How Has Technology Affected Copyright Laws?


Copyright law faces major challenges keeping up with technological advancement. Although there is no separate body of copyright law created specifically to cover technological works, the application of copyright law is distinctive with respect to copyright protection of computer programs, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing and international enforcement.

Copyrights and Software Programs

  • The advent of computer technology forced the U.S. legal community to determine whether software programs should be protected by patent law, copyright law or trade-secret law. After years of uncertainty, courts determined that software programs qualified for copyright protection as "works of authorship."

Creation of Unique Software Programs

  • U.S. case law has established that a software program may infringe a copyright even if it does not copy either the subject code or the object code of a copyright software program, as long as there is sufficient similarity in overall structure. This is similar to an author borrowing plot devices and renamed characters from a copyright book. Determining instances of infringement has become more challenging as complex software programs are alleged to have incorporated particular components from other copyright software programs.

P2P File Sharing

  • P2P file sharing has been ruled to be infringing activity under U.S. copyright law, applicable to uploading and downloading. The Canadian Copyright Board and the Supreme Court of Canada have ruled that file sharing for personal use is legal in Canada. Most other countries prohibit P2P file sharing, although enforcement is often lax. Concepts such as contributory infringement and vicarious infringement have been used against P2P networks themselves, since they do not directly participate in the sharing of copyright works.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 addresses a number of copyright issues that have come to the forefront in the wake of technological advancement, without making any fundamental changes to copyright law. One of the most important features of this law is that it provides a "safe harbor" for P2P networks to operate, as long as they strictly observe certain legal requirements.

International Regime

  • There is no international copyright law, although the laws of most nations are similar. Recent challenges such as P2P file sharing and software piracy have led the World Intellectual Property Organization to become more active in harmonizing enforcement activities by its members, including the United States.


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