By Lydia Jensen
Image via makeuseof.com
With the growing rise of access to the internet and all the free content it provides, and with many people turning to online methods of communication and content creation during quarantine, copyright law is not only as important as ever, but significantly easier to break. With 500 hours of content being uploaded every minute on YouTube alone (Statistica), it’s almost impossible to keep up with all of the information and whether or not it follows those strict guidelines.
Copyright law allows the authors of a piece of media (depending on other legal circumstances) the ability to modify, extend, and copy their work. Many licenses don’t give the same abilities – or any at all – to others. In today’s society, where people are consuming art at rates to the point of it becoming a commodity, we need new copyright laws. With the current system in place, the only way that you can use someone else’s work, sometimes even with their permission, is through a critique. With memes and the general internet culture, this just doesn’t work.
Memes will use popular images and media to create jokes and works that transcend the work’s original meanings, and sometimes have nothing to do with it. Many works of art do the same, whether it’s fanart sold at conventions, or any other kind of fan work. Many of these are labors of love, and do more to circulate the work, rather than capitalize off of it. Many of these could be derivative of a work, like editing soundbites and frames from a show, but many can be inspired, using characters from other works in their own games, writings, or shows as members.
People rarely physically pirate nowadays. Most of the piracy that happens today is on the internet. Pirates lurk on websites that have many domains, so it’s hard to even shut them down because when one leaves, two more follow. With the shareability and immortality of the Internet, it’s almost impossible to destroy anything. Anything can remain for years, if not forever. In this sense, how can people’s copyright be protected at all?
With copyright law not being universal around the world, who’s to say that our copyright rules have to be the ones enforced all over the internet?
Net neutrality was recently overruled in favor of letting companies have the ability to charge more for sites that people use frequently. The internet has been in constant peril knowing that if all of the internet providers decided, the internet could be lost behind a paywall forever.
But it’s not just the US who has strict copyright law. The EU recently passed Article 13, which requires users who upload anything from images, to GIFs, to video on the internet, to show proof of license and/or ownership over the material to do so. Not only would the ramifications of this article’s enforcement result in harsher scrutiny of what is posted, it would normalize letting governments have an even heavier hand on the internet. It means that you could lose your privacy as the government is slowly allowed even further into what you do on the internet. Big corporations like Warner Music and Universal Studios would be able to take money from you just for reposting a harmless meme or song clip to your Instagram feed.
Emmanuele Contini | NurPhoto | Getty Images
Harsher sentences for violators isn’t the solution. Adding stricter rules just limits freedom on the Internet that’s already dwindling. Those who pirate on the Internet as a career know where to hide, and those who post videos of their families singing happy birthday don’t. Should harsher rules be implemented, it would allow only the laymen of the internet to be punished. What we need is for these laws to work for both the people who own material that should be protected from piracy, and those who want to make derivative works from them. What we need is for copyright law to change.