Nearly everyone who has uploaded videos to YouTube has had one taken down for copyright infringement. But not as many people know that without that, YouTube could be shut down. Since the printing press was invented, copyright has existed to secure the livelihood of content creators. The idea of copyright is that an author can continue to sell their work without fear of mass reproduction without compensation. This way, content owners are able to pay for housing, materials, food, and other necessities to support them and their families. Without copyright, anyone who had the means could mass-produce a book without paying the original author and sell copies themselves, stealing the profits. The concept of copyright, intended to protect the livelihood of content creators, can be applied for good or bad, and the rise of technology has created a slew of new ways to use and abuse it.
The concept of copyright has existed for thousands of years. Although the specifics have changed, the purpose of copyright has remained the same: to protect the original author of a work. One of the first instances of something similar to copyright happened in 560 AD in Ireland: a monk copied another monk’s manuscript, and a particularly valuable one at that, and the original author demanded the copy back. It was petitioned to the king, who ruled that the copy belonged to the original author. In 1710, one of the first actual copyright laws was created. England’s Statute of Anne was created in a time when printing presses were just coming into use. Before these, copying a book involved a lot of manual work. With a printing press, mass production was made much easier and it was now viable to make many copies of someone else’s work without needing to pay them. The Statute created a special time period for any new work, during which it could not be copied except with permission from the author.
Another few hundred years in the future, the United States updates its own copyright law to match up more with international decisions. This is the Copyright Term Extension Act, or CTEA, also known as the Sonny Bono Act and the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. The latter name is a reference to the fact that the copyright extension prolonged the time that early Mickey Mouse films would stay under copyright, as they were near due to become public domain. The CTEA was passed in 1998 and extended copyrights for individual authors from 50 years to 70 years after the author’s death and from 75 years to 120 years for corporate authorship. These extensions effectively stopped the public domain from gaining new works for years, and the law was even challenged in courts as being unconstitutional for this reason. The Supreme Court decided to allow it partly because of trade implications; the law had to be passed in order to align with international intent.
Also in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was created to give additional protection to electronic media. Of...