Tag: copyright

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The Great Divide – Experience #3

// Posted by on 10/15/2014 (12:37 PM)

Divisions exist in many facets of society, whether it is racial, economic or political. However, I had never truly considered the digital divide to fall into the same category. Nor did it occur to me that the effects of… Read more


Divisions exist in many facets of society, whether it is racial, economic or political. However, I had never truly considered the digital divide to fall into the same category. Nor did it occur to me that the effects of this divide were so far reaching and could potentially inhibit a large portion of the population from engaging with society itself.

Given this extremely significant component of the digital age, I was eager to see what was in stall for the group experience. Assigned to group ‘A’ I was told to simply bring in a charged smartphone. Easy. I am very familiar with my iPhone – I use it to text, call, log on to various social media sites, take photos and so on. I was thus relieved that I would have access to my phone as opposed to members of group ‘B’ who were unable to use theirs whatsoever. However, as the rules of the experience were outlined my initial confidence began to falter. I have never used it to complete an assignment. I, like many other students with the means to afford laptops, solely rely on them to submit any written task (no matter how lengthy).  Consequently, I soon discovered the difficulty of completing the set task.

While I was able to research the question of digital copyrighting quite easily on my phone, several unexpected factors hindered the speed at which I could work. For instance, accustomed to typing on a laptop keyboard primarily using a Word Document, I struggled to type quickly or efficiently on the Notes app. As Emily or Joe dictated, I constantly found myself asking them to slow down and repeat sentences. Moreover, while we were able to access journal and academic articles online it was certainly not easy. Reading such dense material on a relatively small screen was quite exhausting, especially given the limited time frame and my familiarity with the larger screen of a laptop. However, perhaps most notable was that several sites took an incredibly long time to load. Here the efficiency of the Wi-Fi was bought to my attention. Although I did have connection, the server was simply not fast enough to complete an assignment within a limited time. If I found the experience difficult enough working in a group of three, I can only imagine the strain and stress of completing assigned tasks by oneself. As Jessica Goodman (2013) notes in her study of Newark students, ‘…many students have found it impossible to perform the same quality of work on a smartphone that they might be able to on a personal computer.’ Thus, despite Vinton G. Cerf’s claims that access to the Internet is not a human right (2012), it is clear that restricted access does pose serious issues. Now, having experienced these limitations first hand, it is clear that having restricted access does prevent individuals from both participating in, and completing a set task.

Waiting for the page to load…

Forming our argument using the ‘Notes’ app on my iPhone

Interestingly, not one of us went to a book or any other physical material to assist in our research. Although we were literally sitting in a library we nevertheless relied solely on our smartphones, our  ‘…portals to the web’ (Goodman, 2013). This choice speaks volumes for how we access information in the digital age. In fact, our group used the University of Richmond’s app to access the Boatwright Library’s catalogue rather than taking advantage of the librarians or the library itself. While it was thus a faster way to complete the task, it did make me wonder whether the quality would be as thorough…

Accessing the library catalogue via the UofR app

However, what I was most concerned about was whether we would actually be able to get on a computer. Having worked in a library, I am astutely aware of the difficulty of accessing one given that so many other individuals are constantly on them. Again, this is another setback that individuals without easy access to technology must endure. Luckily we managed to grab the last remaining one in the assigned area (therefore avoiding what could have been a highly dramatic scene). With only ten minutes remaining Emily quickly typed up our group response on a word document. We had (miraculously) managed to submit our assignment. Of course, whether or not it was a quality piece of work remains to be seen.

Moreover, the question we were asked to answer as part of the experience proved challenging given the highly divisive nature of the topic itself. After much deliberation (Digital divide audio) we decided to tackle the question by arguing that “rather than perpetuating inequality, digital copyrighting inhibits expression and creative freedom.” While we found relevant cases and recent examples to support our claim, I still am not entirely sure where I stand on this matter. On the one hand, given my interest in films and television (and that I make my own short films), I am completely aware of the difficulty of using any existing material – even the briefest clippings. As someone who is also unable to pay for the rights to use existing material, I agree that these copyright acts seriously limit the freedom of creative expression. Yet, at the same time, if someone has produced a creative piece of work (that they’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating) then the idea that of someone else taking it and using it as they please, without asking for permission, seems utterly wrong. What is the difference between this act and theft? Is it acceptable because it isn’t a physical act of theft as say stealing an artwork is?  Perhaps one solution is the Creative Commons (CC) site that has been established to encourage interaction between the creative communities. That is they are “…devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.” The site acts as a mediator for individuals to ask for permission to use an artist’s work as opposed to just taking it.

In terms of documentation, I took a few photos before and after the experience as well as several screenshots on my phone (and of my screen). However, given the frenzied pace at which we were working, I was not able to document as much as I would have liked to. Thankfully, Dr. Rosatelli was also documenting the experience, providing us with access to additional images and video footage. The video footage was particularly useful as it captured all group members actively engaging with the task and thus also helped to jog my memory of what we were thinking during the process itself.

Ultimately, this experience raised some interesting questions and certainly challenged my own experiences with technology. While I have grown accustomed to having easy access to laptops and high speed Wi-Fi, there are innumerable individuals with limited or no access whatsoever. This gap is startling. It is imperative that there are actions taken to reduce it, or we risk living in an increasingly divided society.

Categories: Blog, Discussion, Pictures
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A “New Economy” in the Digital Age?

// Posted by on 10/15/2014 (10:40 AM)

As we took our seats, the subjects of a mysterious and seemingly innocent experiment, those of us who had not developed this experience were blissfully oblivious as to the unexpectedly stressful and nightmarish hour that lie ahead.

