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I Want to Break Free – Copyright in the 21st Century

There is something vile about that statement – copyright in the 21st Century. But why?

As Steve Collins rightly states in his M/C Journal that “few if any, things…are strictly original throughout. Every book in literature, science and art, borrows, and must necessarily borrow” So where does the issue of copyright stand in this modern age when thoughts and ideas are so easily stolen?

In the previous decades, copyright was introduced as a means to “encourage learning and the creation of new works”.(Collins, S. 2008) The Statute of Queen Anne (1710) supported this notion and granted owners monopoly for 14 years after publication. However, as owners began to understand the immense power that copyright could have, they became greedy and by 1886, the Berne Convention extended the laws of copyright to at least 50 years after the author’s death. But this was simply not enough for modern times. The current US copyright stands at 70 years after author’s death and 120 years after creation – and we all have Walt Disney to thank.
Another interesting point that is raised in Collins’s article is one made by William Patry when he states how the original grounds for developing copyright has been blown out of proportion: “its principle functions now are…to suppress new business models and technologies and to obtain enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners.” Prime example of Patry’s theory is Time Warner copyrighting “Happy Birthday” so whenever it is performed, they receive some sort of financial benefit. What is happening? Is nothing sacred?

So if you haven’t already guessed from the symbol up the top, I am studying Tumblr as my emerging media platform – and of course it fits nicely with the idea that copyright does not have a valid case in the modern, technological world. After browsing Tumblr‘s Terms of Service, there is a small but significant section where they state “Tumblr may immediately terminate or suspend Accounts that have been flagged for repeat copyright infringement.” But what constitutes as an infringement of copyright where the whole idea of Tumblr is to express your ‘personality’ by copying – or reblogging – someone else’s photo? However, after more research and endless dead ends, I found the copyright law that they follow – The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. (For all the people who want to read in-depth, here is the link). So the real question here is, is the likes of Tumblr and Pininterest leading the way in the 21st Century redefining copyright and copyright laws? Could this century potentially end copyright? Frankly, I think so.


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