From Betamax to Youtube – How Copyright Laws Have Impacted Innovation

The Sony Betamax case may be familiar to some readers of this blog. The US Supreme Court ruling first elaborated the concept of ‘substantial non-infringing use’ as applied to the sale of technologies which could enable piracy or copyright infringement. In many ways, this ruling and the rationale behind it have been applied to subsequent technologies and regulations around these technologies – from p2p filesharing, to, most recently, online content hosting platforms. The Betamax and its history should be carefully studied to understand the impact that laws, specifically copyright law, can have on the development and usage of technologies and innovation.

At Medianama, I wrote a short riff on this subject, examining the relationships between the three-and-a-half decade old Betamax case and the recent regulatory attempts around restricting the use of technologies through measures like the new EU Copyright Directive or India’s draft Intermediary Liability Rules. My opinion, encompassed in the concluding paragraph –

“The Betamax ruling allowed innovation in content sharing technologies without requiring creators to monitor the use of their technology, or fearing that they will be liable for its misuse. Yet, as our technical ability to create and share evolves, our laws seem to be regressing from this standard. The choice for the future is clear – we can either side with this legal tradition, or place legal shackles on our ability to create, share and innovate.”

The full piece is available at Medianama, here.



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