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Digital Copyright [Paperback]

Jessica Litman
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 5 2006
In 1998, copyright lobbyists succeeded in persuading Congress to enact laws greatly expanding copyright owners' control over individuals' private uses of their works. The efforts to enforce these new rights have resulted in highly publicized legal battles between established media and new upstarts.
In this enlightening and well-argued book, law professor Jessica Litman questions whether copyright laws crafted by lawyers and their lobbyists really make sense for the vast majority of us. Should every interaction between ordinary consumers and copyright-protected works be restricted by law? Is it practical to enforce such laws, or expect consumers to obey them? What are the effects of such laws on the exchange of information in a free society?
Litman's critique exposes the 1998 copyright law as an incoherent patchwork. She argues for reforms that reflect common sense and the way people actually behave in their daily digital interactions.
This paperback edition includes an afterword that comments on recent developments, such as the end of the Napster story, the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing, the escalation of a full-fledged copyright war, the filing of lawsuits against thousands of individuals, and the June 2005 Supreme Court decision in the Grokster case.

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From Library Journal

Litman (law, Wayne State Univ.) offers a surprisingly readable, even entertaining dissection of 1998's Digital Millennium laws passed throughout the 20th century. Central to her exegesis is a critique of the method of drafting legislation, begun just about 100 years ago, that lets the interested parties negotiate among themselves and submit to legislators proposed amendments and revisions. She includes libraries as parties with special interests in this system and notes that the most important group consumers is inevitably not represented. And she has special disdain for her fellow Chapters jump from a historical investigation of legislative practice, to comparison of several recent technological challenges to copyright, to an explanation of how shifts in the understanding of underlying principle have shaped the law. In the end, Litman proposes a vastly simplified system but admits that "a wholesale reconceptualization of copyright law seems unlikely-. There are not many Don Quixotes in Washington." Recommended for all types of libraries. Eric Bryant, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Readers with an interest in doing business on the Internet, or in the specific issue of copyright, should not be without this book. The author, a recognized expert in copyright law, demonstrates how the World Wide Web has the potential to restructure copyright laws in the U.S. It's a tricky, complicated issue in which questions of control versus access are paramount. How, for instance, do you regulate the use of a copyrighted work when anyone who logs onto the Net can access it for free? Do you try to charge each computer user a royalty? To put all this in its proper context, Litman provides a capsule history of U.S. copyright law, showing how every development in the technology of publishing has brought further refinement and further complications to the law. At the center of the book is a single question: Do the new statutes now being proposed by copyright holders make sense? The book is quite technical in places, but it's also clearly written and sensibly argued. A timely and very useful resource. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Where did my fair use go? July 13 2004
This book is essentially a primer on the mess we've gotten into with regards to copyrights and digital media. Litman explains both why the current copyright regime is an ill fit to the "Information Age" as well as how we got here.
Litman's explanation of how Congress has essentially abdicated its responsibilities by turning over the drafting of copyright law to the entrenched business interests is scary. But more frightening are the implications: When major chunks of our culture are locked behind individual use licenses, little room is left for innovation and creativity. The end result, I fear, will be a world where every last piece of information and our entertainment will be fed to us by Disney, Time Warner, and a few other mega-corporations. Not that I have anything against those firms, but a 35-page menu listing only variations of spaghetti is not my idea of fine dining.
Copyright used to be about a bargain - society gave limited rights to copyright owners to encourage creativity - in return society obtained building blocks for further creativity. But the model has changed - now the discussion (such as it is) is about the absolute property rights of the media company. (We don't even talk about "authors" anymore - who wrote "Finding Nemo" anyway?) The result is that the public's end of the bargain has been taken away - fair use is of little use anymore, and the first sale doctrine (which allows you to read, re-read, loan, sell, or destroy this book) has been emptied of any meaning with regards to digital media.
Litman does a great job in explaining how ugly the current copyright laws are, and she demonstrates clearly how the system threatens to stifle innovative new ways to communicate and entertain via the Internet.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Foundation for the copyright quagmire Feb. 24 2004
I found this book to be an easy read over the weekend and very comprehensible, even to the layperson who does not have a legal background yet who might have interest.
The bottom line is that copyright law and the meshing of digitization is not black and white yet is gray and murky. Until case law and the creatives reach some kind of a negotiation or a consensus, it will continue to be murky.
And, in our society we may have to agree to disagree with certain elements.
One of the strongest points brought out in this book was that if people don't believe in the law, they will not uphold it and there is not a lot that the government can do. I'm certainly not condoning illegal behavior yet there is a strong point to be made.
Our law was supposed to be written as one that would flex with the times yet we've found that digitization challenges the perceptions behind the laws that were set early and into the mid 1900's.
In conclusion, there is no conclusion and the story is still being written yet this book provides an excellent historical context for why copyright is as sensitive and muddy as it is and provides a good look at the dichotomies between the copyright exclusive owners and users.
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2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing Oct. 16 2002
By A Customer
After glancing at some reviews, I had high hopes of getting a more in depth and precise understanding of digital copyright law. What I found though was a book, while effectively advancing some broad arguments, did not provide me with the kind of in depth detail that I would expect from a first rate book. At the end of the book, I cannot say that I better understand what is legal, what is not legal, and what is unclear in the modern age of digital copyright.
If you want an overview and critique of the context and process in which copyright laws have been passed, then this book might be for you. But if you're looking for a detailed explanation and investigation of current copyright laws, I think this book will leave you hanging.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not helpful Sept. 17 2001
By benboy
This is a well-written and interesting history of copyright as it applies to digital works. But, it does not, as the title suggests, tell you much about protecting digital property. The material is informative and has the ring of a very long law review article (or perhaps more likely, a collection of law review articles). Recommended for scholars and curious bystanders of the digital copyright wars but not recommended for those actually trying to protect work on the Net or formulate a policy for exploiting works.
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