January 13, 2014 | By Parker Higgins and corynne mcsherry

Copyright Week: Taking Copyright Back

In the week leading up the two-year anniversary of the SOPA blackout protests, EFF and others are talking about key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day, we'll take on a different piece, exploring what’s at stake and and what we need to do to make sure the law promotes creativity and innovation. We've put together a page where you can read and endorse the principles yourself. Let's send a message to DC, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Brussels, and wherever else folks are making new copyright rules: We're from the Internet, and we're here to help.

Copyright used to be a pretty specialized area of law, one that didn’t seem to affect the lives of most people. But with the proliferation of digital technologies and the Internet, a funny thing happened: copyright policy became speech policy, and it started to show up in all sorts of unexpected and unwelcome places.

It's no longer the case that copyright is only a concern if you run the kind of company that has its own theme parks. Instead, copyright policy can have an effect on any user posting to her favorite sites, sharing videos she's captured or photos she's taken. It can affect your basic freedom to tinker, make, and repair your stuff.  And it gives content owners, and governments, a powerful censorship tool, with far too little oversight.

Copyright is supposed to embody a balanced incentive system, encourage authors and inventors to create new things by helping them receive some compensation for that investment. At the same time, copyright law puts limits on authors, such as fair use and limited terms of protection, to help make sure that IP rights don’t unfairly inhibit new creativity. When the system works, it can be an engine for creativity, innovation and consumer protection. When it doesn’t, IP rights have the opposite effect, giving IP owners a veto on innovation and free speech.

What does that veto look like? It looks like decades of litigation to try to strangle new technologies and services in the cradle, from the phonograph to mp3 players to BitTorrent to podcasting to the next technology someone’s inventing in their garage right now.  It looks like a web of licenses, backed up by law, that limit your ability to tinker with, sell, give away, repair and generally use your devices. It looks like censorship.

Now more than ever, we have to make sure that copyright policy is one that works for all of us. One that promotes progress, innovation, and creativity, instead of stifling them. One that drives more speech, instead of shutting it down.

We think the principles we’ve put together can help do that. Check them out and, if you agree, give them your endorsement: there's power in numbers. And then stay tuned. Throughout the week, we and others will not only be talking about these principles and what they mean for the Internet, we’ll also be sharing actions people can take, and much more.

The SOPA blackout protests marked an important turning point. Internet users sent a clear and unambiguous message, to our lawmakers and to the industries that have driven copyright legislation for years, that it's no longer okay to leave the public out of the conversation. Two years later, it's a great time to move that conversation forward. Copyright is supposed to be public policy, in the interest of the public. Let's take copyright back, and make it work for all of us.

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