In this postscript, written to accompany the re-release of my book Digital Copyright under a CC-BY-ND Creative Commons License. Story time just got better with Prime Book Box, a subscription that delivers hand- picked children’s books every 1, 2, or 3 months — at 40% off List Price. : Digital Copyright: Protecting Intellectual Property on the Internet ( ): Jessica Litman: Books.

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In Digital Copyright Jessica Litman has produced a clear and concise introduction to United States copyright law, covering its history and its interaction with the new technologies of the Internet.

Digital Copyright

Copyright has overtaken censorship as the hottest topic online, but jessicz is often poorly understood — as Litman puts it, “copyright law questions can make delightful cocktail-party small talk, but copyright law answers tend to make eyes glaze over everywhere”.

So Digital Copyrightby a law professor highly regarded in the area, is an important and timely publication. Litman’s approach is non-technical, with the more involved details and the references to statute and caselaw in endnotes to each chapter.

There is also a nice separation between chapters dealing with basic ideas, which are largely relevant world-wide, and others covering the details of lawmaking, which could be skipped by those less interested in the US political process.

Litman’s analysis may be objective, but she is certainly not dispassionate — she states her own concerns up front: I wish I could be confident that copyright law would be the loser in such a fight.

The longest chapter, “Copyright and Compromise”, then recounts the history of copyright lawmaking from the beginning of the twentieth century down to the copyright statute. A long and complicated series of negotiations and compromises between the various stakeholders produced a complex law granting broad rights to copyright holders, with an extensive range of narrow exceptions designed to appease vested interests. Litman breaks here for a thought experiment — if a member of the general public brought the act to a copyright xopyright, should she recommend it to them?

The answer is “no”: Litman also looks at the effects of changing metaphors.


Copyright has changed from being a “bargain” between public and author to a “a system of economic incentives”. There has been a piecemeal repeal of the “first sale” doctrine, which allowed the purchaser of a work to sell, loan, lease, or display it without the copyright owner’s permission.

And “fair use” privileges have been narrowed, but “piracy” llitman to include any unlicensed use, not just large-scale commercial duplication.

Digital Copyright (Jessica Litman) – book review

With the “Information Superhighway” or “National Information Infrastructure” NII buzzwords in the early nineties, a working group was set up under Patent Commissioner Bruce Lehman to look at related intellectual property issues. The Cipyright group’s Green and White papers proposed that copyyright something into RAM require the copyright owner’s express permission and that transmissions be deemed public performances or displays — and employed the familiar device of arguing that these rights were already granted by existing law.

One of the arguments of the Lehman working group was that full exploitation of the NII could only happen with strong copyright protection. Jessics fact, Litman argues, the range of quality material available on the Internet clearly demonstrates — and already demonstrated in — that other incentives exist for the production and publication of content.

And we risk limiting the potential of new forms — what Litman calls “unbooks” — if we insist on applying law designed for old ones. The Lehman working group report also contained a whole section on education, urging a “just say yes to licensing” advertising and reeducation campaign.

But popular failure to understand copyright law is not new: If we want to impose the same set of copyrihht on film studios and high school students, Litman argues that we need to pay some litmah to how the latter think — and what they want.

“Digital Copyright” by Jessica D. Litman

Fought over by vested interests, bounced between House and Senate and committees competing for jurisdiction, and even tied up with international treaties and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, this ended up “long, internally inconsistent, difficult even for copyright experts to parse and harder still to explain. More importantly, it seeks for the first time to impose liability on ordinary citizens for violation of provisions that they have no reason to suspect are part of the law, and to make noncommercial and noninfringing behavior illegal on the theory that that will help to prevent piracy.


Unsurprisingly, the DMCA failed to resolve the issues raised by new technologies. Litman continues with an account of the “copyright wars” of the last few years — over mp3s, Napster, DeCSS, and various systems digktal television and the Internet.

And she describes the shift towards technologically enforced access controls backed up by anticircumvention legislation, including bans on “circumvention devices”.

Although it covers quite recent jexsica for a printed volume — jesisca to mid — Digital Copyright shows no signs of being rushed or hastily put together. The last two chapters offer cipyright suggestions for the future.

The first imagines how we or a hypothetical benevolent despot might go about revising copyright law for the information age. In any event, public rights — to read and to cite, and to access public domain information within protected works — would need to be made explicit, perhaps along with a Berne convention approach to protecting authorial integrity. Of course, as the earlier chapters on lawmaking make clear, such an approach is unlikely. In the absence of a benevolent despot or digitap overhaul of the legislative process, Litman suggests that copyright stakeholders may eventually come around: She is clearly not optimistic about the effectiveness of political lobbying though there may be more hope for that outside the US.

And the “civil disobedience” she describes — without using that term — is the unplanned disobedience of ordinary individuals, not the organised action of an activist cadre.

Perhaps the most important thing that can be done is to educate politicians and citizens about the issues litmah a task in which Digital Copyright will be most useful. May External links: