Let a Thousand Technologies Bloom

Study predicts the fall of old copyright laws to new technology

April 25, 2006

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WASHINGTON — Emerging digital technologies, social networks, and other technological innovations pose a tremendous challenge to copyright. A new Cato Institute study likens modern copyright law to the Roman Empire and predicts its “fall” as technology hands consumers new ways to create and disseminate creative material.

In “Amateur-to-Amateur: The Rise of a New Creative Culture,” F. Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter argue that inevitable changes in copyright law will usher in an unprecedented flowering of creativity and entertainment. Technology, they explain, has altered the process by which creative expression makes its way from artists to audiences. Copyright law, however, is failing to keep up with the times, and will eventually succumb.

Lastowka and Hunter identify seven steps in the content creation process, most of which used to require large, heavily capitalized businesses. The Internet, social networks, and content manipulation tools are putting all of these steps within reach of copyright “amateurs” — people outside of the traditional entertainment industry.

They cite the blogosphere as one example. This “decentralized amateur production sphere, in which individual authors or small groups freely release their work to other amateurs for experience, redistribution, and transformation” provides the public benefits that were previously offered exclusively by the old mechanisms of copyright law.

According to the study, the use of copyrighted content to create a modified work, a practice now stifled by copyright law, should be recognized as the first step in creation of new material. The authors explain that “adapting, re-transmitting, modifying, or otherwise building upon” creative content is increasingly the beginning of the next stage in the creative cycle.

“Copyright law should be adjusted to recognize and embrace a distributed, decentralized creative cycle and the expanded marketplace of ideas it promises,” the authors conclude. They believe that it’s only a matter of time before these changes become reality.

F. Gregory Lastowka will speak on copyright and technology on April 26th, at the Cato Institute forum Copyright Controversies: Freedom, Property, Content Creation, and the DMCA. The event begins at 9:00 am and a luncheon will follow.

F. Gregory Lastowka is an assistant professor of law at Rutgers-Camden School of Law. Dan Hunter is an assistant professor of legal studies at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Policy Analysis no 567: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6359