentive for both inquisitive hackers and copyright 'pirates' to find a way to strip out the watermarks" (Godwin 174). To keep problems like this from happening, the Content Faction should try coming up with better laws that would compromise their ideas with the Tech Faction's ideas.

The Tech Faction, which includes computer makers, software companies, and manufacturers of related devices such as CD burners, MP3 players, and Internet routers agree with the Content Faction about copyrights, and they "want to see a world in which copyrighted works are reasonably well-protected" (Godwin 175). Godwin states: "The Tech Faction and the Content Faction both supported the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) of 1998, and both like it pretty much as it is" (175). If both opposing sides agree on an ideal and a law, and there are still problems arising, it seems like one side, the Content Faction, is just trying to cause problems. Since both factions agree on something, the door has been opened to compromise, which is a much better solution than constant opposition to one another.

We are living in a world where "innovation means jobs, productivity, a betterment of our lives" (Vadasz 2). "The more we attempt to provide government protection to the old ways of doing business, the less motivation we provide to the entertainment industry to adapt and benefit from new technology" (Vadasz 2). This means that instead of trying to shut down on innovation and use of the Internet, the studios and businesses associated with the Content Faction should look at the Internet as a means of distributing their products and understanding that "the Internet presents a unique opportunity to fulfill the copyright regime's public interest goals of promotion of learning and access to free information while also creating new channels of distribution and expression for creators" (Thi Phan 173). The Content Faction is worried that sharing of music files on the Internet means "an end to big profits and thus an end to big record companies" (Godwin 176), but this does not necessarily have to be the case.

An idea of compromise between the copyright laws and the Internet is the Doctrine of Fair Use. "Fair use is a privilege that allows someone other than the copyright owner to use the copyrighted material in a reasonable manner without the owner's prior consent, notwithstanding the monopoly granted to the owner" (Thi Phan 181). There are several different theories of how fair use could be applied to the Internet, and they should be acknowledged and possibly broadened in order to harness postmodern qualities for the realization of the dissemination and creation goals of the copyright system (Thi Phan 169). Fair use should be broadened because too many copyright laws would mean less access by the public and since the Internet is a media, "overprotection of copyright holders' interests will suppress these essential characteristics and turn the Internet into yet another form of closed, one-sided media" (Thi Phan 191). Fair use should balance out copyright laws and the use of public access.

There are valid reasons as to why copyright laws should be made, but too many would cause a problem in the technology industry because innovation would be limited; however, the idea of fair use on the Internet could solve this problem. There are copyright laws already created, and an increase in hacking and piracy would develop if more copyright laws keep being created and innovation would decrease. A change in these laws, and a new approach to the Internet from the Content Faction is a possible solution. "Fair use can play a vital role in supporting the Internet's ability to achieve copyright's goal of nurturing discourse and enlarging the commons of knowledge" (Thi Phan 213). The Content Faction needs to realize that the "Internet has the potential to dramatically improve and strengthen learning, democratic participation, and the creation of new artistic works" (Thi Phan). The Content Faction should not be so selfish with their works but they should see the ways they could benefit from the Internet, and not propose such strict copyright bills.

Works Cited

Godwin, Mike. "Hollywood vs. the Internet." Speculations, Ed. Landrum, Sivils, and Squires. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 2003. 173-178.

Thi Phan, DanThu. "Will Fair Use Function on the Internet?" Columbia Law Review 98.1 (1998): 169-216.

Vadasz, Les. "A Bill That Chills," The Wall Street Journal (eastern edition) 21 July 2004: A.10

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