Copyright Law Revision

November 14, 1975

Report Outline
Problems with the Present Law
Development of U.S. Copyright Law
Proposals for Updating Protection
Special Focus

Problems with the Present Law

Impact of Technological Advances on Copyright

Copyright protection, an issue long in the shadows, has been moved into the spotlight by technological advances that make the unauthorized duplication of literary and artistic works readily available to millions. An attempt now being made in Congress to revise the nation's copyright law has divided the scholarly community, aligning authors and publishers against librarians, teachers and researchers. Each side argues that the kind of copyright law it wants will best serve the interests of scholarship and public enlightenment. Still other arguments being voiced on behalf of individuals and groups, ranging from musicians to computer programers, further compound the problem of enacting a copyright law satisfactory to all parties and protective of the public interest.

The Constitution (Article I, Section 8) gives Congress the power “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.” Since enactment of the first federal copyright statute in 1790, Congress has revised the law three times, the last in 1909. Developments in photocopying, microphotography, computerized information storage and retrieval systems, microwave communications and cable television during the past few decades have underlined the need for a new revision.

Barbara Ringer, Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress' Copyright Office, stressed the need for a new law in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice on May 7, 1975. The 1909 statute now in effect, she said, “is essentially a 19th century copyright law, based on assumptions concerning the creation and dissemination of authors' works that have been completely overturned in the past 50 years. A 20th century copyright statute is long overdue in the United States, and the present need for a revised law that will anticipate the 21st century is so obvious as to be undeniable.”

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