Artists Awakening to Copyright Law’s Importance


In late June, The Art Newspaper carried Julie Ahrens‘ comments headlined Make copyright law less of a lottery. Ahrens is director of copyright and fair use at the Center for Internet and Society and a lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School.

black-copyright-symbol-dreamstimeAhrens reviewed recent court cases involving copyright infringement, which led her to this conclusion:

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We must educate, advise and enable artists to properly rely on fair use, and help defend them against bogus infringement allegations. Through education and experience, copyright holders will also learn that not all unauthorised uses are infringing. And we need more open-minded judges who don’t simply view any unlicenced use of copyrighted material as theft and who are willing to decide hard fair use cases and not force parties to settle. The work is far from finished…

The fact that The Art Newspaper carried Ahrens’ comments is a good sign of the arts community awakening to the copyright issue. It’s an important time for it in the United States, because Congress has begun looking at possibly writing a new copyright law with major revisions. So the cultural sector needs to “educate, advise and enable artists” in understanding what government regulators and lawmakers are proposing, and the positive and negative effects.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy organization for freedom of digital expression, made this fact clear for the tech community in March with an article entitled Updating the Copyright Act? It’s up to all of us. Within the article, EFF noted:

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Whether we like it or not, copyright law touches everyone who depends on digital technology – which is to say, everyone. We need to make sure that Internet users, bloggers, technologists, marginalized communities, and startups have a voice in copyright reform. If Congress learned anything from the protests over SOPA and PIPA, it must have learned that copyright law can’t be written in locked rooms by a privileged few…A successful update of the Copyright Act is going to require sustained participation and effective organization by many affected communities.

That includes the arts community, and it will require arts leaders to get organized, get educated and get active in seeing that any new copyright act protects the creative sector.

Maria A. Pallante

The push for a new copyright act began in earnest from Register of Copyrights Maria A. Pallante, who has called for Congress to create “the next great Copyright Act.” Peculiar Progressive wrote about her own advocacy, and response to it, in a March 25 column. We pointed out:

Pallante has publicly made this call in two recent appearances. The most thorough presentation was on March 4 at Columbia University: The Twenty-Sixth Horace S. Manges Lecture, a 30-page analysis of the Copyright Office’s history, including why a new copyright law is needed, and what the major issues involve. She offered an abbreviated version of that last week in a March 20 testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee on courts, intellectual property and the Internet.

In her lecture, Pallante listed major copyright issues Congress must consider. These include exclusive rights, incidental copies, enforcement, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), digital first sale, exceptions and limitations, licensing, deposits for the Library of Congress, offsetting copyright term, making room for opt outs, and making the law more accessible, i.e. readable.

You can read Pallante’s extensive lecture here. Her testimony before Congress is here.

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Between Pallante giving her lecture and providing testimony, Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, stressed on March 18 that any new federal copyright legislation must protect artists’ rights. See that CFR story here.

In late April, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte announced an upcoming review of U.S. copyright law, stating:

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The House Judiciary Committee will hold a comprehensive series of hearings on U.S. copyright law in the months ahead. The goal of these hearings will be to determine whether the laws are still working in the digital age. I welcome all interested parties to submit their views and concerns to the Committee.

By mid-May, the hearings had begun, with the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection meeting on whether the DMCA infringes upon fair-use allowances for copying copyrighted materials for one’s own personal use.

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The slow forming of a new copyright act should unfold during the coming months, as Congress holds hearings on the various issues which Pallante recommended, and which members of the public will suggest. Meanwhile, the site on July 5 published the article How long copyright terms make art disappear, which you can read here.

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