Different Standards for Copyright of Online and Printed Material Spark Global Debate

If a publisher reprints an article in a book without the author’s permission and without compensation, that is, legally, a copyright violation. But if a publisher links to the same article online, that is considered fair use, and indeed, the publisher is thought to be doing the author a favor, by giving his material more exposure.

“This almost instinctive distinction between what is proper in the analog realm and what is proper in the digital realm is at the center of a global debate about the state of copyright law,” writes Louis Menand in an important exploration of evolving copyright law in The New Yorker.

“Statutes protecting copyright have never been stricter; at the same time, every minute of every day, millions of people are making or using copies of material—texts, sounds, and images—that they didn’t create. According to an organization called Tru Optik, as many as ten billion files, including movies, television shows, and games, were downloaded in the second quarter of this year. Tru Optik estimates that approximately ninety-four per cent of those downloads were illegal. The law seems to be completely out of whack with the technology.”

Read Menand’s piece here.

Of particular interest are the anecdotes about Mickey Mouse; George Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord” ruled a copyright violation of “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons;  and Warner/Chappell Music claims to own the copyright to “Happy Birthday to You.”

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