The class had… Read more


As we took our seats, the subjects of a mysterious and seemingly innocent experiment, those of us who had not developed this experience were blissfully oblivious as to the unexpectedly stressful and nightmarish hour that lie ahead.

The class had been split into two groups, aptly named group A and group B. Members of both groups were given a deceptively simple assignment: to write a 250-word essay about digital copyrighting, and whether or not it perpetuates inequality. As is usually the case in life, the assignment had a catch: To simulate the digital divide experienced by those in a lower socioeconomic bracket, members of group A would have to do research solely on their phones. Members of group B could only research using books and could not use any device that connected to the Internet. A library computer could only be used to type up the essay. Suddenly, being a member of group B did not seem like such a lucky deal, as I had originally thought. Even so, I still assumed that the task was doable, if challenging.

I had no idea just how tense the subsequent hour would be. We first visited with librarian Marcia Whitehead, who was enormously helpful, but unfortunately left us with the harsh reality that to access the resources we needed—without the aid of the Internet—we would have to travel to the law library. Thus began a 6-minute trek and an even longer search for the books we needed. When we finally found them (of course they were tucked away in a secluded nook), we were confronted not only with excessively technical legal texts and other sources that were not entirely applicable to our central thesis. Whereas we wanted a more accessible listing of examples of copyright infringement and its perpetuation of inequality, what we often found was a five-page legal examination of copyright, defining it and laying out consequences of infringement. Debates over the implications, socioeconomic, ethical, or otherwise, were sorely lacking, or at least in many of the texts we encountered in our necessarily brief search.

We did what we could, jotting down notes frantically, but ultimately providing weak support for our contention. We did not have any other options, though, and realizing that time was running short, we could only place the books back on the shelf in resignation, running once again back to Boatwright. We attempted to scribble the notes that would constitute our unfortunate excuse for an essay as we walked briskly back to the library. In all the confusion, we had lost Brendan, but luckily, he thought ahead and claimed a computer so that we could quickly type out our argument. Nonetheless, we did not have enough time and turned our assignment in late. I highly doubt anyone in the group felt very good about it.

Below, for my documentation (all of which is courtesy of Dr. Rosatelli, since I did not have a phone with which to take pictures or video), I have included a link to a YouTube video with a clip of Aisling, Elizabeth, and myself in the elevator of the law library, explaining the scenario in which we found ourselves embroiled at that point in time, as well as the final class discussion, in which we expressed our findings and our emotions both as experienced during and in the aftermath of the experience. I also have included below a picture of us searching frantically for a book among the shelves of the law library. I chose these mediums of documentation so as to provide a more immersive and visual representation of the difficulties experienced and the stress with which we responded as a group. For as much as I can express in words, video is an even more effective tool that will ideally enhance the reader/viewer’s understanding of the experience and the extent to which my group found ourselves in a situation with which we were considerably uncomfortable.

For group B, it was a horrendous experience. Insulated from the realities of the world faced by those less fortunate than us, we had taken for granted our laptops and smartphones and the instant gratification of the Internet. Deprived of those tools, however, we simply could not perform at a high enough level to keep up even with our counterparts in group A, let alone with other students fortunate enough to have complete access to Internet-connected devices.

Though it may seem simple enough to insist that ours was merely a simulation, and not necessarily an accurate depiction of the tribulations faced by high school students from lower-income households, who might not have access to a smartphone or laptop, the fact nonetheless remains that, whether or not we wish to confront the dismal reality of the experience, a considerable contingent of the high school student population relies on public libraries in such a way. As I write, countless students across the country are working frantically to research in a library, wishing they had access to their own computer and failing to find works that apply directly to a paper they are writing. Many are finding that allotted time for computer usage simply is not conducive to the writing of a thoroughly-researched, well-developed thesis. For too many high school students, our experience was not simply an exception; it was the rule.

When I was younger and my family was facing the inhospitable conditions that resulted from the so-called “Great Recession” in 2009, I found myself in the position of those students, and I encountered many of these challenges along the way, relying on public libraries but struggling to complete work in the allotted hour of computer usage. Even with this background experience, the class simulation offered a new perspective, as I was faced with a situation even worse than ones I had experienced heretofore. I am sure that almost everyone in the class was afforded a new perspective on the digital divide. The question that remains, however, is what conclusions we draw from this experience with regards not only to copyright law and the digital divide in general, but also to more overarching topics of discussion from throughout the unit.

It is fascinating—and necessary for our purposes—to juxtapose the idealistic visions of the “New Economy” with the current conditions in which many are now mired. Nicholas Negroponte, who in the mid-1980s had created the MIT Media Lab, envisioned the “New Economy” as one in which existing hierarchies were subverted and superseded by a progressive network of nodes, in effect enabling every individual therein to start anywhere and work on a more equal footing with their colleagues and those who might formerly have been labeled “superiors.”

Negroponte’s notion of a “New Economy” was far from some fringe ideal. Men like Stewart Brand, who worked alongside Negroponte at the Media Lab, shared his libertarian vision. Brand would go on to serve as a co-founder of the Global Business Network, a consulting firm that advocated the aforementioned flattening of hierarchies and would boast such impressive clients as Royal Dutch/Shell and AT&T.

In a profoundly significant way, the GBN represented the propagation of counterculturist ideas within the framework of an evolving economy looking to move into a new age. This intertwinement of counterculture and the libertarianism of Brand and Negroponte (along with that of countless others, including Kevin Kelly and Louis Rossetto, the executive editor and founder of Wired Magazine, respectively) would later reveal itself even more substantively in a manifesto entitled the “Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age,” written by four authors, including Esther Dyson, a writer for Wired at the time. The “Magna Carta” likened Cyberspace to a new frontier, which the American populace had to be empowered to explore, to pursue “civilization’s truest, highest calling.” The manifesto not only called for, but also coincided with, the deregulation of the telecommunications industry as part of Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” Indeed, in the 1990s, the counterculturist ideals of Brand and others were fused with the libertarian laissez-faire fiscal policy so essential to the Republican Party, and this fusion would be represented in Wired Magazine, one of many conduits for the dissemination of idealistic visions of the digital age and the “New Economy.”

