Authors and the Internet

The protection of intellectual property rights online is arguably very important for the ongoing development of the Internet. Jane Ginsburg, law professor at Columbia University, says that the Internet without content would be like a highway without cars -- virtually useless. However, the fear of widespread pirating may scare authors from putting their valuable intellectual creations online.

The Internet makes it extremely difficult to secure the copyright rights of authors, because it allows easy and cheap copying of everything that can be found on the web. That is why a copyright expert David Post called the Internet a “gigantic copying machine.” Every time we access the site and view information on our computer screens, temporary copies of it are automatically created in random access memory of our computer and at least on one local server (this process is called system caching). Strictly speaking, any time we browse the web, we risk violating somebody's copyright.

That's where copyright law comes into conflict with the right of Internet users to freely access information online. To secure their reproduction rights, copyright owners may need to control online access to their works -- the right that copyright law has never granted them before.

In addition, it becomes difficult to prove fair use on the Internet. Several factors of the fair use determination weigh strongly in favor of copyright holders in cases involving online copying:

In addition, many argue that the first sale doctrine should be eliminated on the Internet because widespread distribution of multiple copies can damage their economic value.

Also, it helps to remember that by using photographs or famous characters from popular shows (like agent Mulder from X-Files or Captain Picard from Star Trek), one risks violating the publicity rights of David Duchovny and Patrick Steward respectively. According to the law of publicity, famous individuals can control commercial uses of their personalities.

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