Technology's disruptive effect on copyright law

IP laws have had their challenges as the layman constantly issues content across the Internet that baits current legislation

The Internet has thoroughly ravaged the traditional parameters of copyright laws that had been set forth by U.S. lawmakers to ensure intellectual property protection before the consumer-based use of the Internet and its general monetization by enterprises. The vast and deep cultural effects that the digital age has had on U.S. copyright laws will likely be ongoing for many years as newer technologies increasingly disrupt the landscape of IP protection as we think we know it based on the progression of internet technologies, but such is the nature of legislature: always needing to adjust to the newest technology at hand.

Indeed, an escalating conflict is now reaching the ears of the Supreme Court. Aereo -- a startup TV company with plenty of Silicon Valley funding -- is being brought to the steps of the high court to defend itself against U.S. TV broadcasters who claim it unlawfully skirts retransmission fees using its antennae technology.  

Aereo applies one antenna per paying customer, by which it copies and delivers over-the-air TV programming from broadcasters. Users pay a small monthly fee to get the programming delivered to their Internet-connected mobile devices and PCs, and the company gets around content owner retransmission fees by claiming it is doing exactly what consumers are lawfully allowed to do: copy and use for "private performance" purposes a broadcasted event. (Much like a modern-day DVR.) 

Of course, broadcasters are infuriated. The Supreme Court will decide what other state courts have already decided: that Aereo is within its rights. But this legal squabble is not the first of the internet-based battles the U.S. has scene since the web's inception. Google is likely the most household name that has faced legal challenges that center around the core ownership of content on the web. As businesses and consumers gripe about the availability of some information on the Internet, they look to the search engine as the source of distribution, and Google's constant stance is that it is merely the vehicle through which publishers produce the offensive content. 

U.S. courtrooms should be prepared to keep hearing such cases that introduce how technologies allegedly violate existing IP laws. But in the meantime, technologies that disrupt the current legislation will abound.


Further reading:

Broadcasters denied preliminary injunction against Internet TV company 

Technology: Internet memes pose legal questions

IP: Task force releases green paper on copyright policy in the digital economy

Contributing Author

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Juliana Kenny

Juliana Kenny is a contributor to, covering a range of topics including patent litigation, conflict mineral laws, executive compensation, and antitrust regulation. Juliana earned B.A.s...

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