Copyright, mass use and exclusivity

On the industry initiated limitations to copyright exclusivity, especially regarding sound recording and broadcasting

The study concentrates on the introduction and background motive of technology related change of copyright law as reflected mainly in the Berne Convention due to the technological and economic necessities experienced in the early 20th century. The purpose of this study is to understand a development which has led to the adaptation of licensing regimes that are not based on traditional exclusivity approach.

Voice recording, broadcasting, rebroadcasting, and photocopying serve as main examples of the development. Also the impact of internet and mobile technologies are discussed. The method is based on institutional theory of law, and makes broad use of both economic analysis and historical documentation.

The problem of the legislator's choice on how to structure copyright law between the two alternatives, exclusive property or liability approach, has risen constantly throughout the 20th century. The main conflict of interest seems to be between the exclusive right of the copyright holder, and the interests of users, that is, both the commercial and end users. The secondary use of copyright material is a rapidly growing form of copyright use. This creates controversies arising in that particular field of commercial use.

Exclusivity is often regarded as the essence of copyright. However, the development of communication technology has allowed new forms of use that are not as well directly controllable by the relevant parties as was the publishing and sale of books. The new technology-enabled phenomenon is mass use in its different forms. Mass use means use of copyright protected works in large quantities in a manner that is either impossible or prohibitively costly to trace, identify and bill. This development which is common to practically all technological innovations of the 20th century questions the accuracy of the exclusivity approach to copyright.

This study explores technology related change of the copyright institution, and how copyright is developing from a system based on exclusivity towards a system of compensation increasingly adopting elements of compulsory - that is, involuntary - licensing and its variants. Secondly, on a more general level, the study attempts to formulate a conclusion concerning the impact of technological change on copyright.

Exclusivity remains the theoretical and logical starting point of copyright legislation and nearly any analysis of copyright, scientific or within legal practice. Anyhow, the 20th century development has introduced a new set of regulations attempting to limit overly powerful legal positions and thus to protect interests relating to development of new technologies and businesses. This has largely taken place by some form of compulsory licensing. The broad use of platform fees is an illustration of this development in its extreme. The origin of this development is in the belief to scientific progress and innovation in the early 20th century (the development motive).

The study suggests that a more coherent approach towards copyright may be reached by studying copyright as a system of compensation, rather than a system of full control of the use of copyright protected matter. This also corresponds to the evolving set of beliefs of the copyright ideology. Exclusivity has not disappeared from the overall picture, but shall be reserved to those forms of use where it is applicable. That is, where copyright is directly controllable by the author or other copyright holder without prohibitive overall consequences as to other right holders, users, businesses, or the society.


Doctoral dissertation by Mikko Huuskonen, May 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law, Department of Private Law and IPR University Center, Hanken.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Apr 2016
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