August 4, 2004  ·  Tim Wu

So today copyright scholar Joe Liu at Boston College asked a room full of law professors an interesting question. What did we think copyright would look like in 8 years? Here were some of the main categories of predictions (some contradict):

1. Primarily a criminal regime (remember when copyright was considered civil law?)
2. Focused on control of the design of hardware & software (in the model of the Broadcast Flag) to prevent infringement ex ante;
3. A regime dedicated to preserving the retail market and revenue streams for 4 discs: (CDs, DVDs, Software CDs, and Video-Game CDs), having given up on nearly everything else;
4. Made in WIPO or the FCC as often as the U.S. Congress;
5. Gone (not a good bet).

Any others?

  • mark

    gone, a year before it still served as a criminal law to lock up large groups of pirates and confiscating their equipment, after that there was one standard introduced with which all ‘filetransfers’ (the words ‘broadcasting’/'e-mailing’/'phoning’/(shouting?) became obsolete) have to comply. The sender attaches its conditions, and because of DMCA-like legislation there is no role for copyright.
    Now if you have an Orwellian vision, then the single standard will benefit only the state (/ruling class) and stifle innovation, but in theory there might be possibilities for a standard that allows for starters to use this and attach their (Creative Commons-like) conditions. If the rulemakers are realistic and want DMCA-like legislation to be enforcable (and presuming no true dictatorship is aspired), then they better make the standard open (accessible) enough that diversity of content and participationpossibilities of ‘consumers’ are widely available.
    /what will happen in parallel universums I do not know.

  • Alexander Wehr

    i think there will be evolution.

    first, i think there will be adoption of criminal regimes because of the continuous propaghanda remeniscent of that used to push for prohibitiion.
    Then, there will be statutes which are struck down because they are unconstitutional and deny due process, which will then be replaced by statutes which will have about the same effect as those to enforce prohibition.
    Finally, god knows precisely when, there will be an admission that the war against person to person exchange of works is not bearing fruit like it’s supposed to, and it will either be left as is and ignored as an issue, or maybe there will be constructive steps taken toward a more collective and participatory copyright regime.

  • John S.

    Regarding #3 —

    I would not be surprised to see the physical discs go away completely in favor of a subscription/on-demand model. This may be more than 8 years away though, depending on how much bandwidth is awailable by then.

  • Lis Riba

    I’m growing more and more fearful that we’re heading down the road to the first option — copyright as a criminal affair.

    Did anybody else hear the Stargate fan site where the FBI spent years and actually used provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act to get records on behalf of the studios?

  • th0m

    I think that a sharing culture will evolve. Those that embrace it will become specific and enriched pockets of culture. I see this already happening in BitTorrent… yes there’s the major mad-grab types on places like Suprnova, but there’s specialty boards that feed a specific community. For “indie rock” there’s mp3 blogs, and …

    Perhaps gradually the focus on live performance and the style/art of the content itself will spread through social networks… the shift will go straight to what the RIAA more or less already does, which is say that if an artist wants to make money, they’ll go to shows. I’m not talking $50 shows either, but every week $10 cover at the local place, but regional factions will thrive for those that embrace a sharing mentality. There will continue to be the handful with the 60-75% stake, and they will thrive on CD sales, but perhaps they will learn to “aggregate” the regional buzz through blogs and .torrent popularity. This is a very tracable statistic.

    This also happening for .torrents that are Television Shows, Pornagraphy (always driving new media!), movies, live concerts, software, anime, … you can now find a message board community that follows and feeds each of these.

    Video blogging is also emerging… between WebJay and the fresh video that is provided on (like MOSAIC).. I think free-for-download moving images will follow the same trends… regionality.

    I think that in the massive unsoliticed nature of p2p, those starving for better, lasting connections will be drawn to more all-encompassing communities. The law will have to just be on the side of the corporations if they must, but the public content chatter will truly have a survival of the fittest, and will die once it attempts to be controlled…

    Perhaps I’m an optimist, but it sure does seem that the flat-out rampant and viral nature of culture will survive damn near any law or technology. It’s umm… a distributed denial of copy rights? That cat has been out of the bag since I went to Commadore user groups for me.

    Take care!


  • Chris Brand

    I think a lot depends on what happens outside the US.
    Already we have Brazil standing up to US pressure in WIPO.
    Once we start to see the US losing its competitive advantage because other regimes allow more innovation, things will start to change in the US.
    Whether that will be within 8 years, though, I don’t know.

  • Erica

    To Lisa, re the SG1 Archive:

    There’s apparently more to that story than just what the archive owner lists on his site – though it still doesn’t seem like an ideal way for law enforcement to behave. The DOJ, for example, issued a short press release with info that the Archive doesn’t share.

    FWIW, as a member of the broader fan community, there’s a lot of suspicion amongst fans of the Archive owners, especially regarding what they’re doing with their donations to their legal defense fund. And there have been independent allegations that the Archive doesn’t always ship the items it legitimately sells.

    Significant further discussion of the issue here.

  • Alexander Wehr

    I seriously doubt subscription services will reign.

    Nobody in my up and comming generation wants to even touch those online drm stores.

    People are not dupes. That kind of model is the “pay per use” these companies want.

  • Tim Wu

    From Tim Wu:

    The point of (3) is that, in fact, the physical disk model will likely be defended to the death, because it creates a good, reliable revenue stream.

  • Dean Marlettsmith

    We will all publish our web logs & sites from free Iraq. US threatens to invade them for allowing us crimminally to comment on copyrighted material.

  • Frank Pasquale

    I think a lot depends on the future of a) judicial acceptance of shrinkwrap licenses, b) the diffusion of anti-anti-circumvention devices, and c) whether courts recognize fair use involving b) as a limitation of liability under the DMCA (ala Sony).

    a) Licenses will basically supersede copyright if all internet/shrinkwrap form contracts are recognized. At that point all we can hope for is some resistance from consumers in the form of counter-offers specifying looser terms. I doubt that will ever develop on a widespread basis.

    b) and c): If MaryBeth Peters & the copyright lobby is able to convince Congress to legislatively undo Sony, the darker scenarios mentioned above seem very likely. (Julie Cohen’s recent piece on “Normal Discipline” explains the likelihood of this future very convincingly.) There will be a world of perfect control, and the darknet, with the latter shrinking as law enforcement steps up.

    My only hope in the dystopian scenario sketched by Cohen is that something like traditional “fair use” norms will persist via things like the creative commons license among academics, indie artists, open-source software programmers, etc.

    Finally, I hope that copyrightholders, like the tobacco industry, will see the benefits of massive government regulation and endorse Terry Fisher’s alternative compensation scheme. They would then basically get a utility-style “reasonable rate of return” business model, which could be tweaked quite progressively by the right governing board. ASCAP for me is a model in this regard. I’m trying to organize a panel at my law school (Seton Hall) on this topic in the Winter.