Modern Copyright Questions

In the 1990s, the European Union and the United States both lengthened the term of copyright protection to life of the author plus 70 years. As life expectancies have increased, the period of copyright protection has increased to cover a generation after the author—in theory to provide for the author’s children and grandchildren. This reignited the debate about the true purpose and nature of copyright. Opponents of extending copyright protections contend that copyright protects profits for publishers, not royalties for families, and unduly inhibits the freedom of ideas.

With the growth of the internet, the relationship among authors, publishers, and readers has changed. Self publishing has become practical in some contexts, replacing book publishers with internet providers. Ideas good and bad can flow more freely. This has also opened questions about use, since obtaining copyrighted material in a reusable form has become much easier.

The doctrine of Fair Use, contained within U.S. copyright law, allows the use of copyrighted material without permission under certain conditions—generally educational settings, parody, or commentary, not for profit. There is now also a movement called the Creative Commons, through which authors and artists can preemptively license their material for uses that might not fall under the Fair Use doctrine. Still others are calling for an end to copyright and a paradigm shift in our understanding of authors’ and artists’ rights to their output.

There is more information on Fair Use and the Creative Commons in the following pages on this site.


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