On the surface, for those incognizant of the digital divide and conditions represented by the in-class simulation, it may seem that the “New Economy” has delivered what it promised. To look quickly at “accelerators,” like Y Combinator, which finance the start-up businesses of promising young entrepreneurs, accelerating the growth of a product or a business into a more lucrative entity, it seems that we are living in a world in which anyone can simply come up with an idea for a digital technology and subsequently earn tens of thousands of dollars, and maybe more in the long run. When venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, advocates students NOT attend college and, under his Thiel Fellowships, will pay them $100,000 in a two-year grant to launch a startup instead, it is easy to be led to believe that the economy is changing and that the hierarchies of old truly have been leveled, that the status symbol of college is no longer necessary to have a chance, and that anyone can live the “American Dream,” whatever that really is. Unfortunately, such is a woefully inadequate and incomplete picture, and it provides a largely untruthful representation of the economy in the digital age.

Truthfully speaking, the “New Economy” does not really seem to be all that new. In fact, it seems like more of the same, in deceptive new packaging. Y Combinator may be subsidizing young entrepreneur’s startups, but its intent is not to promote the growth of new businesses so much as to have its investment pay dividends when that venture is ultimately sold to a corporation. Thiel may believe that students should skip college, but that erroneously presupposes that every student is a computer prodigy. People like Thiel, an outspoken libertarian, are the same ones who led the movement towards the “New Economy,” but they are also the same ones who, when pressed to discuss the digital divide, give answers like “That’s not one I focus on as much.”

In the end, it would appear that the “New Economy” was designed not truly for the betterment of every citizen, but rather clearly for the betterment of large corporations, which have benefitted greatly and become, more so than ever before, centralized forces in the private sector, holding sizable concentrations of wealth and power. The hierarchical structure of the “old economy” has not been eradicated; nor has it been superseded by a new network of nodes, so to speak. What we have found instead is that the “New Economy” is instead a complex network of supposed nodes that is structured in such a way as to constitute a complicated system of nested hierarchies, thereby maintaining the decades-old status quo, in a different, superficially appealing form.

Corporations and other powerful parties in the “new” economic order are not simply gaining power, but they are often manipulating the means of wealth attribution in a way that makes economic opportunity—supposedly a cornerstone of libertarian values—less accessible than ever before. A prime example is the high-frequency trading that has come to dominate the stock exchange, not only domestically, but also internationally. In essence, trading firms like Tradeworx utilize machinery that operates using autonomous algorithms that, via transmissions communicated through globe-spanning networks of fiber-optic cable, execute trades faster than humans can intervene. One of the fundamental consequences of HFT for the “average citizen,” not privy to the luxuries afforded a Wall Street trader or oligarch, is that the stock prices published on websites like Yahoo Finance are obsolete by the time potential buyers view them. Stock prices are fluctuating constantly throughout the course of the day, as algorithms perpetually buy and sell stocks to make minuscule gains that, multiplied by millions of trades, add up to substantial dividends. In all of this, David Golumbia is correct in his assertion that the majority of individuals are excluded from participating meaningfully. Such is far from the supposedly democratizing impact that was supposed to be effected by computerization and the rise of the Internet. Indeed, the Internet has equally empowered all citizens, but it serves especially to keep those at the top at the top, as evidenced in the stock exchange and the dizzying rapidity with which trades are being executed, precluding more consequential involvement from a more socioeconomically diverse array of citizens.

The structure of this class and the sequence with which we have discussed different topics is intriguing and appropriate, as I have come to recognize over time that the digital utopianism that at first seems so appealing becomes less and less so over time. Whereas in an earlier unit, especially after the first experience in the LA Live Chatroom, it was easy to stand behind the idealistic vision of a democratic Internet and all of the possibilities presented thereby, the realities with which we are confronted in the units on cybersecurity and the digital economy serve as a reminder that, to a large extent, digital utopianism—and the idealism that has come to so strongly characterize it—is fundamentally flawed and looks only at a portion of the picture. Technological determinism, the notion that technology is inherently democratic, is enticing, but ultimately wrong. Saskia Sassen’s thesis is ultimately a more accurate depiction of technology, as she insists that nothing about the Internet is inherently democratic. Indeed, she is correct. Mark Poster is partially correct when he writes in “Information Please” that the Internet may bring about the “overturning of certain systems of social control,” but it does not have to (193). It can be used, most simplistically, for good or for evil (though such a simplistic, monochromatic dichotomy eschews the convoluted nature of reality).

How, then, can the Internet be rendered a democratizing agent, if at the present time it is far from such a force? The answer is, as always, more complicated and requires more extensive elaboration than I can herein provide, but one such solution is presented in the current debate over copyright, which served as one of the principal foci of the class simulation.

Copyright law, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 more specifically, is most commonly construed by the government and media companies as a defense of the rights of a creator of a work, be it literary, artistic, or otherwise. These authors and artists, we have been told, have a right to recognition and compensation when their work is borrowed by another. As a matter of principle, such seems to be a reasonable argument. What is left out of the equation, however, is the complex web of interests surrounding copyright law. Who really profits?

