We're taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what's at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.
Copyright law touches everyone. But despite its constitutional mandate to serve the public, policymakers have often treated it as the private preserve of major media and entertainment industries. Those industries built entire empires on copyrighted works, and they’ve shaped the law to reflect their interests and desires. But with copyrighted software and digital technologies now integral to our daily lives, copyright affects everyone – and the law should serve all of us.
Today, copyright law not only impacts the music you hear or the movies you watch, it shapes your ability to communicate with others online, to create, post or share content to online platforms, to make art that talks back to popular culture, and to use, fix, and tinker with your own belongings. When copyright law is out of balance – when content holders are given too much power to control how new technologies and copyrighted works are used – it limits our basic freedoms to access information, to express ourselves, to control our own digital devices, and to innovate to create new tools and creative works.
Established content industries have long sought to use copyright law to expand their monopoly control over culture, pursuing longer copyright terms, for example, and attempting to dictate the design of new technologies that come into contact with creative works. These industries often use lobbying, litigation, and private agreements to reach their aims, and their campaigns sometimes harm the very progress and innovation that copyright is designed to encourage. But in recent years, Internet users, emerging artists, authors, independent musicians and filmmakers, students, researchers, libraries, and technology users have begun to push back.
Five years ago this week, a diverse coalition of Internet users, non-profit groups, and Internet companies defeated the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), bills that would have forced Internet companies to blacklist and block websites accused of hosting copyright infringing content. Had they become law, SOPA and PIPA would have allowed established copyright industries to censor the web, and to constrain its innovative potential. They would also have increased the risk that both government and private entities could remove or block unpopular or critical speech from the Internet.
In the five years since SOPA, new threats have emerged, and we continue to fight alongside our allies to push back against proposals that would expand copyright’s reach and trample on the public interest. But we’re not only fighting against bad legal changes and private agreements that harm the public – we’re taking part in the copyright reform process to fight for a better copyright law that serves everyone, not just established copyright industries.
As part of that work, each year we join together with a diverse range of organizations to advocate for a set of principles for making copyright law work for everyone. This year, we highlight two additional principles. One is that copyright law should reflect the needs of all authors and creators, not just those backed by established copyright industries. This means that conversations around copyright reform should also include the voices of online creators, bloggers, remixers, fan artists, independent musicians and filmmakers, and authors who rely both on internet platforms, and on the limitations on copyright in order to produce and share new works. Another principle is that in the face of increasing anxiety about the vulnerability of freedom of expression online, the relationship between copyright and free speech is more important than ever. We will pay special attention to how both government and private entities use copyright law to undermine Internet users’ freedom of expression.
Here are this year’s Copyright Week principles:
- Monday: Building and Defending the Public Domain. The public domain is our cultural commons and a crucial resource for innovation and access to knowledge. Copyright policy should strive to promote, and not diminish, a robust, accessible public domain.
- Tuesday: You Bought It, You Own It, You Fix It. Copyright law shouldn't interfere with your freedom to truly own your stuff: to repair it, tinker with it, recycle it, use it on any device, lend it, and then give it away (or re-sell it) when you're done.
- Wednesday: Transparency and Representation. Copyright policy must be set through a participatory, democratic, and transparent process. It should not be decided through back room deals, secret international agreements, or unilateral attempts to apply national laws extraterritorially.
- Thursday: 21st Century Creators. Copyright law should account for the interests of all creators, not just those backed by traditional copyright industries. YouTube creators, remixers, fan artists and independent musicians (among others) are all part of the community of creators that encourage cultural progress and innovation.
- Friday: Copyright and Free Speech. Freedom of expression is fundamental to our democratic system. Copyright law should promote, not restrict or suppress free speech.
Every day this week, we’ll be sharing links to blog posts and actions on these topics at https://www.eff.org/copyrightweek and at #CopyrightWeek.
If you’ve followed Copyright Week in past years, you may note that this year, we didn’t designate a specific day to focus on fair use. Fair use—the legal doctrine that permits many important uses of copyrighted works without permission or payment—is critical to the law’s ability to promote creativity, innovation, and freedom of expression. Fair use is a part of each of this year’s principles.