The use of copyrights and other legal protections to keep content from being misused have been evolving over quite some time. The United States has always valued the freedom of expression and the press. While this has influenced how document protection and information propriety has been handled, it was not until 1976 that the bulk of copyright law as we know it came to be. Here is a brief history of copyright law in the United States.
Copyright Act of 1790 – Protection for mass media stories such as newspapers and magazines, maps, books and other examples of the written word. Allowed copyrights to exist for 14 years, after which you could apply to extend for another 14 years. Later was increased to 28 years.
International Copyright Treaty of 1891 - Forbid any kind of reproductions with the increase of foreign entrepreneurs and rapidly accelerating printing technology. Shortly afterwards in 1909, amendments were added to allow organizations to hold copyrights. As corporations became regular fixtures of the United States, their creations had to be safeguarded from undue reproduction or defamation.
U.S. Copyright Act Amendments in 1976 – Introduction of “fair use”, meaning as long as profit isn't being infringed upon, media can be used for the purposes of criticism, education and news reportage.
Berne Convention of 1989 – Stated that media and content users must recognize the intellectual property laws of one nation even while operating in another. Also established the Universal Copyright Convention making it clear that the copyright symbol – © – denotes a file, type of content or media source is protected under international agreement.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 - Expanded upon the number of nations that were included in the international agreement and limited internet service provider (ISP) liability for digital copyright infringement.
With rapidly changing technologies, copyright laws will need to continue to evolve. However, even with these laws there will still plenty of threats to copyrighted content. There will always be people determined to access or duplicate media they shouldn’t regardless of the copyrights in place. Online piracy is a bigger issue than ever, and we've highlighted some important stats in our Infographic: No Big Deal? Copyright & Piracy Online.