The Messiness of Copyright Laws

In our daily lives we are constantly affected by copyright laws, whether we realize it or not.  From listening to music, to writing a paper (or this blog post), to watching and making silly YouTube videos, copyright laws are all around us.  Copyright has been around since the original 1790 Copyright Act so, it is not really a new concept but with the evolution of technology and more media genres in our world, it has been a changing concept.  Today, copyright law protects music, books, and now video games, photo copies, file sharing devices, pictures and many others (Media/Society, 85).    

The Media/Society book places copyright under the “Ownership and Control” category.  This is because copyright is a case of content ownership not content distribution.  The key issue with copyright is how long a work should be protected by copyright and if the copyright owners should charge so much for people to use their work.  For example, when the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1988 was passed, it protected the work for the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years (M/S, 85). This act is also known as the, “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” because it was the Walt Disney Company was the corporation that was really lobbying for its passage to protect Mickey Mouse.  Companies and artists have the right to protect their productions but the important thing to understand is that the law protects the particular way that authors have expressed themselves but it does not protect an idea.  People who are for the copyright laws and the Term Extension Act claim that the laws allow “creators to pass on the benefits of lucrative work to their heirs or profit reasonably from their creation”.  Critics argue that it “undermines the entire purpose of copyright law to both incentivize creativity and also support a robust public domain.”

Section 107 of the United States Copyright Law outlines something called fair use.  This is how we are able to use someone else’s work.  The things that we can use copyrighted works are for research, criticism, teaching, parodies, news stories, and other scholarly work.  This is how we are able to write papers and how Weird Al Yankovic is able to produce songs.   The owners of the copyrighted material definitely benefit from the copyright laws.  They get all of the profits from people buying their work and from people paying to use their work (when it doesn’t fall in the category of fair use).  The people trying to use work for their own creations are constrained by the laws, especially in the music business, like remix artists for example.

If the laws were written by the ‘other side’ the laws would definitely not be as strict.  No one argues that they don’t want any laws at all but they would definitely not be as strict or specific.  “The media industry may not want government regulation in some matters but, in this case, it certainly does want government intervention”.

In my personal opinion, I think that artists and owners should be protected but I think the laws around the music industry should be less strict.  When artists remix songs, they can use someone else’s song if the work is considered “derivative” enough and they can claim authorship over it.  But some remixes have not been “derivative” enough and have been taken down by the government.  There is an unfortunate grey area surrounding the music business.   And I really don’t like grey areas and I think they are messy for everyone.

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