Latham & Watkins Forum panelists discuss how copyright shapes technology innovation

Copyright law once mostly focused on works such as books, photographs, paintings, music, and films. Today, copyright is shaping the technologies being developed at Silicon Valley startups, often determining what platforms engineers can and can’t build. At a Latham & Watkins Forum on April 11, panelists discussed the nexus of innovation and copyright and how copyright will affect artificial intelligence.

Professor of Clinical Law Jason Schultz, professor of clinical law and director of NYU's Technology Law & Policy Clinic, moderated a discussion that included Samatha Fink Hedrick ’19, cyberlaw committee co-chair for the Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law Society; Fred von Lohmann, former director of copyright at Google; and Michael Weinberg, IP and general counsel at Shapeways.

Select remarks from the discussion:

Fred von Lohmann: “Why is television so radically different from YouTube, from Facebook, from all of the sort of media hosting platforms that have succeeded in the last 10 years, 15 years, 20 years?...Under traditional copyright law, if you broadcast something and you do not have permission from all the rights holders—every songwriter, every scriptwriter, every jingle composer—if you don’t have all those rights squared away, you as the broadcaster are liable under copyright law...Television is the velvet rope—nobody gets in unless you’ve got lawyers, insurance, and you’re vetted before you get to the door, right? That’s traditional copyright in a media world. …. The internet, thanks to the [Digital Millenium Copyright Act], is the bouncer. Everybody gets in the door, but if you misbehave, you get thrown out. And many of you have probably seen on YouTube and other hosted platforms, there are so-called ‘notice and take down’ [pages] where a copyright owner can complain that, ‘Hey, you don’t have permission to use my song,’ and once that complaint arrives, [the] content comes down. That difference, that single legally mediated difference, accounts, I would say, for almost all the difference in expression between YouTube and other hosted content platforms and the media that I grew up with.”

Michael Weinberg: “The world is full of things that are not protected by copyright. People have problems processing that concept.…. And so especially when you move from the sort of velvet rope world to the bouncer world, where you have people who are creating who aren’t backed up by giant legal departments doing their legal thinking for them, what their understanding of the rights universe looks like becomes super important. And understanding how to talk to those communities and set norms in those communities when copyright isn’t an available tool in a consistent way is, for me, just a very interesting space.”

Posted April 24, 2018.