The rudimentary utilitarian view on copyrights is that they help to support the individuals who generate the creative culture for a society: if there are no legal controls over somebody copying or imitating someone else’s work, then these innovative people will not have enough incentive to continue creating new works (Lemley and Reese, 2004). If this were to truly happen, it would have a negative effect on the entire economy and the overall culture. However the raw material for new creative works is always found in the existing ideas of others — and copyright holders do not own the ideas expressed in their works (Litman, 2006). Innovation and creativity are always borrowed from the concepts created by others, so we must strike a balance with copyright protection to maximize utility for all of society.
Most would agree that competition usually produces more creative works and less expensive products. Which is exactly why many are concerned that our current copyright protections have tipped the balance of power in favor of the entertainment and information industries. We should keep in mind that copyright law has always been a competition between market incumbents and new entrants (Alexander, 2010). However stringent copyright enforcement is slowly giving a small group of copyright holders — mainly international corporations — a monopolistic grip on domestic and international economies, which is stifling innovation, decreasing competition and dictating culture for us all.
In 1710, the Parliament of Great Britain passed what is now known as the first rule governing copyrights: officially titled, “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned,” it is now more commonly known as the Statute of Anne. It detailed penalties for anyone who might “print, reprint, or import […] books without the consent of the proprietor.” Many cite this statute as the utilitarian foundation of copyright law (Alexander, 2010). Not surprisingly, the first copyright laws passed in the United State were initially centered on printed materials as well. Which is ironic, considering that American publishing was built on the piracy of European works (Drahos, 2002).
Under the current copyright laws in the United States, original creative works are automatically afforded copyright protection — there is no need to register or document anything. Through the years, copyright holders have always wanted more legal protection, while copyright users requested more lenient use (Frankel, 2010). However tightened and increased copyright protections, such as those found in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), have always been framed as an easy and ethical way to increase the revenue for copyright holders by insuring that they are properly compensated for all use. So as the years have progressed, the U.S. copyright laws have gotten progressively...