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International Copyright

Protection Of Copyright In The Digital Age

Protection of the interests of copyright owners and enforcement of their rights has become more difficult since the rise of INTERNET around the world. The World Wide Web, a component of the Internet, now consists of trillions of individual web pages, and according to some estimates, the number of Internet users has increased to more than 500 million.

The Internet has created a new avenue for copyright infringement on a global scale. Although virtually all types of works that are subject to copyright law can be transferred through digital networks, transfers of music recordings have received the most attention. A web-based company, Napster, during the 1990s became the most well-known and heavily used portal for transferring electronic files containing copies of music. Users of this system were capable of transferring copyrighted works in a format called MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) to their home computers, with a sound quality that was comparable to that of a compact disc. The musical compositions in most of these files were copyrighted, and owners of those copyrighted materials complained that the file transfers infringed their copyrights. The Recording Industry Association of America sued Napster, eventually prevailing and causing Napster to close down. Napster was not merely a phenomenon in the United States and North America. The company had an estimated 16.9 million worldwide users, and the system accommodated about 65 million downloads.

Domestic copyright law is limited in its protection of some of these works because the Copyright Act generally has no application outside of the United States. For example, in Subafilms, Inc. v. MGM—Pathe Communications Co., 24 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. 1994), U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit noted as much in holding that a copyright holder could not sue individuals who distributed the plaintiff's movies abroad, because the infringement occurred outside of U.S. soil. Although the Berne Convention, as well as such international intellectual property treaties as the Geneva Phonograms Convention and the Rome Convention, protect such copyrights, additional protection was needed.

In 1996, the World Trade Organization approved the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which requires member countries to provide certain levels of protection for copyright holders in their countries. Additional protection came in the form of so-called "digital treaties" approved by the World Intellectual Property Organization, including the Copyright Treaty and the Performance and Phonograms Treaty. Both of these treaties, which became effective in 2002, clarified and extended the Berne and TRIPS provisions by allowing copyright holders to encrypt their works in order to protect their rights.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Constituency to CosignerInternational Copyright - History Of The Berne Convention, The United States And The Berne Convention, Protection Of Copyright In The Digital Age