“RiP!: A Remix Manifesto” does an excellent job of depicting with discomfiting accuracy the state of copyright in this country, and who the real winners and losers are. Anyone who believes that copyright laws are designed to benefit only the creators of a work should consider the fact made clear in the documentary that over 90% of media companies are owned by larger corporations like Disney, NewsCorp, GE, Viacom, and TimeWarner. These are powerful entities that constitute equally powerful lobbies in this country. They have tremendous influence in politics, and they have continued to push for more stringent copyright legislation. Some of the most recent alterations to the law include the provision that corporations can retain a copyright for 95 years after the life of an author. This number, it should be pointed out, will only be increased over time, yet another representation of the ways in which the “New Economy” and the digital age have failed to democratize, instead merely consolidating power in the hands of multinational corporations.

Indeed, answering the question posed during the simulation, digital copyright does perpetuate inequality. On a basic level, I will speak simplistically and give a personal example. If I need to analyze a movie for class, but do not personally own it, I have to go to the library to find it. Without free public availability online (assuming—unrealistically and only for the sake of argument—complete compliance with the law and the extinction of illegal downloading sites), I could not access the movie without paying. If I were a student who could not afford to pay the fee for an online rental, I would find myself reliant upon a likely insufficient online synopsis, and would not be adequately prepared to analyze the film for class, be it in an essay or on a test. Every other student who could afford to rent would be given the upper hand. Again, it is a simplistic example, but it nonetheless serves as a necessary reminder that digital copyright can feasibly serve to perpetuate inequality. On a more complex level, however, who is to say that Girl Talk, the musician who serves as the focal point of “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto,” does not have a right to make mash-ups of classic songs, creatively rendering old art something decidedly new and different and innovative? For a mash-up artist aspiring to move up, to become a star, how does digital copyright do anything but bar them from reaching the heights of other musicians? Is it fair that the law can prevent Girl Talk from doing what he does best to rise up the socioeconomic ladder? To answer such a question requires that we consider, as Poster does in “Information Please,” the relationship between cultural objects existing in the physical realm and those existing in cyberspace.

Poster sees a fundamental flaw in the notion that illegally downloading a music file is equivalent to stealing a CD from a store, writing, “When the CD is taken from the store, the store no longer has it; when the file is downloaded, the person sharing the file still has it” (189). I do not profess to have all the answers with regards to the complex nature of the intangible cultural objects of the digital space, but Poster’s argument seems to incorrectly define theft—or at least he does so in a manner that contradicts my subjective understanding of the term— though of course that definition may be altered by the differing nature of intangible digital objects. Illegal downloading of music may simply entail copying, but it presupposes that theft occurs without a loss of profit for one party involved. In other words, the means by which the music is “stolen” may be different, but the end result is not, so it may theoretically still constitute theft. A stolen CD is problematic because it deprives the store owner of a profit that could have been made off of the product. Though online only a copy is made, someone is still deprived of profit. My intention is not to insist that we grieve the loss of profit for multibillion dollar corporations that probably are not hurt terribly when a 12-year-old girl illegally downloads a $7.99 album, but it is to suggest that the increasingly complex nature of intangible cultural objects must push us to consider definitions of concepts as seemingly simple as “theft” if we are to come to a greater understanding with regards to proper action to be taken on copyright. I am certainly not in the business of defending abusive copyright legislation so much as calling for a more fervent debate over the relation between the physical and non-physical realms we currently occupy.

So digital copyright is perpetuating inequality, along with high-frequency trading, and corporations in the “New Economy” have served to make themselves more central figures in the private sector than ever before. Working against the democratizing potential of the Internet, wealthy tycoons exclude the less powerful from engaging meaningfully in the economy, monopolizing power and minimizing opportunity along the way. The picture thus far has frankly been incredibly depressing; but to paint such a picture without examining the rays of light that we now see would be a gross oversimplification.

It is exceedingly appropriate that the class experience asked us to consider digital copyright in relation to inequality. The issue is so crucial in this discussion, in fact, that the solution thereto provides one of many such solutions to broader inequality that has resulted from the implementation of “New Economy” policies which have too often effected a change diametrically opposed to that which was promised.

Poster makes clear in his examination of copyright that to find solutions to the problems we currently face, “[w]e must invent an entirely new copyright law that rewards cultural creation but also fosters new forms of use or consumption and does not inhibit the development of new forms of digital cultural exchange that explore the new fluidity of texts, images, and sounds” (209). Though seemingly overwhelming a solution at first, “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto” introduces us to a man who provides one very simple but very effective step towards a broader, more democratic solution to problems we face and inequality which must be rooted out: Lawrence Lessig. Lessig is a professor at Harvard Law School and an anti-copyright activist who travels the world speaking out against copyright legislation.

In 2001, Lessig founded Creative Commons, a non-profit group that offers free licenses which can be used by creators of a work to signify that, instead of “all rights reserved,” it is only “some rights reserved,” and that certain rights have been waived so that others may borrow more freely. It seems to be an incredibly simple concept, but in actuality it is incredibly powerful. If Creative Commons licenses were more greatly expanded so as to ensure freer dissemination of cultural objects online, providing a wider range of access to those objects, that alone would serve as a step towards eliminating the inequality with which the current economic order is plagued. It would at least begin to establish a foundation for a more democratic Internet in which access to cultural objects is made more equal and opportunity, in turn, is expanded.

I am not under the illusion that Creative Commons can single-handedly solve the problems that we face with regards to corporate influence over the digital world and the economy thereof. I do recognize, however, the democratizing potential inherent in Lessig’s organization. His example should serve as inspiration to us all, a helpful reminder that we are more than capable of organizing within the framework of the Internet. We—the heretofore repressed masses—can provide the push for democratization, and in so doing, subvert the autocratic rule of authoritarian governments and monolithic corporations. The Internet may not be inherently democratic, but if used to work towards the proper ends, we, as agents of change, can make it so.

