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Who Manages Whose Rights? An Exploration of the Copyright Bargain in the Digital Age

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Copyright exists as a bargain between society and the creator. Over the last hundred years a series of changes to copyright legislation has progressively eroded the public's rights under the Copyright bargain, and strengthened those of the creators (or, more usually, the publishers and distributors). The advent of widespread access to high bandwidth digital networks has been used as an excuse to tip the balance of power still further in the favour of the rightsholders, simultaneously sacrificing large sections of the public domain. Digital Rights Management technology, improperly used, threatens to put the final nail in the coffin of fair dealing, or fair use, ofcopyrighted works, assisted by legislation allegedly implementing the WIPO Treaty on Copyright. This paper examines the current state of copyright in the UK, Europe and the United States, explores the societal minefield created by the amalgamation of rights management technology and recent copyright law, and suggests ways to reintroduce a fairer balance between the rights of the rightsholder and consumer.

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