Could a collaborative economy turn copyright law on its head? | Image Credit: nemo
Last week we introduced Collen IP’s new white paper on ‘Branding in the Collaborative Economy‘ with a promise to dig deeper into each of its five areas.
Today we cover copyright; using and licensing the exclusive rights to your intellectual property in a collaborative economy.
Download the full white paper to understand best practices for your business on this topic.
The Conflicting Goals of Copyright and Collaboration
While copyright is designed to cement monetization through a temporary monopoly granted to one owner, a collaborative economy monetizes what it offers through sharing over ownership. As such it is difficult to conceptualize the role of copyright in a collaborative economy.
For example, trading promotional copies or free digital downloads of a song has become a standard way for music artists to gain recognition. In this sense, collaborative content serves as a marketing tool to build word of mouth, gather positive feedback, or promote previewing.
Even so, the ultimate goal has always been to give content away in order to secure outright sales. This has been a struggle for the music industry as a whole, which is still trying to claw back lost sales from the ownership years.
From this example, the collaborative economy leads us to three essential questions about copyright:
1) Is the current copyright law relevant and useful?
2) In a collaborative environment, how can copyright owners enforce their copyrights in a sharing economy?
3) Can copyright owners engineer ‘sharing’ in a collaborative economy?
Shaping Copyright to the Collaborative Economy Environment
Current copyright laws present serious obstacles to sharing. At the same time, the online market now allows new and unknown artists to publish and republish as never before. In so doing, they are testing the boundaries of current law and endeavoring to stretch the current defenses to copyright infringement.
Like most IP rights, copyright law seeks a balance between the limited monopoly granted to creators, and the right of the public to access creative endeavors. Once the copyright owner has made its initial lawful sale, the ‘First Sale Doctrine’ takes over to permit secondhand sales by the buyer. Extending this concept to also permit ‘sharing’ of the goods purchased by an original consumer seems logical.
Zipcar has become a prime exponent of the collaborative economy | Image Credit: Danny Robinson
A “sharer” in the collaborative economy might seek to use an image of a lawfully obtained copyrighted work when offering it for “sharing,” citing the Fair Use Doctrine. This type of use, however, does not usually fall under any of the acceptable purposes for fair use: research, teaching or criticism. Still, the Fair Use Doctrine faces possible expansion in the collaborative economy.
The very purpose of copyright – to foster and reward creativity – is related to questions of sharing. From copyright’s inception, legislators considered how to reward the creator while encouraging sharing. Today, this dilemma illustrates the thick tension between the existing law and generational values that favor collaboration. Indeed, human nature often wants to say “what’s yours should be shared; what’s mine is mine.”
In reality, the goal of ownership will likely not become irrelevant in the collaborative economy. Copyright law may adapt to collaboration either through court interpretations or legislative efforts. In the meantime, copyright owners and the marketplace can drive the collaborative movement with innovative licenses.