From Volume 77, Number 5 (July 2004)
The lawfulness of sharing copyrighted works has always been contested, but never so hotly as it is today. The marriage of digital technology and information products creates remarkable opportunities for digital file-sharing, and new disputes asking when copyright law should give copyright owners control over sharing of copies of their works. This Article broadens the terms of the sharing debate by recognizing that file-sharing is just one member of a diverse set of sharing behaviors that occur in copyright protected markets. Books and recorded movies are shared by lending – books are lent by public libraries at no charge, while movies are rented for a fee. Owners of copyrighted works often share their copies by performing them for an audience. The audience might be children listening to a bedtime story, friends watching a recorded movie together, patrons at a bar listening to recorded music, and so forth. Finally, users share many sorts of works via private reproduction using computers, video and audio recorders, photocopiers, and scanners.
Copyright law specifies a mixed pattern of rights over sharing. Copyright owners have worked effectively to exert control over many forms of sharing, but powerful business groups have defended users’ sharing rights as a means of increasing their profit. The two sides have wrestled in Congress and the courts over the scope of various copyright provisions, especially the fair use doctrine, the main arena for conflict over sharing rights and the main focus of this Article.