Copyright As We Know It: Development in the United States

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Copyright As We Know It: Development in the United States

Jun 03, 2015

Copyright Development in the United States

When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution, they included the Article 1, Section 8 copyright provision, which resembles the Statute of Anne in its reason for protecting creativity and expression. However, copyright legislation has significantly evolved since this country's founding, having taken many steps both forward and backwards.

US Copyright Law is constantly walking the fine line between balancing the public good against the opportunity for private gain. On the one hand, policy dictates original works should be available to the public, or at least a segment of the public. However, we also want to provide sharing authors the opportunity for monetary gain. As will be discussed in future posts, there is a huge difference between sharing and stealing.

Technological advancements seem to always be ahead of copyright law, which has played catch-up through a series of copyright laws. Past statutes include the Copyright Act of 1790 and another in1909. Current US copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1976, extends protection to (i) literary works, including computer software; (ii) musical works; (iii) dramatic works; (iv) pantomimes and choreographic works; (v) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; (vi) motion picture and audio visual works; (vii) sound recordings; (viii) architectural works; (ix) compilations; (x) derivative works; and even works by foreign authors if they were published in the United States. What constitutes each of these categories will be addressed in subsequent posts.

Technology continues to evolve ahead of the law. The invention of audio and video tape recorders made piracy easy, cheap and fast. The Internet makes piracy and plagiarism even easier and faster. Courts are continually addressing the question of what is protected under copyright law and what falls under the doctrine of fair use. Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 in order to address these and other issues as well as combat online piracy.

To streamline protection, recent legislation has removed some of the earlier strict copyright formalities, such as the necessity to renew copyright registration with the copyright office or requiring proper copyright notice. The copyright protection term has also been extended to the author's life plus an additional 70 years, which is the current protection period. US Copyright law has undergone significant changes over the past 220 years, and if history tells us anything there are still many changes yet to come.

Next time we will talk about what may be copywritten.

Gary Brophy and Janise Marvin made substantial contributions to this post.

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. His class covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.

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