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Our digital future depends on our ability to access, use, and build on technology. A few media or political interests shouldn’t have unfair technological or legal advantages over the rest of us. Unfortunately, litigious copyright and patent owners can abuse the law to inhibit fair use and stifle competition. Internet service providers can give established content companies an advantage over startups and veto the choices you make in how to use the Internet. The Electronic Frontier Foundation fights against these unfair practices and defends digital creators, inventors, and ordinary technology users. We work to protect and strengthen fair use, innovation, open access, net neutrality, and your freedom to tinker.

In principle, intellectual property laws (or IP law, a catchall term for copyright, patents, and trademarks) should serve the public in a number of ways. Copyrights provide economic incentives for authors and artists to create and distribute new expressive works. Patents reward inventors for sharing new inventions with the public, granting them a temporary and limited monopoly on them in return for contributing to the public body of knowledge. Trademarks help protect customers by encouraging companies to make sure products match the quality standards the public expects.

Unfortunately, our IP regimes have strayed far from their original purposes. Too often, protections for free speech and innovation are seemingly forgotten as soon as someone cries “infringement.” An unproven allegation that your video or blog post infringes copyright, or that your domain name infringes someone’s trademark, can be enough to shut down perfectly lawful speech. A patent troll can kill a small company with a bogus lawsuit based on a questionable patent that shouldn’t have been issued in the first place.

Some of these laws simply haven’t adapted well to modern technology. A warped development in copyright law has made it illegal in many countries to modify or even look at the software built into the products you own, even if you’re doing it for completely lawful purposes. Copyright’s legal reinforcement of digital locks, paired with extreme criminal penalties for infringement, has intimidated a generation of would-be researchers, tinkerers, and inventors. And ongoing expansions of copyright law are often decided in secret, closed-door meetings before the public is ever allowed to debate them 

Imbalanced copyright law—and overzealous enforcement—generally favors powerful voices that have a great deal of influence in culture. Extreme copyright laws can intimidate new types of creators, especially those who use new media techniques to criticize dominant culture or powerful entities. Online platforms that support new, independent creators can only thrive when they don’t risk severe legal repercussions for their users’ activities. Similarly, when only the most privileged members of society have access to up-to-date research, only those members can build on that research to create new ideas and inventions. That’s why EFF supports open access to research, so everyone can build on and contribute to our knowledge commons.

Just as new voices can’t thrive if copyright law doesn’t recognize their rights, new players must also have access to the same resources as established ones. When Internet service providers can give preferential treatment to certain content or hardware companies, those technologies harden to the accelerating effect of competition and users can’t access new sources of information and innovative new services. EFF believes that Internet users should have the freedom to use technology however they like without service providers artificially restricting their experience.

Whether we’re fighting patent trolls in court; arguing in Congress for more balanced copyright laws; or urging governments, funders, and educational institutions to adopt open access policies, EFF is committed to building a society that supports creativity and innovation, where established players in the marketplace for technology and culture aren’t allowed to silence the next generation of creators.

Creativity & Innovation Highlights

Reclaim Invention

When universities invent, those inventions should benefit everyone. Unfortunately, they sometimes end up in the hands of patent trolls, companies that serve no purpose but to amass patents and demand money from other innovators and inventors. We’re asking universities around the country to protect their inventions from patent trolls by...

Copyright Law Versus Internet Culture

Throughout human history, culture has been made by people telling one another stories, building on what has come before, and making it their own. Every generation, every storyteller puts their own spin on old tales to reflect their own values and changing times. This creative remixing happens today and it...

Creativity & Innovation Updates

Digital Rights Management: The Skeptics' View

April 2003 Contact: Fred von Lohmann (415) 436-9333 x123 fred@eff.org A wide variety of technologies travel under the banner of "digital rights management" (DRM). In appropriate circumstances, these technologies can solve real problems for users, technology vendors, and content owners. Some, however, have made more ambitious claims for DRM, suggesting...

EFF: Federal Court Reverses in Taxes.com Web Publishing Case

Oakland, CA - A federal court today agreed with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that the tax problem help website Taxes.com should not be forced to rewrite truthful information in order to appear less prominently in search engine results. "The court's decision to reverse an earlier ruling on Taxes.com restores...

Blizzard Freezes Bnetd Gaming Platform, Sues Own Customers

St. Louis - Game maker Blizzard Entertainment, along withits parent company Vivendi Universal Games, late Friday sued a small Internet Service Provider and its owner for distributing free software that emulates Blizzard's free Battle.net gaming service. The lawsuit claims that the creation and offering of the "bnetd" free software emulator...

Media Conglomerate Threatens Suit Against Gamer Community

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today chided media conglomerate Vivendi Universal Publishing for threatening gamers who created their own multiplayer gaming community. On behalf of its Blizzard Entertainment division, Vivendi sent a "cease and desist" letter to Internet Gateway Inc., the Internet Service Provider (ISP) host of...

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