For as much of the complexity of the issue I may understand, I will openly admit as per usual that I am not omniscient with regards to solutions to these complicated issues. I do recognize, however, that change can be effected. Millions took to Twitter and Facebook to protest the Stop Online Privacy Act, another piece of copyright legislation, and the bill has yet to become law. It is doubtful at this point in time that it ever will. Of course civic engagement can have an impact on policy decisions in this country. Unfortunately, we must also consider that large corporations like Google also opposed SOPA, and that their influence must be felt in stopping the law as well. Nonetheless, social media and the Internet, if used for the right reasons, can bring about change if we choose to step up and act, as was the case, for example, in the “Arab Spring” uprisings. We know what the problems are, and we see glimmers of hope in new solutions, like Creative Commons, but no change will come if no action is taken first, so it is contingent on the American citizenry to become engaged and to use the Internet as a means of democratic protestation and organization.

As I said before, the organization of this class is both intriguing and appropriate. We see now that if change is to be brought about, it will require organization with the aid of the tools we are afforded within the digital landscape. To render the Internet a more democratizing force, we must make it such, and use it to work towards a democratic end. Though we may not now understand how to do so, or the precedent which exists for digital movements, the next unit should provide ample framework for the implementation of such a movement. We now move forward, beginning to explore civic engagement in the digital age, looking to subversive movements like Occupy and Anonymous and the impact created thereby.

Group “Business” clearly did an excellent job of raising the questions that needed to be raised, and though more exist than can be answered, it is my hope that I have at least skimmed the surface thoroughly enough to highlight, as always, a path forward, and one, I now realize, that likely lies in the next unit. What a pivotal one it shall be.

Categories: Assignments
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A Journey Through Copyrights in the Internet Age By: Sarah Crawford Cassaundra Fincke and Claire Hollingsworth

// Posted by on 04/20/2014 (5:15 PM)

For our final project, we are examining copyright laws and infringement to address the question of how far these laws should go before they impede creativity. Mainly, we are interested in the question of whether these laws protect individuals… Read more


For our final project, we are examining copyright laws and infringement to address the question of how far these laws should go before they impede creativity. Mainly, we are interested in the question of whether these laws protect individuals and their ideas, or if they inhibit creativity, new work, and lead to the exploitation of the original idea-holders by large corporations. Given that the only way one can use copyrighted material is under the fair use clause, wherein the user is incorporating the material to make an argument, people violate copyright laws every day whether or not they realize they are doing so. The ability to create new ideas is somewhat dependent on the past in that one must analyze old and current material to create something new, thus making this matter of paramount importance.

In order to highlight the relevance of this topic, I chose to focus on a case study of the Walt Disney Corporation. Specifically, I am interested in why Walt Disney was so successful in remixing many works that came before their Disney equivalent when the same tactic is widely frowned upon today. Through my initial research, I came to understand that Walt Disney is considered to be brilliant because he “took work that was in the public domain and updated it, and made it relevant for our age”(Gaylor). His work “continued the conversation of a culture” (Gaylor). More precisely, we call this “‘Walt Disney creativity’- a form of expression and genius that builds upon the culture around us and makes it something different” (Lessig 24). A main factor that worked in Walt’s favor was timing. Copyright terms used to encompass more reasonable time spans as “From 1790 until 1978, the average copyright term was never more than thirty-two years, meaning that most culture just a generation and a half old was free for anyone to build upon without the permission of anyone else” (Lessig 24-25). In 1928 when Walt began creating, he was free to draw on ideas from the nineteenth century, content that was still relatively new, and make them his own.

Thus, I became interested in further exploring the perspective on remixing from the perspective of the audience/ general public. In the case of Disney, I wanted to explore whether Walt or any Disney pictures received backlash from the public regarding taking the original work of others to achieve the Disney level of success. However, my research attempts on this subject matter rendered little results in terms of academic exploration of this topic, leaving my conclusions up to speculation. Therefore, I decided I wanted to change my specific focus and approach to this case study. As I continued to read Lessig’s book, I found myself reflecting on the parallels of his argument with that of Turner in From Counterculture to Cyberculture. Both books emphasize the fact that it is not necessarily technology, or in this case copyright laws, alone that dictate the positive and negative effects of each, but rather the culture we create surrounding these technologies and laws. For this reason, I shifted my focus to the culture surrounding Disney. I have been exploring multiple sources on topics surrounding Walt Disney as a contributor to American culture, and how that has shaped our perception of the Disney Enterprise. Questions to further explore include: have we elevated Disney products to such a level that we allow Disney to bend copyright rules? Has Disney as a corporation become power-hungry- has what started as creativity become a greedy desire to stifle others who try to do the same thing Walt once did with Disney material? If this is the case, is it possible to loosen Disney’s hold and view on their material?

I chose to focus on the effect that strict copyright laws and regulation are going to have on our society in the future and the effect that is happening right now. At first I was exploring the area of disruptive innovation focusing on many companies Lessig touches on in his book, “Free Culture”, such as Kodak, cable TV, and in a more abstract sense the evolution of copyright law. This evolved throughout my research to seeing the impact of containing disruptive innovation is having on American society. As the U.S is moving away from the industrial society and more towards being a society dependent on intellectual information we need to find a middle ground in the regulation of intellectual property. Lessig discusses in his book “Free Culture” the idea of these regulations killing our cultural environment much in the way that DDT killed pests while not realizing the consequences that encompasses this approach (Lessig 130). I think Lessig says it best when discussing the protection of authors. “The point is that some of the ways in which we might protect authors will have unintended consequences for the cultural environment, much like DDT had for the natural environment” (Lessig 129).

This leads me to want to probe further into these consequences. The questions to be explored further are what are these consequences for society? Also relating back to my original thought what are the consequences for businesses if they choose to continue to support the regulation and the idea of not a free culture? Will this stagnation of culture hurt the entirety of the economy in the long run anyways?

