Copyright Law in the Digital Environment

AuthorRonan O'Leary
PositionBCL, LLB candidate, UCC
Copyright Law in the Digital Environment
Ronan O’Leary*
Copyright law seems to have drifted away from finding a balance
between the rights of authors and the public interest in the availability of
works. Authors now have almost absolute control over their works and the
information therein, with narrowly defined, limited rights being given to the
public. This is especially true in the digital environment. There is very little
interference from regulatory bodies so private parties are free to restrict
access to information in almost any way, which allows them to maximise
profits. This essay will discuss some of the current problems with copyright
law in the digital environment and will use the topic of databases to illustrate
some of the effects of the underlying trend, which seems to favour the
As Jessica Litman notes, ‘current copyright law is based on a model
devised for print media, and expanded with some difficulty to embrace …
digital media.’1 However, two issues arise when traditional copyright ideas are
applied to the digital environment. Firstly, digitally created copies are
potentially perfect substitutes for the original works. Many copies can be
produced at a low cost compared to previously when very few people had the
means to engage in large scale copying. Secondly, in order to access work in
the digital environment, such as viewing web pages on the Internet or running
a computer programme, it is necessary for the computer to temporarily
reproduce and store them in the memory of the computer. In Europe,
attempts have been made to address the second issue through Article 5(1) of
Directive 2001/29/EC,2 but these issues illustrate how the whole area of
access to information has been revolutionised by the Internet. It has removed
many of the physical barriers to dissemination of information. Should this
mean that stakeholders in the copyright industry should get increased
protection? That seems to be what is happening as can be seen in the USA
with the Copyright Term Extension Act 1998, The Digital Millennium
Copyright Act 1998,3 the White Paper of the Clinton administration and most
recently the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Bill
2004. In Europe a series of directives (such as the Software Directive,4 the
* BCL, LLB candidate, UCC
1 J Litman ‘Revising Copyright Law for the Information Age’ [1996] Oregon L Rev 19, 19.
2 Council Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May
2001 on the Harmonisation of Certain Aspects of Copyright and Related Rights in the
Information Society (hereinafter the Infosoc Directive).
3 The Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 (hereinafter the DMCA).
4 Council Directive 91/250/EEC of 14 May 1991 on the Legal Protection of Computer

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