Copyright Expert Gretchen McCord Says Copyright Week a Success

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Even though most people don't realize it, copyright law controls how we use all kinds of information, including books, movies, music, video games, and even how we interact online. As Congress considers new law, the public has a role to play in maintaining its rights to continue accessing and using all those materials.

Gretchen McCord: Digital Information Law

Without balanced copyright law, America risks becoming a society in which those who can afford to pay for access to education, books, the Internet, music, art, movies, etc. will have it, and others will not -- the ultimate society of haves and have-nots.

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Copyright Week, which ended Saturday, was a six-day campaign coordinated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and timed to correspond with the two-year anniversary of the Internet black-out of January 2012. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, Jan. 13, 2014) That black-out was to protest the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). The bills were intended to provide copyright owners with greater ability to enforce their rights against online pirates. (Los Angeles Times, SOPA Blackout; Who is Joining the Protest, Jan. 18, 2012) However, a sizeable collection of entities – from Google to Wikipedia to the American Library Association – opposed the bills, believing they threatened the very existence of the Internet as we know it, by giving copyright owners the power to shut down websites they alleged infringed their copyrights. (Ibid.)

Copyright Week 2014 was planned to bring to the public’s attention the current state of copyright law and the potential for dire outcomes similar to those feared by the SOPA/PIPA protesters. (NBC News Technology, SOPA Two Years Later, Jan. 19, 2014) Each day of the week was dedicated to a different principle that “should guide copyright policy,” according to the EFF website, and explore “what we need to do to make sure the law promotes creativity and innovation.” (Electronic Frontier Foundation Deeplinks Blog, Jan. 17, 2014)

Why all the fuss? Last year, the House Judiciary Committee began holding hearings on potential reform to copyright law, (The Hill, House Judiciary Chairman to Launch Sweeping Review of Copyright, April 24, 2013), and advocates of information users are concerned that the voice of the public won’t be heard above the din of copyright owners clamoring for stronger enforcement rights in the digital environment. (SF Gate, Don't Leave Copyright Fix to Lobbyists, Jan. 14, 2014)

Copyright expert and former librarian Gretchen McCord explains that copyright law is intended to balance the needs of copyright owners in protecting the use of their works with the needs of the public to, in certain circumstances, access and use protected works without having to ask permission or pay for the use. If that balance is not maintained, the potential consequences could be so dire as to threaten our core values as Americans, according to McCord. “Most people don’t realize it,” she says, “but copyright law literally controls how we can use information in any form – not just books and text, but how we can listen to music, view movies, play games, even interact with each other online.”

She goes on to explain that current law is written for information that works in a fundamentally different way than does information in the modern world. “Fifteen years ago,” McCord says, “digital information simply meant digitized versions of printed information, so it didn’t matter so much that the same law applied to both digital and print. The same law still applies to both today, but the nature of digital information has changed dramatically. How we create, access, use, and share information is fundamentally different; we’re not just digitizing print anymore. Current law simply does not accommodate this.”

McCord says Copyright Week was a great success, because it made the public more aware of the power of copyright law to control how we communicate with each other and share information.

Experts on all sides agree that current copyright law is woefully insufficient for the digital information world and probably needs some reform. (SF Gate, Don't Leave Copyright Fix to Lobbyists, Jan. 14, 2014) Advocates like those who participated in Copyright Week want to be sure that the needs of the public are represented during the process, to ensure a balanced copyright law in the end. (Washington Post, Today's Hearing on Innovation and Copyright is Short on Innovators, July 25, 2013)

Without a balanced copyright law, such advocates say, America risks becoming a society in which those who can afford to pay for access to education, books, the Internet, software, music, art, movies, and so on will have it, and others will not. (ALA Washington Office, District Dispatch, Jan. 17, 2014) “We would become the ultimate society of haves and have-nots,” says McCord.

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Gretchen McCord
since: 12/2011
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