Digital Copyright

Digital Copyright


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I finished the original manuscript of Digital Copyright in 2000, two years after Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The 1976 Copyright Act was itself 24 years old, and beginning to show its age. The Internet, in contrast, was still new and shiny and scary, especially for legacy entertainment and information businesses and the copyright lawyers who represented them.

Seventeen years later, the Internet has become an essential feature of all of our lives and the copyright laws designed to tame it seem elderly and barnacle-encrusted. Remarkably, the legislative process that has made sensible copyright law reform all but impossible has stayed largely unchanged. Congress and the Copyright Office have recently launched what is billed as a comprehensive reexamination of copyright law with the goal of overhauling the law for the 21st century. It seems likely that these efforts will hew to the patterns of earlier copyright revision.

Perhaps we stick with the tried and true approach to making copyright laws, even though it results in bad laws, because the process works so well for so many of the participants. Members of Congress can rely on affected industries to come up with broadly acceptable compromises, and to take on much of the burden of pressuring other interested groups to swallow them. Meanwhile, Senators and Representatives can continue to collect generous campaign contributions. The Copyright Office can be the center of attention as it plays a crucial role in managing the multilateral negotiations and interpreting their results to Congress. Copyright lobbyists and trade organizations can collect hefty fees from their members, in return for supplying them with laws that will give them competitive advantages against the next new thing, whatever it is. Because the laws that emerge from this process don’t work very well, meanwhile, everyone can look forward to another round.

Publication Date



Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library


Ann Arbor


Computers, Copyright law, Copyright infringement, Technology, 1976 Copyright Act, Authors, Copyright owners, Copyright reform, Law reform, Copyright system, Fair use, Creators, History, Internet


Computer Law | Intellectual Property Law | Internet Law | Legislation


Digital Copyright was first published in 2001 by Prometheus Books. This version was published by Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2017 under a CC-BY-ND License.

The 2017 edition features footnotes updated by the author.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.

Digital Copyright