In order to properly explore the topic of copyright and the different effects that these laws have on our society I thought it would be appropriate to explore the history and look into where copyright laws are headed.  Sonny Bono was the major act in the late 90’s that propelled the terms of copyrights twenty more years.  I have found that in the making of this act there existed little opposition.  Corporations, such as Disney, who held valuable copyrights at that time successfully lobbied congressmen while the efforts of law professors and other academics, who believed Sonny Bono would be detrimental to our society, were simply letters to congressmen along with petitions.  The Sonny Bono Act passed with little notice from the public.  Next came the Eldred v. Ashcroft Supreme Court case in which Lessig, a strong proponent against copyright laws, served as Eldred’s lawyer.  This case drew more attention, more support and a greater chance in defeating copyright laws than did Sonny Bono’s opposition however it came to a conclusion with Eldred losing in a 7-2 Supreme Court Vote.

Sonny Bono

This is the history of copyright but I believe the future of copyright laws may prove to be more interesting.  With Sonny Bono’s extension only lasting a mere five more years, in 2019 corporations such as Disney will want their precious copyrights protected once again and for a longer amount of time.  However, will the opposition stand stronger this time?  With the Internet serving as a stronger force than ever people may band together in ways they weren’t able to in 1998 or in 2003.  Cases such as SOPA and PIPA in which the Internet, including Wikipedia, Google and more ubiquitous sites, created a huge backlash and successfully stopped Congress from censoring the Internet make me believe that the Internet is capable of big things to come in the fight against copyright.

Moving forward, we aim to synthesize each of our individual findings into an overarching thesis to address our initial central question. We feel that each of our three focuses compliment one another in that we address the history, culture, consequences and future of copyright. As our research progresses and we answer more of our research questions outlined in this post we will produce a complete picture on the nature of how copyright law is affecting society and creativity in the U.S.

Below is a Tedtalk by Larry Lessig. It touches upon his arguments against strict regulations on intellectual property, including copy rights.

Below is the link to our additional research and project blog:



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How the Digital World has Influenced Music

// Posted by on 04/03/2014 (9:05 PM)

By: Deirdre O’Halloran, Rachel Hall, Claire Hollingsworth, and Molly Reilly



There has been a long history of evolving copyright laws to get to where we are in history… Read more


By: Deirdre O’Halloran, Rachel Hall, Claire Hollingsworth, and Molly Reilly



There has been a long history of evolving copyright laws to get to where we are in history today. The most notable dates with the evolution of copyrights with respect to digital media are listed above. The 1994 Conference on Fair Use was a venue for the discussion of issues on fair use in the electronic environment. One of the biggest obstacles to the internet and the creators of content on the internet is the lack of regulation regarding fair use. At this fair there were a number of guidelines proposed guidelines in areas such as interlibrary loan, electronic reserves, digital images, and distance education. The 1996 Database protection legislation introduced the Database Investment and Intellectual Antipiracy Act of 1996. This act helped protect intellectual property and helped start the framework of controlling piracy on the internet. 1998 Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act changed the  protected the life of the author plus fifty years to life of the author plus seventy years. One of the most notable laws for the protection of creative work is the 1999 digital theft deterrence and copyright damages improvement act of 1999. This law increased the maximum damages for digital theft to a 20,000 and 30,000 dollars.

While there were several notable court cases in the later 2000’s, few changes to copyrights laws were implemented with the changing times, or if there were changes in fair use laws it is happening slower than how technology is evolving. This is the problems many artists and online creators of content are running into. Music is evolving at the pace of technology however copyright laws can’t keep up. There have been several cases where congress has been attempting to crack down on illegally downloading music to make a case out of ordinary U.S citizens. In an article from “ Supreme Court Approved $222k Fine for 24 illegally downloaded songs. As a response to the settlement which is under appeals as of now was:

There’s no way they can collect,” she said. “Right now I get energy assistance because I have four kids. It’s just one income. My husband isn’t working. It’s not possible for them to collect even if they wanted to. I have no assets.”

The question we have to ask ourselves is what is the benefit to these trials and cases. As we can see from our survey the illegal downloading of music has consistently remained a part of our lives since Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s court hearings began in 2007. The biggest argument against the free sharing of music and information is that it hurts the artists that produce the music. But the question is, does it hurt the artists that create the music or the music industry and music producers as a corporation. In an blog entry from a site entitled “Record Labels: Behind the Glamour” it states “Internet music piracy not only doesn’t hurt legitimate CD sales, it may even boost sales of some types of music.” They go on to talk about how many consumers after illegally downloading a few songs will in many cases go to purchase the whole CD at another source. However it is crucial to mention this blog was written in 2004 where the quality and availability of downloadable music was much less.

Based on our survey most students go to the internet to illegally download music for a majority of their music collection. But we also have to evaluate the portion of an artist’s income that is really affected by record sales. Would artists be smarter to simply use their song releases as a form of marketing and to gain wider appeal with the general public. Artists, such as Beyonce, generates her 52 million dollar a year income with everything from sponsorships to tour dates to even a beauty skin care line. Beyonce certainly does not seem to be hurting from the changing technologies if anything she has harnessed the explosion of social media sites, even dropping her most recent album with no marketing or advertising at all. The availability of information and internet culture have allowed her to do that.

It will be interesting to see in the future how illegal downloading will continue to evolve and to change. As of right now the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) seems no closer to backing down. As of April 1, 2014 this was the their stance and punishment on illegally downloading music:

“Making unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings is against the law and may subject you to civil and criminal liability.  A civil law suit could hold you responsible for thousands of dollars in damages. Criminal charges may leave you with a felony record, accompanied by up to five years of jail time and fines up to $250,000.”

