Remixing the Future of Copyright: Pam Samuelson at Yahoo

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A portion of Howard Pyle's picture of a pirate sitting upon a hill of sand.

Reprise Media created a wonderful Superbowl Search Marketing Scorecard. I’m not sure if any of the ads I saw on Sunday night stood out for me, but some of them were interesting, such as the Doritos ad that was created by an amateur filmmaker.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing though – the past Superbowl commercial I remember best is the 2004 Pepsi/Apple cross-promotional ad which focused upon downloading music legally.

The Glamorization of Copyright Infringement

While I enjoyed the content and presentation of Pepsi/Apple ad itself (especially Green Day’s version of “I fought the law,”) it was the controversy that led to the ad in the first place that makes it memorable to me.

The inspiration for the ad were lawsuits from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) prosecuting teenagers for downloading music from the web, and the RIAA’s efforts to present those teens as if they were pirates.

With the explosive growth of sites like YouTube and member-created or copied videos that sample music and images from other works that are copyrighted, it’s hard not to envision pirates filling our streets. Yet many of those videos are creative, innovative, and imaginative – something that copyright law is supposed to inspire instead of halt.

Friction Between Copyright and the Web

The ability to digitize words, images, music and video has made it easier for people to create, and to take artistic works and incorporate them into new works. Copyright is a legal right to exclusively control the publication and use of artistic and literary works for a certain time.

There have been a lot of changes to the most recent Copyright Act in the US, passed in 1976. With the explosion of people creating works, and presenting them on the web, the gray areas surrounding copyright law have been expanding, and the changes to the law have helped create more confusion.

Digital Ease in Copying Made Copyright a Heavy Law

Copyright activist and advocate Pam Samuelson spoke at Yahoo recently, talking about the changes that the Web brought to copyright, and ways that the law may evolve and change, and how she may be involved in the rewriting of the law over the next five years.

Can Copyright Survive the Web by Lightening up a Little?

The 1976 Copyright Act could be interpreted to consider remixes on youtube and other video sites to be works that infringe the Act. Can the law be rewritten to more fairly balance the interests of copyright holders and people who might remix those works?

Here are some of the topics she discusses:

1. The history and changes to copyright law in the United States

2. The length (200 pages) and complexity of present-day copyright law

3. That copyright is moving in the direction of regulating technology

4. Her argument is that we need more fair use – such as space shifting.

5. Things can get worse, such as legislative attacks against private copying in people’s homes for their use.

6. Things can get better, such as the Orphaned Works Act and Creative Commons Licensing.

7. The copyright statute is a total mess;

  • Too long,
  • Incomprehensible,
  • Hotly contested,
  • A Hodge-Podge of Compromises,
  • Exclusive Rights are too broad, exceptions are too narrow,
  • Too much is in copyright, and not enough is in the public domain,
  • There’s a need for a central database to track owners, and
  • Remedies are excessive.

8. Over the next 5 years, she envisions working with a small group of people building a model copyright law that could be adopted by countries around the world, that overcomes these issues and may help move copyright back towards a law that encourages innovation instead of repressing it.


I suspect that we will see many of those changes take place. I don’t know what that will mean for copyright holders, web designers, authors, and others who draw inspiration from past works, and yet also seek protection from copyright laws themselves.

To return to the new SuperBowl ads that I started this post with, the most impressive of the bunch to me was the Doritos advertisement created by an amateur, like the many thousands who are active on YouTube these days, busy honing their skills.

I think that’s a good thing.

Other Recent Copyright News

Viacom demands its videos removed from YouTube

Heavy Discussions about New Media

University Library joins Google Book Search

Thoughts on Music (Steve Jobs)

Electric Slide Creator Filing Copyright Infringement Suits Left and Right

The rapid spread of user created content

Inside Views: What’s Ahead For IP And The Music Industry – Interview with Jacqueline Charlesworth, National Music Publishers’ Association

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3 thoughts on “Remixing the Future of Copyright: Pam Samuelson at Yahoo”

  1. I totally agree, copyright law in this country is broken. If the big companies had their way there would be no such thing as fair use and we would have to pay them just to think about the books we read, music we write, and movies we watch. At least the internet is forcing them to rethink their business model if they want to stay in business at all.

  2. Hi copyright is crazy,

    Digital media threw quite a wrench in the business models of many businesses.

    Copyright is supposed to be something that spurs innovation instead of squelching it. It has gotten ugly. 🙁

  3. I agree with your assessment but I also think the internet will play a huge role in reforming copyright law. Already we are seeing companies forced to reconsider their business model thanks to the internet. Just look at site like or youtube, now the TV and movie industries have adapted somewhat to the changes. But they still have a long way to go.

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