Copyright is a significant form of intellectual property right. It is a legal right that is accorded to the creator of, among other things, films, soundtracks, and original literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works. It lasts for 70 years after the death of the author and any person who copies, sells or distributes a copyrighted work without authorisation can be sued by the author. The author can claim damages for a loss of earnings and seek a court injunction to stop the individual infringing the author’s rights. Breach of this would be a contempt of court, which carries, even more, consequences for the individual.
However, the relevance of copyright in the modern world has been questioned more than ever.
It is meant to protect song artists, but illegal downloading is all too prevalent in the world. Indeed, within a day of Kanye West’s latest album release, there were reports of over 500,000 unlawful downloads, with an estimated cost of $ 10 million to West. A particular concern is whether the law is now out of touch, particularly when improvements in technology have meant that enforcement of copyright is significantly more arduous.
For example, it is harder to close down websites, and this allows them to operate above the law. In the meantime, record labels have been developing technology to help inhibit infringement. However, the very nature of digital products, such as songs, means that preventing the illegal use of them will continue to be laborious. Accordingly, copyright is now more relevant than ever. Removing copyright protection would leave artists’ incomes even more in peril of the morals of the population. It would legalise an immoral act and mean an even greater amount of free downloading. The fact of copyright protection indicates to society that it is wrong to download music without paying for it, or without authorisation. Removing that protection will increase unauthorised use.
Indeed, a prime justification of copyright protection is the natural rights theory, first advanced by Locke. The premise here is that every person “has property in his own person”. Accordingly, when using your labour with things from nature, those things become yours. Using labour confers natural rights over the resultant output of that labour. Therefore, allowing copyright protection is vital to recognising those rights. Locke’s approach though is only superficially satisfying in regard to copyright protection. Many critics point out that copyrighted works, such as books and songs are not the complete creation of the author. The author’s work may well have been influenced by other creators and works that had an impact on the author. Further, academics Alpin and Davies suggest that ‘labour’ alone is too imprecise to determine the boundaries of intangible goods. Nonetheless, an alternate theory put forward by Hettinger may provide the answer.
Based on the utilitarian theory, as founded by Bentham, Hettinger suggests that laws should promote the creation of valuable intellectual works, such as music, books, and films. Accordingly, this requires artists to be granted copyright protection in what they produce in order to incentivise the production of such works. The provision of copyright allows authors greater control over what they can do with their work–they can decide on its sale and distribution and at a price of their choosing. If anyone tries to sell their work without their consent, that person can be taken to court. However, a concern with Hettinger’s view is that it is not clear whether empirical evidence exists to back this up or even whether it would be possible to acquire such legitimate evidence.