The CIAA also states that the annual harm coming from illegally downloading music comes out to around 12.5 billion dollars a year as well as more than 70,000 american jobs lost and 2 billion in lost wages to American workers. While these are staggering statistics is this just the way the music industry is going as the economy evolves and changes? We can go back all the way to the airplane where in Lawrence Lessig’s book “Free Culture” he references a court case involving Thomas Lee and Tinie Causby where the invention of the airplane had affected their farm when military planes flew too close the ground over their lands. In the end the judge ruled the farmers out of date with the current times and we had to keep up with the changing technologies. The case with the farmers is a more cut and dry case and the artists do have more rights to their intellectual property than the farmers did over the air above their land but we still have to think about how the landscape of the internet has changed the music industries environment. Will copyright laws evolving with times or will they be stuck in the past or will they take the internet as the disruptive innovation that it is and evolve and come out stronger for utilizing its power rather than fighting against it.



There’s no denying it: people pirate music.  Most people know it’s illegal, and many feel at least a little conflicted about it, but it happens. The question is, why does it happen?  There are a lot of justifications offered about why people might choose to illegally download a song when they would be more hesitant to steal a physical album.

The first and most obvious reason is that pirated music is free.  This seems consistent with survey data we found that most respondents would be more willing to legally purchase their music if they could set the price.  This also seems consistent with the rise of sites like Bandcamp, which allow users to set prices for album, the popularity of Radiohead’s In Rainbows album, and the use of apps like Spotify which allow for free or cheap legal consumption.

Another idea that has been popularized is that people pirate music as a political statement or because they believe that the artists are not being harmed, since they already make so little off of their album sales.  This seems consistent with the data we found saying that people are more likely to pay for music from artists they really like and would be more likely to pay for music if more went to the artists themselves.

Finally, some of the interesting data had to do with the sources of piracy and the types of music people were more likely to pay for versus pirate.  The two genres most likely to be pirated?  Electronic/EDM and Top 40.





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Do Copyright Laws Protect Ideas or Limit the Sharing of Knowledge?

// Posted by on 03/06/2014 (5:26 PM)

I found our readings and discussions about copyright laws and infringement this week to be some of the most interesting and intricate material we have tackled to date in this class. I agree with many of the ideas set forth… Read more


I found our readings and discussions about copyright laws and infringement this week to be some of the most interesting and intricate material we have tackled to date in this class. I agree with many of the ideas set forth in Rip: A Remix Manifesto. The first point of the manifesto, that the present always builds upon the past, can hardly be disputed. Everything we enjoy today can most likely be traced back to developments made over time on an original idea: types of clothing, types of houses, the way we read and conduct research, etc. After watching the documentary in its entirety and reading both the “GoldiBlox” and “Beauty and the Beast” case studies, points two and three of the manifesto (“the past always tries to control the future” and “our future is becoming less free”)  are also difficult to deny. Brett Gaylor’s main point in his documentary is that the intimidation factor imposed by large companies prevents many creative ideas from ever materializing as people are too afraid of getting sued and having to pay large sums of money in legal fees and copyright fees. While Girl Talk has not been arrested, he and his family live with a constant sense of nervousness that it could happen at any moment. Copyright laws were originally created with the good intention of protecting one’s ideas. However, it is my personal belief that the laws now impose too much control over the freedom and exchange of ideas, and while they should not be eliminated, there should definitely be some regulation. In the case of music, I do not believe that mash-ups such as the ones Girl Talk produces should be slammed for copyright infringement. While the songs he produces mix popular songs together, the song he makes is a completely original work and should therefore be considered to be his own. Furthermore, many mash-up artists and listeners do not hear a mash up and suddenly disregard the work of the original artists. During the documentary, Gaylor shows a Girl Talk concert without playing the music as his fair use argument had expired. He expresses how much he wishes the viewers could hear the show as Girl Talk “dropped ACDC in the middle of the Black-Eyed Peas. People were blogging about it for weeks.” Many people, myself included, clearly hear mash ups and still credit the work of the original artists while appreciating the originality of the mash up as well. This goes along with the way Girl Talk compares what he does to science. Copyrights, patents, and the like “hold back knowledge exchange” as they limit the ability of ideas to build off of each other. In science, this is particularly detrimental as collaboration is necessary to achieve discovery. A scientist might be close to developing a cure for cancer but cannot proceed if part of his or her idea is patented. In my opinion, copyright control to this degree is detrimental to our society.

There are cases, however, wherein it is right to impose copyright. One case of this might be when someone tries to take an idea that stands for a clear message and manipulate that same idea to represent something completely different. This happened in the case of Mickey Mouse, as discussed in the documentary. Walt Disney is considered to be brilliant because he “took work that was in the public domain and updated it, and made it relevant for our age.” His work “continued the conversation of a culture.” One of the most famous examples of this is the creation of Mickey Mouse, which stemmed from Steamboat Bill. Walt took the idea of Steamboat Bill, but made it completely different as a mouse played the main character, and Mickey soon became the symbol of Disney as a company that produced wholesome family fun. Because Mickey so clearly stood for a company with a wholesome message, it is not right for someone to take Mickey and try to turn him into a “drug dealing revolutionary” as a comment on society. While they had Mickey stand for something different than the original, using the exact same character to convey a quite opposite message than intended by the original is stealing a character. Looking at the case of GoldieBlox and the Beastie Boys presented in Wired, I believe the Beastie Boys are in the right due to the company’s overreaction and the original intent of the Beastie Boys. In their letter, the remaining Beastie Boys wrote that they

“were very impressed by the creativity and message behind your ad. We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.” However, the letter continued, “your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads. When we tried to simply ask how and why our song ‘Girls’ had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.”

