Copyright is an exclusive and assignable legal right awarded to the originator of a literary, scientific or artistic work for a fixed number of years. In North America, the system works based on registrations; authors must register a copyrighted work with the U.S. Library of Congress to claim protection; permission for others to re-use or cite the work is granted based on "fair use" – a definition left deliberately open and subject to interpretation by courts. In the European Union, copyright protection is granted automatically to a content creator from the moment a work is produced. No registration is necessary; subsequent use or re-use of the work in digital or online formats is legal under concrete exceptions – such as news reporting, parody and private non-commercial use. These exceptions are spelled out in the information society directive (2001) and the copyright in the digital single market directive (2019).
In the meantime, the Internet has emerged as a dazzling medium for storing, transmitting and distributing creative content, helping people reach larger and larger audiences without needing publishers to intermediate. Last year, the European Union set out to modernise the copyright framework. The legislation that emerged from the complex multi-government negotiation has two crucial elements: 1) it makes platforms liable for the permanent removal of content that has been notified (potentially requiring uploading filters to be put in place), and 2) it creates an entirely new intellectual-property right – the so-called "ancilliary" or "neighboring" right – which extends copyright-like protections to headlines and other snippets commonly used in search engines. The legislation builds on the European Union’s electronic commerce directive (2000), which stipulated that online platforms were not liable for the content they managed if 1) the platform played a "passive" role, and 2) the platform acted to remove or disable content as soon as moderators learned the content was illegal.
Debates about the fairness and effectiveness of copyright law as written have broken out against a steady flow of charge and counter-charge, with many assumptions about the nature of the new mass-media market for content coming into question. Were the original producers of content being harmed by mass distribution? Was the production of first-rate content being disincentivized? Were consumers being encouraged to pirate and steal? Or were they simply being given unprecedented access to a vast cornucopia of cultural offerings and opportunities to create themselves through mixing, remixing and sharing?
Below you can find evidence from major studies on copyright, copyright infringement and other areas related to the intermediary liability debate. Please contribute with more evidence if you identify any important sources that should be included.
Additional content on the state of copyright law worldwide is available on the World Intermediary Liability Map (WILMap), led by the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School.
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