Copyright Week 2017: New Media and New Rules for 21st-Century Creators

Posted January 19, 2017


It’s copyright week! This week, Authors Alliance is joining a group of organizations in reflecting on some of the principles that help make copyright law an engine of creativity.

Copyright is intended to fuel creativity by helping creators secure the rights they need to comfortably and profitably continue with their work. But creators come in all shapes and sizes and many internet-age creators have very different needs from the copyright system than some of their more traditional peers. We need a system that works to foster these digitally-empowered voices, but too often the system we have does just the opposite.

In particular Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which provides legal protection for digital locks on copyrighted goods, has been deeply problematic for new and important creative works. We have written previously about Authors Alliance’s effort to obtain an exemption to this law that preserves authors’ right to make one important kind of fair use in the digital age. The exemption, which we explained in detail here and here,  protects the fair use rights of e-book authors, allowing them to bypass the encryption on DVDs, Blu-ray, and other media in order to use film clips in multimedia e-books.

In comments filed with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2015, we asked for an exemption to allow multimedia e-book authors to circumvent technological protection measures in order to embed video content into their works for fair use purposes, just as they have been able to embed quotations and images into their paper books. We requested that the previous 2012 exemption be modified to allow authors to access  more kinds of video content and use it in their multimedia ebooks for any fair use, not just film analysis.

While we were pleased to see the Acting Librarian of Congress announce a Final Rule preserving and expanding this important exemption, the solution is a patch at best: a sliver of fair use preserved for a sliver of authors for a short term of years. We need long-term solutions that ensure that the law both allows and fosters digital creativity that depends on fair use.

New technologies open up creative possibilities unheard of even a decade ago. Instead of being locked down, these innovations should be fostered, and creators allowed to fully rely on fair use in the digital world.