Lightning Talk
CopyBuzz: How copyright is breaking the Internet

Short thesis

The Internet derives much of its power from the ability to make an unlimited number of copies and to distribute them globally for effectively zero cost. Copyright was invented for the analogue age, and is based on a right to restrict copying. This talk will examine the ways in which 18th-century copyright is breaking the 21st-century Internet; the latest threats to the online world as a result of proposals contained in a new EU Copyright Directive; and what to do about it.


Copyright was invented in an age when authors were rare, and copying was hard. Today, practically every action we take online involves creating and copying, both at a technical level, and in terms of how we use the Net, sending copies of photos, videos, messages and articles to friends and family. Although we do this without a thought, from a legal point of view, we are often infringing on copyright.

This is neither minor nor on a small-scale. In 2007, the US law professor John Tehranian considered the liability incurred for completely banal Internet activities during the course of a year in his paper "Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap." All told, the annual liability under US copyright law for just one person's routine use of the Internet amounted to several billion dollars. EU Net users have similar problems.

This talk will explore how we ended up in a situation whereby probably everyone online is committing acts of copyright infringement on a massive scale without realising it. It will look at how in recent years the copyright industry has continued to set the agenda for changes to the law. Instead of adapting copyright law for the digital age, to make it more fair, the publishing, recording and film industries have made it even worse, with serious implications for the Internet, censorship, surveillance and privacy.

Proposals contained in a new EU Copyright Directive threaten to tilt copyright law even more in favour of the industry, and to undermine key aspects of the Internet yet further. This talk will discuss a site called CopyBuzz, launched at re:publica, that aims to inform the public about these changes and to provide information on how the damage can be averted. The session will conclude with an opportunity for the audience to provide input on what CopyBuzz should cover, and what kind of resources would be useful for general Internet users to help them navigate the complex and often obscure world of copyright.