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Learn how to navigate copyright and intellectual property ownership smartly so you own your work, and own your future.


Is Copyright the New Black?

Photo Credit: Copyright Symbols by MikeBlogs used under CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit: Copyright Symbols by MikeBlogs used under CC BY 2.0

There’s something special about the color black.

In the fashion world, it’s come to enjoy a sort of legendary status, expressing an authentic mix of poise and practicality that’s completely essential for every wardrobe.

Could it be that copyright, the supposed refuge for creators and authors, has also achieved similar status?

It’s an issue well worth addressing. In today’s technology-driven era of ubiquity and proliferation, our airwaves are ever awash in torrential downpours of information.

The combination of capable hardware and widespread social networking makes it convenient, entertaining and even rewarding to select and share, share, share. Herein, lies the crux of our issue.

Transcending the Copycat Norm

The non-commercial copying and pasting, digitizing and downloading, forwarding and freely sharing considered so normal these days often leaves one key player completely out of the loop: the original creator, not to mention her compensation and credit.

This means creative work is routinely shared illegally, and our culture simply accepts it.

The protection of originality in creation lies at the heart of copyright law – mostly so that artists, writers and other creators can keep doing what they do best without getting cheated.

When society itself tends toward an atmosphere of free sharing without regard for rights and responsibilities, the equal and opposite tendency is for greater, or at least more mindful, legal protection.

The result? Yes. It’s true. Copyright is the new black.

Increased Legislation

Some seem to think that the best way to combat extensive copying is to make it legally impossible and, of course, they’re running into problems.

The most recent legislative unfoldings began back in 2005 when the House Judiciary Committee held talks to review copyright law in light of the fast-developing digital age and its myriad of changes.

While the Committee held similar discussions in April of this year, significant copyright law reform remains to be seen.

Back in 2005, legislators were just beginning to surmise the various loopholes and lapses of the last greatest copyright schema, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), enacted under the Clinton Administration in 1998.

The biggest thing this law did is create a safe harbor for content providers such as YouTube, making it easier for users to share copyrighted material without incriminating the content provider.

Then, there was the recently proposed, and subsequently shelved, Stop Online Piracy Act, commonly known as SOPA, as well its companion in the Senate, PIPA.

The broad reach of these laws proved much too intense for the Internet, which rallied support in a way that showed exactly how quick and capable users are of defending Internet freedom and sharable free expression.

Despite the uproar and fiasco these bits of lawmaking have caused, the ultimate outcome is that they’ve placed copyright in the limelight. Copyright, and copyright infringement, is now an everyday reality that many are made aware of on a daily basis.

Increased Court Action

Contributing to this growing popularity are high profile court cases attempting to shape and define the law.

For instance, the well-known Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. gave us a better understanding of content providers’ responsibility to determine fair use prior to raising accusations of copyright infringement.

More often than not, these cases involve the mass media using litigation to attempt to control very popular pirating practices.

Reasons for such increased vigilance may also be copyright’s close relation to the recording industry, where copyright law is useful for tracking down everything from copied lyrics to highjacked beats and unwanted public performances.

Entities like the RIAA have the resources to scan the Internet for copyright abuses and thus are more likely to find and sue infringers.

Increased Automated Surveillance

Back in 2011, the Center for Copyright Information introduced the framework for a new system, the Copyright Alert System, that would monitor and police instances of copyright infringement through illicit sites.

Earlier this year, several ISP’s actually launched the system, and it’s now currently in use.

Its nickname, “Six Strikes”, refers to the number of infringements necessary before users have their Internet service slowed to a terribly annoying speed as punishment.

Backing the system is a partnership between the RIAA and MPAA and five Internet service providers: Verizon, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T and Cablevision.

The System’s advocates say it’s necessary to address the millions of instances of infringement happening every day, but it has tremendous opposition from the other side of the game.

Opponents argue that the system threatens open WiFi services and small businesses who would come under fire for infringements done unwittingly on their turf. They also cite the lack of authority of the system’s enforcers.

Do the enforcers of such systems actually have any real authority to police and punish as they do?

Has copyright law become too antiquated to combat our copy and share culture and it’s racing technological advancements?

More importantly, just how effective is it to criminalize behavior that large segments of society have already come to consider normal? These are perplexing questions, indeed.

Users Be Aware

Whether or not you think rogue policing systems will be effective deterrents to widespread Internet piracy, without a doubt, copyright is achieving the kind of status that keeps things interesting.

With this growing interest in copyright protection, comes a warning: users be aware.

1. Just because you say “no copyright infringement intended,” doesn’t mean you’re not violating someone’s copyright.

A common practice on the Internet has been to excuse oneself from liability by using common disclaimers when posting copyrighted material, but this isn’t always truly effective.

More often, it’s a clear indication of the need for improved understanding of the way that copyright laws actually work.

This and similar statements claiming fair use are not likely to prevent a lawsuit, takedown or DMCA notice if the post is found to be truly infringing.

2. Beware cutting and pasting even when you use attribution.

There’s a fine line between fair use and copyright infringement, but that’s not the only thing to consider.

The limitations on the rights of a copyright holder are quite few in the large scheme of things.

Getting the permission of the copyright holder seems to be the ultimate goal in any situation, and when that isn’t possible or proves too difficult, it’s always best to link back to source material.

3. It’s better to create than duplicate.

The best way to avoid infringement is to make originality a consistent standard in all creative endeavors.

Convenient copying and instant distribution of sound, files and text does not diminish the rights of an authentic copyright holder.

Even if you’re sure you can’t be caught and the chances of being sued are slim, the best rule of thumb is to give the best credit where credit is due and stick to original creation.

The Ultimate Accessory

The truthful paradox is this: more copying means more copyright. Artists and creators are finding that the best way to recoup the investments of time, effort and energy poured into a work is to find as many ways as possible to protect that work.

This means everyone can expect to see increased policing by those who can afford it and perhaps an even greater push for effective copyright law.

At any rate, copyright has already become an essential staple for any creative work.

The best accessory for the ‘new black’ of copyright would be a simple online tool for transferring ownership and licensing material.

Thus, infringement could be stopped before it starts with just a few clicks.

In this way, both compensation and credit due are easily satisfied via agreement between creator and user, with the aid and ease of technology as facilitator, and without the need for draconian policing or costly litigation. Sound too good to be true?

Think again.

Because you want a better way to avoid copyright infringement and you care about navigating IP and copyright smartly, follow us on Twitter.

About the Author: Veena Veana is currently a legal document specialist, freelance writer, poet and community activist residing in west Texas. She earned her JD from Chicago-Kent College of Law, specializing in Intellectual Property, and holds a degree in Microbiology from the University of Texas.