The Internet has given millions of people the capability to share information with each other with just the click of a button. People have grown accustomed to learning about current events, researching, and gathering information all through digital news sources. Unfortunately, the ease of the Internet has also created complications with regulating how users share that information. As technology rapidly advances, the legal limitations concerning intellectual property rights have become blurred, resulting in different interpretations of the Copyright Act of 1976. This has complicated user compliance and created difficult questions for the courts to answer based largely on law that was created before many of the capabilities of the Internet existed. There is a need for consistency and balance in this area of the law so that copyright owners are afforded adequate protection and the Internet can continue to serve as an information gathering, content sharing platform without fostering infringement.
Over the years, the Internet has become a vast space for people to create and view content shared by millions of Internet users. The abundance of content makes it nearly impossible to regulate everything that is posted. This has created a problem for authors, songwriters, and artists whose work is protected by copyright laws, because it has become increasingly easy for anyone to use, copy, and share copyrighted works that they do not have the right to use. Copyright law exists to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” While the Copyright Act clearly grants artists certain exclusive rights to their work, claims of infringement often cause courts to engage in subjective analyses that leave some areas of copyright protection unclear. This has been especially problematic with fanfiction. In Fanfiction, fans of existing books, movies and television shows used different elements of those works to write their own stories, which are often then posted on websites such as, fanfiction.net. Fanfiction raises questions of copyright infringement and whether online forums should be more strictly regulated to monitor compliance with copyright laws.
In the midst of countless sexual misconduct allegations against some of Hollywood’s most powerful people, on November 9, 2017, Los Angeles District Attorney, Jackie Lacey, issued a statement outlining a plan of action. A special task force of veteran sex crimes prosecutors has been assembled to ensure a “uniformed approach to the legal review and possible prosecution of any case that meets both the legal and factual standards for criminal prosecution.” The Beverly Hills and Los Angeles Police Departments are conducting investigations of the accused as a rapidly increasing volume of sexual misconduct allegations are reported. Law enforcement and the special task force prosecutors are faced with legal and factual difficulties before any sexual misconduct allegations are sufficient for criminal prosecution. The legal elements of the alleged crime, the specific facts of each allegation, the existence of physical evidence, and the remedies available to the victims, are among the many convoluted factors that will dictate the ongoing investigations and prosecution of the allegations that are flooding Hollywood.
Starting on January 1, 2013, Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 became a tool for songwriters and musicians to recapture control of their work that was registered with the United States Copyright Office on or after January 1, 1978. Who are they recapturing control from? Record companies. Songwriters own the copyrights in their work, but in making a deal with a record company to publish and promote the work, writers transfer those rights or license the work (only granting certain rights) to the company. Section 203 came into effect in 1977 and specifically concerns music created after 1978. (Music created prior to 1978 is governed by Section 304 of the Copyright Act.) Due to the limitations of Section 203, January 1, 2013, was the first opportunity for artists to terminate ownership of their songs and/or recordings from the record companies that previously owned them. Putting that into perspective, in 2017, artists that created the major hits of the 80’s (think AC/DC, Michael Jackson, and Journey) can file a notice of termination with record labels that were previously granted ownership rights at the time the music was created in an attempt to regain all control of their work. Issues with termination rights have caused quite the battle between record companies and musicians both publicly and privately. Those battles can become more complicated in cases with multiple writers, vague copyright agreements, and the death of musicians. As artists seek to exercise their termination rights, it will be interesting to see if and how the music industry will change.
It is no secret that streaming services have been a highly controversial issue in the entertainment industry in recent years. Artists from all over the world have been affected by the rise of music streaming; many believe it is no different than piracy. Nevertheless, Spotify is in fifty-eight countries, and the user base consists of over fifty million subscribers globally, with twelve and a half million paying subscribers. As Spotify has grown, questions have risen surrounding the rights that artists, producers, and writers have to their music that the public has access to through ‘streaming’. As technology advances, the music industry will continue to change. The recently filed lawsuits against Spotify show that this is an underdeveloped area of the law that needs to be explored. The decisions regarding Spotify’s streaming service and compliance with copyright laws will have major implications for not just Spotify, but the entire music industry.