Under the fair use clause, it is alright to use copyrighted material in the name of exercising free speech to make a point. The song is used in the ad as background music clearly trying to appeal to a generation of adults who listened to the Beastie Boys as teenagers, who now likely have young children. As this is an appeal rather than an argument, it would not be considered fair use. The main area where I agree with the Beastie Boys over GoldieBlox is when they state that they agreed to never permit their music to be used in product ads. As the original creators of the song, it is their right to include that provision and it should not be violated. GoldieBlox overreacted by suing the Beastie Boys in response to their innocent question.

What do you think about these cases and copyright regulation? In our group, we discussed artists only having to pay fees if they begin turning a profit from something that incorporates someone else’s work. Do you think this is plausible? Or are copyright laws succeeding at keeping ideas safe?

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IP Law and Creative Commons

// Posted by on 02/18/2013 (10:24 PM)

I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing about my law school bu****hit, but here I go again…I can’t help but write about my experience from today at Cardozo Law’s accepted students day. At one point during the day-long program,… Read more


I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing about my law school bu****hit, but here I go again…I can’t help but write about my experience from today at Cardozo Law’s accepted students day. At one point during the day-long program, a panel of professors spoke about their respective specialties. Professor Felix Wu is one of the mainstays at Cardozo’s Intellectual Property (IP) department. IP, according to Pisacreta and Adler, is a legal concept which refers to creations of the mind for which exclusive rights are  recognized. Here’s a quick video explanation of IP from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. IP law, for good reasons, is the fastest growing field of law today largely due to THE INTERNET!

Professor Wu began his part of the talk by asking some questions that have come up in courts around the nation: “For example, is it illegal for you to video record your roommate? Is it illegal for someone else to videotape your roomate and you to disseminate it via the internet? How does one claim ownership to property that was not physically or tangibly theirs?” He then cited a case in which a certain shoe company attempted to patent the color red so that no other shoe company could put the color on the sole of their shoes. So, in the same vein, how can one go about trademarking a webpage or intangible idea published online? Is it possible? If so, is it even constitutional?

In class we discussed a new-age patent and trademarking service called creative commons (CC). According to their website, Creative Commons is a not-for-profit entity “devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.” The company has created a new type of copyright-license called a creative commons license which  follows a “some rights reserved” principle rather than the typical “all rights reserved” copyright. CC is interesting and perhaps problematic in that it legally allows ideas created by individuals to be commercially used and marketed by people other than the creator of the idea. Personally (if I really believed in my idea), I would always opt to fully reserve the rights associated with it. CC could, in a way, erode the current copyright system by softening copyright regulations. Do you think that ideas can be only partially owned? Or should the system remain a hard-line black and white “copyrighted or not copyrighted” model? Do you think CC would even hold up in court, if contested? If your roommate videotaped you and licensed it under a CC license that legally blocked you from tampering with it…




Intellectual Property Licensing: Forms and Analysis, by Richard Raysman, Edward A. Pisacreta and Kenneth A. Adler. Law Journal Press, 1998-2008. ISBN 973-58852-086-9

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Money For Nothing

// Posted by on 01/27/2013 (10:33 PM)

“You break into any system that you are not authorized to enter, you should be willing and able to face the consequences. The Age of the Merry Pranksters and a Bus going Further are long gone. I loved it then… Read more


“You break into any system that you are not authorized to enter, you should be willing and able to face the consequences. The Age of the Merry Pranksters and a Bus going Further are long gone. I loved it then but this time is not then. Too many scammers and info-terrorists are running rampant so Hacker Beware.”

That is an individual’s comment on a New York Times article concerning the Aaron Swartz situation. In his eyes, Swartz illegally downloaded millions of copy-written files and was completely responsible for his actions. This is certainly a valid point; after all, the documents WERE held on a secure subscription-only server, and he TECHNICALLY broke the law. However, are today’s piracy and copyright laws outdated and incapable of properly policing online illegal activity? After all, Swartz’s potential punishment was “35 years and $1 million in fines,” a punishment rivaling that of armed robbers and individuals who commit dangerous, face-to-face crimes.

Although JSTOR opted to not press charges against Swartz, other organizations have taken ineffective and costly approaches to “punish” those who have illegally downloaded products online. The RIAA is notorious for suing people of all ages (as in, from children and the elderly) for thousands of dollars per illegally downloaded song. In this article research shows that out of $64 million spent on lawsuit campaigns, they only brought in about $1.4 million in settlement money. That’s only 2% of the money they spent that they’re getting back.

I’ve done a ton of research on copyright laws and the media in the past, and from my research I’ve concluded that today’s laws are inadequate in the face of the vast amount of technological changes that have occurred since they were written. For example, is it illegal for an individual to buy a game or a movie legally and then pirate the same copy just so that he or she can get around the pesky always-stay-online” DRM included in the paid version? That’s what happened to Shawn Hogan, who was sued after illegally downloading the movie Meet The Fockers via BitTorrent. His case was unique because he provided evidence that he owned a legitimate copy of the DVD, and the case was settled.

I am not an opponent to strict copyright laws. After all, people deserve to be paid for their work. However, I think that the laws need to be revamped, thrown away, or replaced in order to accomodate a world in which law-abiding people are being sued for thousands of dollars for “illegal” activities that, under scrutiny, aren’t worth the pain and suffering that they cause. If someone wants to both buy a copy of Diablo 3 and a pirated version just to play the pirated copy offline, who are they actually hurting? If Aaron Swartz takes JSTOR articles and posts them for others to read, should he be imprisoned for 35 years? Where does it END?

By: Andrew Jones

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Patent the Internet?

// Posted by on 02/08/2012 (9:13 PM)








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