The whole goal of the Internet was to create a forum to share information. Copyright restricts the free flow of information and therefore goes against the nature of the Internet. In order to understand how copyright law works we must first look into what the law is. "Copyright protects expression. The Copyright Act of 1976 states that the items of expression can include literary, dramatic, and musical works; pantomimes and choreography; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; audio-visual works; sound recordings; and architectural works. An original expression is eligible for copyright protection as soon as it is fixed in a tangible form" (Mahoney).
There are five basic rights given to the owner of a copyright under the U.S. copyright act. The first right is the right of the copyright owner to reproduce the work. This means that no one other than the owner of the copyright may reproduce the work. Examples of reproduction are copying a computer program, photocopying a book, using a cartoon character on a T-shirt, and using a part of a musical song in ones own song (Tysver). A famous case of infringement involves George Harrison being sued by Bright Tunes Music. George Harrison's song My Sweet Lord was too similar to the Chiffon's He's so Fine. "The court in Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd., 420 F.Supp. 177 (1976), concluded that George Harrison had indeed infringed upon the copyright of He's So Fine . The decision was unique in that the court acknowledged that Harrison may have unconsciously copied the tune" (Mahoney*).
The second basic right of a copyright owner under the U.S. copyright act is the right of exclusive distribution. This allows the copyright owner to control the distribution of the first sale of the work. For example the copyright owner can control the first sale of a book but after that the work could be resold or rented without the permission of the copyright owner. Congress has put limitations on this first sale doctrine including a prohibition on the rental of phonograph records and computer software (Tysver).
The third basic right of a copyright owner under the U.S. copyright act is the right of public performance. This right allows the copyright holder to control the public performance of a work. The term public being defined as a large gathering of people beyond the scope of family, friends, and social acquaintances. It is limited to literary works, musical works, dramatic works, choreographic works, pantomimes, motion pictures, and audio visual works. Any work transmitted via channels of mass media is considered a public performance (Tysver). An example of this would be the need for a theater group to get a license from the copyright owner before putting on a play.
The fourth right of a copyright owner under the U.S. copyright Act is the right of public display. This right simply controls the public display of literary works, musical works, dramatic works, choreographic works, pantomimes, pictorial works, graphical works, sculptural works, and stills (individual images) from motion pictures and other audio visual works (Tysver).
The fifth right of a copyright owner under the U.S. copyright Act is the right to make a derivative work. A derivative work is defined as " a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted" (Tysver).
In addition to these rights congress passed and President Signed into law the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. President Clinton signed this document into law on October 28, 1998. According to the The UCLA Online Institute for Cyberspace Law and Policy the highlights of this revolutionary legislation are:
- Makes it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy measures built into most commercial software.
- Outlaws the manufacture, sale, or distribution of code-cracking devices used to illegally copy software.
- Does permit the cracking of copyright protection devices, however, to conduct encryption research, assess product interoperability, and test computer security systems.
- Provides exemptions from anti-circumvention provisions for nonprofit libraries, archives, and educational institutions under certain circumstances.
- In general, limits Internet service providers from copyright infringement liability for simply transmitting information over the Internet.
- Service providers, however, are expected to remove material from users' web sites that appears to constitute copyright infringement.
- Limits liability of nonprofit institutions of higher education -- when they serve as online service providers and under certain circumstances -- for copyright infringement by faculty members or graduate students.
- Requires that "webcasters" pay licensing fees to record companies.
- Requires that the Register of Copyrights, after consultation with relevant parties, submit to Congress recommendations regarding how to promote distance education through digital technologies while "maintaining an appropriate balance between the rights of copyright owners and the needs of users."
- States explicitly that "[n]othing in this section shall affect rights, remedies, limitations, or defenses to copyright infringement, including fair use..." (UCLA).
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