IP and Copyright Squash Creativity

Posted in 2014 The Gnovis Blog

Intellectual property and copyright are all around us. Whether we are listening to music, watching a movie, or using a computer program, laws surrounding these two fields shape our actions. While there many reasons to support intellectual property and copyright laws, I believe that these laws are more of a hindrance to creativity than they are perceived as being. Large companies often have the resources to take advantage of these laws, leaving common people unable to creatively build upon existing information and developments.
The Wall Street Journal debate between Martin Goetz and Brian J. Lowe shows the pros and cons of intellectual property rights. Goetz argues that what matters is not the idea, but how the idea is implemented. He states that patents have long lifecycles, which provide effective protection to a company’s investments. This, he asserts, spurs and encourages innovation. Lowe dissents, arguing that these software patents impede on innovation. Technology, he states, moves faster than government policy and law, which leads to costly legal battles and uncertainty in terms of what content a third party can use.
I would tend to agree with Lowe’s statement. Christina Mulligan tackles this issue in her “ Information Society Project” blog as well. People cannot artistically grow with stringent copyright and intellectual property laws in place. Her description of how the kids of Glee would not be able to sing the songs and mash-ups if the show were real life really puts this debate into context. It is unfortunate that material with so much potential for development cannot be used because a large media or entertainment corporation wants a monopoly on that content. The counterargument is that those songs are a culmination of a lot of effort by many people and should not just be given away for free. While this is true, the time that the content is under an intellectual property patent lockdown should be lowered. This would allow the artists to profit from their work while allowing the public to eventually use the content to further advance artistic expression.
Derek Khanna’s article gives more insight into reasons why intellectual property and copyright have stayed relatively unchanged since 1998. Large tech, entertainment, and media companies realize that they can gain a monopoly over what almost constitutes entire industries (i.e. music). He proposes the question: is copyright chilling innovation? Khanna argues that it is. One example he gives is how Union Square Ventures will not undertake a business ventures involving music. The fact that a company will not even dip its toes in an entire industry because it fears a lawsuit appears to demonstrate that intellectual property and copyright chill innovation and that the system is in need of reform.
So what are these laws that are so scary and determine how we can use intellectual property? The major law is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This law exempts Internet service providers (ISPs) and other intermediaries from copyright liability. This produced the infamous DMCA takedown notices. Due to the complicated nature of copyright and intellectual property law, DMCA notices would seem to significantly limit speech. When everyday people are faced with these notices and potential legal action, instead of responding to prove how their use falls under fair use, they often (or normally) remove the content instead.
Overall, intellectual property and copyright law needs reform. DMCA and the current length of time that intellectual property protection lasts prevents good-intentioned people from using content for many years due to a company’s desire for a legal monopoly. I think the benefit of intellectual property and copyright is that the person who made or discovered something receives credit for it without fear of being ripped off. Yet perhaps the time frame should be reevaluated. Instead of lasting tens of years, maybe the time frame should be 1 or 2 years. This would give a company time to use its property, but then make it available quickly for further innovation.
Khanna, Derek. “Let Artists, Innovators, and the Public Define Our Copyright System,” Washington Post (May 21, 2013), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/21/hollywood-should-not-decide-our-copyright-laws/
“Should Patents Be Awarded to Software?,” Wall Street Journal (May 10, 2013), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323335404578444683887043510.html.
Shuchman, Lisa. “Amazon’s Domain Name Troubles Threaten ICANN Program,” Corporate Counsel (Aug. 7 2013), http://www.law.com/corporatecounsel/PubArticleCC.jsp?id=1202614276487&Amazons_Domain_Name_Troubles_Threaten_ICANN_Program.
Unintended Consequences: Twelve Years Under the DMCA https://www.eff.org/wp/unintended-consequences-under-dmca