Weekly Forum 7

Copyright laws have been around in the United States since 1790 and initially covered books, maps and charts. Since then the laws have expanded to cover other creative works, including works of art, photos, songs, articles, movies, plays and software. Gift of Fire outlines the rights that copyright law gives to the copyright holder. The law allows a copyright holder to permanently or temporarily grant these rights to others (i.e. an author grants the right to distribute copies of a book or article to a publisher for a set time period). Some works are in the public domain, meaning that anyone can use or distribute copies of the work. In the United States, works are generally protected by copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years, although, courts have granted extensions to this. After the copyright expires the work goes into the public domain. Authors may, at anytime, turn their work over to the public domain.
The book also outlines the Fair-Use doctrine. This allows for the use of copyright works under certain circumstances. One major advantage and flaw of the Fair-Use doctrine is that it is vague. By being vague, it is able to cover a wide range of copyrighted works and use scenarios. However, by being vague it is subject to different interpretations. For example, one provision is the amount and significance of the work. For songs, books, articles someone can use a portion of the work (i.e. copy a chapter out of a book), but for a work of art this may be more difficult. How do you copy and display a portion of a sculpture? Also, in some cases, the use meets some of the provisions but not all, would that still be considered fair use. The answer is maybe. Many cases have gone to court and the rulings have helped to determine more specific guidelines for fair use.
Recent technologies have substantially challenged copyright. MP3 compression has allowed for the creation of very high quality digital files that are relatively small. This, along with file sharing technologies, such as P2P (Peer-to-Peer) have made it possible to easily and cheaply share these digital files. Look at the section on Significant Cases (Gift of Fire, Section 4.2.1 Sony V. University City Studios). Do you agree or disagree with the court’s rulings in these cases. What are the main similarities and the main differences between the Sony v. Universal Studios case and the Napster case? How have these cases shaped how we buy, record and share music and videos today?