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Any form of literature, science, music, film, or computer program can be protected by copyright to prevent third parties from making copies without written permission. Copyright is the law of authorship and dates back to the Statute of Anne (1709) passed in England to protect the rights of authors and publishers from piracy. The law has been progressively elaborated in Europe and North America to grant copyright for a fixed term to the estate of deceased authors and protect authors from the violation of their rights through new technologies of reproduction and exchange.
The balance between the rights of authors and freedom of information is a delicate one and is regularly subject to legal challenge. In the USA the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech and a free press, has been used by litigants as the basis to contest the reach of copyright. The issue has escalated in legal and popular culture as new electronic technologies of reproduction and file sharing, such as the photocopier, home audiotape, videotape machines, and computers, have become available.
The Internet vastly increases the flow of data exchange and creates unprecedented challenges for policing and the application of copyright. Without a commercially viable system of monitoring file exchange, the integrity of copyright relies on the probity of Internet users. In the late 1990s the development of peer to peer (P2P) file exchange systems such as Napster seriously eroded the market share of record companies. This provoked a protracted and as yet unresolved series of legal disputes between P2P providers and copyright holders. The development of legal, fee-based download systems such as the Apple Music Store has been a partial solution to the problem.
- Goldstein, P. (2003) Copyright’s Highway. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.