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The Daily Tar Heel

Copyright law can be ®eally ©onfusing, but it doesn't have to be


Amanda Reid, professor in the UNC School of Media and Journalism, spoke at a luncheon Friday about copyright policy. 

Reid specializes in copyright law and the intersection between copyright and the First Amendment. She worked for media law company Holland & Knight before clerking for two federal judges. 

Reid said U.S. copyright law protects an original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. She believes it serves the purpose of promoting the progress of science. 

“Copyright is an instrumental tool. It’s a tool to achieve a purpose,” Reid said. 

When work is granted a copyright, the author of that work possesses exclusive rights, Reid said. This means other people cannot reproduce the work or make a derivative of it, such as creating a translation or making a book into a movie. Granting exclusive rights pushes people to create. 

“Exclusive rights are granted to incentivize, to promote the production and public dissemination of creative works,” Reid said. 

A copyright gives a creator the license to their creative works. The endgame of copyright is to generate more creative works that can be distributed. However, copyright can be seen in both a positive and negative light. It creates winners and losers in the marketplace, Reid said. 

“It also has the power to foster new business, but it can also be used as a tool to thwart it,” Reid said. 

Sony and Google are two companies that have experienced the hardships of copyright. Both companies litigated for almost a decade to see if their technology was allowed to even be on the market. Reid said the Supreme Court looked at Sony’s Betamax and determined there were non-infringing and infringing usages but more positive uses for the technology, so the court allowed it. The decision was later overruled by another decision, involving a similar situation with Grokster, a website for downloading music and movies. 

Copyright is easy to acquire and lasts until the author dies plus 70 years, which is how copyright locks out competition. This is particularly difficult for startups that fear destructive lawsuits which is unfortunate as most startups are the ones creating more innovations, Reid said.

“Startups are a big driver of innovation,” Reid said. 

Reid said she wants to recalibrate copyright policy and has three steps to do so. 

First, she said she wants to reduce uncertainty to encourage more innovation by eliminating statutory damages for innocent infringers and good faith users. 

“We need to protect expression and innovation by reducing the chill of uncertainty,” Reid said. 

Reid also wants to reinvigorate the Sony decision for non-infringing purposes. She wants the courts to see that technology can be used for good, because once it is off the market, it will never return. 

Lastly, Reid wants to readjust fair use analysis. Good faith fair users are protected by narrow rules, and Reid hopes to change that. 

“Fair use analysis should protect more broad uses, and they should only stop uses that undermine the incentive to create,” Reid said. 

Reid wants copyright to do what it was created for: encourage the progress of science. 

“I urge that courts and policy makers should err on the side of embracing new technology rather than curtailing it,” she said.

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