Core copyright industries contribute over one trillion dollars to the U.S. GDP and provide some 5.4 million jobs. Human ingenuity is driving this growth, experimentation, competition and innovation, all of which flourish under the protections of copyright. But unfounded assertions that copyright stifles innovation is threatening the entrepreneurial spirit. Without the certainty and flexibility that copyright law provides, entrepreneurs will be wary of taking risks, fearful that their investments will never pay off.
Some who seek to minimize copyright protections advocate for applying the first sale doctrine to purely digital content. The first sale doctrine allows individuals to sell their physical copies of books, CDs, etc. that contain copyrighted material. It is important to keep in mind, however, that when consumers buy digital products like CDs and DVDs, they are buying a license to use the copyrighted material under certain restrictions; they are not buying the copyrighted material itself. If the first sale doctrine was applied to purely digital content, like song downloads, it would allow for infinite copies to be made without compensating their creators. Incentives to create new and diverse content would rapidly shrink, harming the creators and consumers alike.
Additionally, some seek to eliminate the application of statutory damages in cases dealing with individual file-sharers and secondary liability for large-scale online infringement. They cite a few cases where plaintiffs were given large awards, and claim that it will chill innovation. But the reality is that in those cases the defendants were guilty of massive copyright infringement. Juries have the discretion to award the plaintiff a range of damages according to the particulars of the case, which can be as low as a few hundred dollars. Property rights are only valuable if holders can enforce them.
The online explosion of legitimate sources of content as well as services, apps and devices that deliver the content debunk the fallacy that copyright law stifles innovation. The government must continue to enforce intellectual property rights to assure innovators and distributors that thieves won’t benefit from their work.