Article

Copyright and Piracy

Peter Decherney

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online January 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0090
Copyright and Piracy

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Copyright and piracy have always been important drivers of media industries. Copyright regulates authorship and creativity. Increasingly, copyright is being used to regulate media technology as well. The literature on copyright and piracy is growing steadily, in part because the Internet has raised new questions and brought copyright into the daily lives of many more media creators and consumers. Much of the literature on copyright has focused on piracy. Historical work on copyright has shown that piracy has always been a major element of media industries. The early years of the film industry in the United States, for example, were marked by intense battles over piracy. Scholars have come to see piracy that accompanies major breakthroughs in media technology as indicative of the exploration of new technologies rather than as malicious “free riding.” Similarly, many critics have focused on the positive aspects of piracy in developing societies or countries with repressive governments. Piracy can allow controversial media to be carried to people who would otherwise be cut off from access to it. Even in a country with an advanced economy like Japan, practices that would be considered piracy in most other countries are allowed to exist as integral elements of the flow of culture. Piracy receives a lot of attention, but copyright is relevant to most aspects of media history and theory, including studies of adaptation, authorship, consumption, genre, and the global exchange of culture. Copyright creates the parameters for the use of cultural traditions and the reuse of existing works. Copyright can determine when a writer, for example, has taken too much from an existing narrative. It may determine when a fan work has appropriately borrowed from the work it comments on. In addition, copyright may determine when a work may be shown publicly without permission (in a classroom or home, for example). These examples all fall under the category of fair use, and the doctrine of fair use has gone through a major transformation in the past twenty years, as documented in the literature below. Copyright law also determines the length of time that a work may be controlled by its owner, and when it becomes the property of society, when it enters the public domain. Finally, copyright laws vary from country to country. In all countries with copyright laws, works are now protected as soon as they are created, regardless of whether they have been registered with a government office. But in the United States, a copyright may be transferred, sold, or otherwise licensed. In what are called “authors’ rights” countries, on the other hand, copyright is seen to extend organically from the creator and some rights—such as the right to be named as the author—cannot be signed away. Although the literature on film copyright and piracy is still nascent, it is, of necessity, a growing area of interest.

Article.  7600 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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