The next new technology to threaten copyright owners was the photocopy machine. With this invention, every user became a potential copyright infringer, and the question of fair use got a workout. The first significant legal battle pitted a publisher of medical journals against US government libraries, and after a protracted battle up to the Supreme Court, which gave its decision in 1975, the libraries successfully defended their right to make copies of journal articles. If libraries could do it on a large scale, then what about individuals? The 1976 revision of the copyright act gave copyright owners the exclusive right to control reproduction of their work (with a specific exception for libraries), but the prospect of policing individuals raised both practical and privacy concerns. It was even difficult to police the sort of large-scale copying that was clearly illegal: Music publishers, for example, had to contend with the copying of music by choirs.
Easy private copies were soon to have counterparts in the audio and video areas. The next fight centered on the videocassette recorder. In 1976, a movie studio, Universal, sued Sony over its Betamax machine, claiming that home taping would cut into its profits. After seven years in the courts, the Supreme Court finally held for Sony in 1983. It would take almost another decade before creators got any kind of relief from consumers making private copies. That was kicked off by the introduction of digital audio taping technology in 1986, which raised the threat of machines that could make copies of copies with no deterioration in the sound. Another long wrangle finally produced the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. This law required that Serial Copy Management System (SCMS) controls be incorporated in digital audio equipment sold in the United States, so that the machines could make a copy of a prerecorded tape, but not a copy of a copy. What is more, manufacturers of blank digital audiotapes and digital audiotape equipment paid a statutory levy, which was to be distributed to the creators, artists, and record companies who made the recordings. Several funds were created for this purpose.
Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson