November 13, 2009 | By Danny O'Brien

Keeping a Global Eye on Copyright Law

We spend a lot of our time at EFF trying to spot new proposals in copyright across the world, and understanding whether they're good or bad for civil liberties. We're not the only ones: our understanding depends on the work of hundreds of researchers worldwide who are constantly sifting through new drafts and consolidating older reforms in hundreds of nations.

It's a global effort, and that's why we're happy to announce our involvement in a truly global project: Copyright Watch. Working with academics, libraries and copyright monitors from across the world, Copyright Watch brings together the most recent copies of laws from as many countries as we could find. And with that global team, we'll be tracking new proposals, consultations, and freshly passed regulations: finding the promising changes, and highlighting the spectacularly bad ideas hopefully before they can take hold.

A single country's copyright law can be truly byzantine (the United States' seems to be the longest at around 130,000 words, although we're pretty sure Afghanistan has the shortest, lacking as it does any copyright regulations at all). And right now, every one of the 184 countries in Copyright Watch's database is struggling to reform their regulations to fit the difficulties and opportunities of the digital age.

It's a real challenge to map all of these laws, and all of these changes. But it's vital that we do so. Every shift in any of those countries might spread: whether it's for good or ill, maximalist or reforming. Lawmakers eagerly look for track records in other nations, or are obliged to adopt another's bad laws through treaty or trade agreement. Japan decides to model their new law's exceptions on the United State's broad fair use principles; politicians see France's three strikes laws, and decide to import them wholesale. We're hoping Copyright Watch will give the public as powerful a tool for monitoring the global copyright outlook as any private interest.

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