The general public is used to thinking of copyright (if it thinks of it at all) as marginal and arcane. But copyright is central to our society’s information policy and affects what we can read, view, hear, use, or learn. In 1998 Congress enacted new laws greatly expanding copyright owners’ control over individuals’ private uses of their works. The efforts to enforce these new rights laws have resulted in highly publicized legal battles between established media, including major record labels and motion picture studios, and new upstart internet companies such as MP3.com and Napster.
Jessica Litman questions whether copyright laws crafted by lawyers and their lobbyists really make sense for the vast majority of us. Should every interaction between ordinary consumers and copyright-protected works be restricted by law? Is it practical to enforce such laws, or expect consumers to obey them? What are the effects of such laws on the exchange of information in a free society? Litman’s critique exposes the 1998 copyright law as an incoherent patchwork. She argues for reforms that reflect the way people actually behave in their daily digital interactions.
The Maize Books edition includes both an afterword written in 2006 exploring the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing and a new Postscript reflecting on the consequences of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as it nears its twentieth birthday.
Jessica Litman is a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and a widely recognized expert on copyright law.