Ownership is an intricate concept with multiple pitfalls, exceptions, changes, traps and loopholes. Especially as society converges towards a vastly digital age, the definition and application of ‘ownership’ is important to grasp. Ownership is often used interchangeably with copyright; however, the two have very different implications.
Back in 1886, when the internet was still written on paper, a multilateral agreement was signed at the Berne Convention. Its purpose was to set the same guidelines for copyright globally, but America didn’t sign. This meant that the US made its own laws through bilateral agreements, making the standardisation less than successful.
When it comes to the infringement of copyright, the boundaries can be pretty obscure. A lot of the time, precedents set by past court cases are used to decide how to approach new breaches. This puts a lot of attention on the early defining cases to set the standards, and pressures future decisions to follow suit. Without the unified rules, countries differ in what they classify as legal. In Australia, the internet service provider iinet was ruled to be not responsible for its users’ infringement of copyright. Recently, the Netherlands, who had previously banned ISP’s from allowing access to ‘The Pirate Bay’, have ended the blockade. In the UK, similar bans are in place, with differing views on the effectiveness of the method. It’s easy to see that ownership is a highly contested issue.
Clearly, there is opposition to piracy and copyright infringement in every medium; but where does the responsibility lie? Depending on where you are, it could be the ISP, but it most often comes to not only the user of a website, but the owner as well. The creators of Pirate Bay were imprisoned in Sweden for internet piracy. The service is obviously criminal, but continues to operate by securing its servers in the cloud. Yet sites like YouTube have to operate above reproach if they want to avoid prosecution; using highly sophisticated systems, such as YouTube’s Content ID, to avoid copyright infringement.
The way we are consuming content has drastically evolved, and it will continue to change. ‘Ownership’ now has to keep up.