When the Copyright Act first became law, the ideas of online publishing, digital media and peer-to-peer networks were beyond our imagination. So when each of those things became reality and it became clear that the law needed to catch up with technology, Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But in the time since then, copyright has stepped even further into the spotlight.
Napster and LimeWire have come and gone. The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America are not afraid to resort to the courts to prevent their members' content from being stolen. Viacom sued Google over copyright issues, and the resulting decision helped define the scope of the DMCA's safe harbor provisions.
More recently, Righthaven and its crusade against individual bloggers and small businesses have forced the courts to take a closer look at who can sue to enforce copyright, and the body of case law addressing fair use has grown. Further, lawmakers are considering even stronger copyright protections than those currently in place.
Copyright is certainly changing and as Ars Technica reported last month, that's the environment in which Maria Pallante takes the reins as the first new Register of Copyrights in 16 years. It seems like a lot to take in, but as she told Ars writer Nate Anderson:
I always start with the enforcement issues online because if there isn't effective enforcement possibility, then there is no meaningful exclusive right and then copyright doesn't work.
In other words, if copyright holders can't enforce exclusive rights in the first place, what's the point in trying to limit them or make exceptions thereto? That's what will be guiding Pallante as she takes the U.S. Copyright Office into as-yet-uncharted territory.