Copyright is a bundle of rights granted to the creators of literary, artistic, and scientific works such as books, music, films, or computer programs. Copyright, as one of the most controversial areas of communication law and policy, has always been the subject of political contention; however, debates surrounding the subject have reached new levels of controversy since the 1990s as a result of the new formats of creative works made possible by digital media, and as a result of the new practices of authorship, creativity, consumption, collaboration, and sharing that have arisen in light of networking and social media. Technological change has not been the only driving force of change; social and political change, including changing concepts of authorship, the recognition of the rights of women and indigenous peoples, and the changing structures of international relations and international civil society, have also been reflected in copyright law. Copyright policymaking has become an increasingly internationalized affair. Forum-shifting has contributed to the proliferation of regional and international copyright policymaking forums under the rubric of stand-alone intellectual property institutions such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as well as under institutions dedicated more broadly to international trade negotiations. Communication scholars and others have contributed extensively to the field of copyright and intellectual property law. Communication scholars have made significant contributions in examining the cultural significance, political economy, history, and rhetoric of copyright, drawing on diverse fields that include cultural studies and critical political economy. Communications scholars’ influence in the field of copyright scholarship has been significant.
The critical study of cultural and creative industries involves the interrogation of the ways in which different social forces impact the production of culture, its forms, and its producers as inherently creative creatures. In historical terms, the notion of “the culture industry” may be traced to a series of postwar period theorists whose concerns reflected the industrialization of mass cultural forms and their attendant marketing across public and private spheres. For them, the key terms alienation and reification spoke to the negative impacts of an industrial cycle of production, distribution, and consumption, which controlled workers’ daily lives and distanced them from their own creative expressions. Fears of the culture industry drove a mass culture critique that led social scientists to address the structures of various media industries, the division of labor in the production of culture, and the hegemonic consent between government and culture industries in the military-industrial complex. The crisis of capitalism in the 1970s further directed critical scholars to theorize new dialectics of cultural production, its flexibilization via new communications technologies and transnational capital flows, as well as its capture via new property regimes. Reflecting government discourses for capital accumulation in a post-industrial economy, these theories have generally subsumed cultural industries into a creative economy composed of a variety of extra-industrial workers, consumers, and communicative agents. Although some social theorists have extended cultural industry critiques to the new conjuncture, more critical studies of creative industries focus on middle-range theories of power relations and contradictions within particular industrial sites and organizational settings. Work on immaterial labor, digital enclosures, and production cultures have developed the ways creative industries are both affective and effective structures for the temporal and spatial formation of individuals’ identities.
Copyright exceptions and limitations in the United States have experienced dynamic evolution in light of new technological developments. There has been significant legal debate in the courts and in the United States Congress about the scope of the defense of fair use. The copyright litigation over Google Books has been a landmark development in the modern history of copyright law. The victory by Google, Inc., over the Authors Guild in the decade-long copyright dispute is an important milestone for copyright law. The ruling of Leval J emphasizes that the defense of fair use in the United States plays a critical role in promoting transformative creativity, freedom of speech, and innovation. The Supreme Court of the United States was decisive in its rejection of the Authors Guild’s efforts to challenge the decision of Leval J. There has been significant debate in the United States Copyright Office and United States Congress over the development of “the Next Great Copyright Act.” Hearings have taken place within the United States Congressional system about the history, nature, and future of the defense of fair use under United States copyright law. There remains much debate about the internationalization of the defense of fair use, and the need for the trading partners of the United States to enjoy similar flexibilities with respect to copyright exceptions. There has been concern about the impact of mega-regional trade agreements—such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership—upon copyright exceptions, such as the defense of fair use.