It was stated in the United States Constitution of 1787 in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, “the Congress shall have power…to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” This statement paved the way for the more intricate and extensive copyright laws that have been created today.

Copyright laws are implemented and created by the process of Copyright Acts. There were five major instances by which Copyright Acts were created or revised: in the years 1790, 1831, 1870, 1909, and 1976. Each of these revisions and creations of new Copyright Acts set a background for the modern day copyright laws protecting persons with copyrighted material against users of peer-to-peer file sharing. These Acts that lead to modern day copyrighting issues, such as file sharing, were created for a specific reason, which was generally to come into accord with modern society and to adapt to the technology faced at the time of the revisions. Along with revisions to Copyright Acts, there have been several statutes, doctrines, and Acts that pertain to copyright law in regard to file sharing. Among these are: Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Federal Anti-Bootleg Statute, the Fair Use Doctrine, and The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act.

The first Copyright Act of 1790 was created and implemented by the First Congress in order to give authors, artists, and scientists an incentive to write and create original works of their own without having the fear of someone infringing on their works legally. The Act of 1790 was fairly simple and allowed works created by persons to be protected by copyright laws for a period of fourteen years, being eligible for renewal for another fourteen years.

There were two major revisions made to the Copyright Act of 1790 in the years 1831 and 1870. The revision of 1831extended its protection to all works of authorship to twenty-eight years, and may possibly be eligible for another fourteen year extension after the end of the first period of twenty-eight years, making the duration of copyright protection identical to that in Europe. The revision of 1870 did not involve any time extensions and seems quite simple, but was a major step in copyright law. The revision of 1870 shifted the administrations of copyright laws from single district courts to the Library of Congress Copyright Office.

There was a major revision to the Copyright Act in the year 1909 that was extended to include all works of authorship which also extended the period of time for protection. The time period for copyright protection was twenty-eight years, adding a new eligibility of renewal for another twenty-eight years. This revision also confronted the issue of the works of music composers being protected, which had never been an issue in previous revisions to the Copyright Act.

The last revision to the Copyright Act in 1976 occurred because of two major factors: improvements in technology and the need to bring the United Sates into accord with international copyright law. The revision extended the duration of copyright protection to fifty years. For the first time, copyright infringement was introduced and discussed, along with remedies to infringement, and fair use policies. In addition, a new section, 108, was added to allow photocopying of materials used for scholarship, preservation, and literary loan in certain circumstances within libraries.

In more recent history, something never thought about in previous revisions to the Copyright Act was created by President Bill Clinton in 1998--The Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It focused on implementing two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization treaties, which were the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. The act also focused on four other essential points: 1) establishing safe harbors for online service providers, 2) allowing for temporary copies of programs during times of computer maintenance, 3) making amendments to the Copyright Act itself, 4) and creating sui generis protection for vessel creation and design.

The Federal Anti-Bootleg Statute was created in 1994 and prohibits unauthorized distribution, recording, manufacture, or trafficking in relation to sound recordings, or videos of artists’ live musical performances. This statute also provides for seizure of bootleg material outside the United Sates by United States customs officials at the point of entry. There are two types of infringement when dealing with the Federal Anti-Bootleg Statute, which is contributory infringement and vicarious liability. Contributory infringement is defined as when a person with prior knowledge of the law induces, causes, or contributes to infringement by another person. Vicarious liability is when a person can prevent infringement from occurring, but does nothing about the matter and in the process is receiving financial benefit from the actions of the infringer. Violation of the Federal Anti-Bootleg Act can result in no more than five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.

The Fair Use Doctrine found in the Copyright Act is extremely complicated, but the basic concept that it conveys is not so complex. This concept essentially states the limits the copyright owner has on their work. For example, the doctrine allows citizens to cite quotes and excerpts from copyrighted material for teaching, news reporting, comment, criticism, parody, or research. However, there are limitations concerning the doctrine. These limitations include how the material is used, the length of the quotation or excerpt, and how the use of the material will impact the market of the original work. The intended point of this doctrine is to insure that someone cannot take the value of a work without permission, especially in concern to music.

Another major Act concerning copyright law is The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998. This act extends the copyright from the life of the author plus fifty years to the life of the author plus seventy years. Without this extension of copyright protection, many literary works, fictional characters, and movies would have become public domain, making it legal for anyone to copy the original works without penalty of law. Some argue that this act is “little more than corporate welfare,” meaning that the extended copyright protection is simply for “the benefit of the large corporations”. Whether this is true or not, today, the law holds that copyright protection is extended to works for the duration of the author’s lifetime plus an additional seventy years.

Copyright Act of 1831

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act


Electronic Frontier Foundation

Copyright Timeline


The Law and File Sharing Home

File Sharing Home

Photo courtsey of Whitehouse.gov

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