The answer lies in the copyright statute's "fair use" clause, which allows for duplication of certain works for home or classroom use. It's still unclear how to interpret the fair use clause in light of MP3, which allows users to record songs for their personal use, like with audio tapes, but which can also be used by sophisticated music pirates.
In yet another irony, the same technology that's made it possible for people to quickly and easily download music files may eventually help solve the copyright infringement problem, said Solveig Singleton, director of information policy at The Cato Institute think tank. "People won't be as likely to try and circumvent the digital controls on copyrighted CDs if it's much cheaper to buy them online" than in a music store, Singleton said. Other scenarios have emerged that fit no clear legal pattern.
When Warner Bros. Online discovered that the NBC-owned portal site Snap.com had added a section about the Rosie O'Donnell show (a Warner Brothers property) it didn't raise any eyebrows at first. Then WB officials noticed that the "Rosie O'Donnell" search results brought up automatically in the section included pornography sites featuring the word "Rosie."
"Does a search engine count as 'fair use'?" asked a Warner Bros. Online spokesman, who added "Can NBC sell ads for its own content over our material" or material ostensibly linked to WB-owned property that is in fact a porn site? At a conference on the convergence of the entertainment and technology industries, held in California last month, Hollywood executives fretted over how to maintain control over their works in the digital age.
The same digital technologies that have ushered in a special effects revolution have taken much of the control away from the artists and producers behind films, director Don Petrie said at the EnterTech show.
Petrie, director of films such as "Mystic Pizza" and "Grumpy Old Men," said he fears not only piracy, but the fact that digital technologies will let people all across the distribution chain actually alter the artistic product. "As a content creator, I'm scared s---less" about the new questions raised by the technologies, he said. "I know what the airline version of 'Grumpy Old Men' looks like."