Digital Copyright

Digital Copyright, Maize Books University of Michigan Press, 2017, ISBN 978-1-60785-418-0

208 Pages Posted: 18 May 2017 Last revised: 25 May 2018

See all articles by Jessica Litman

Jessica Litman

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: April 1, 2017


I completed the original manuscript of Digital Copyright in 2000, two years after Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The 1976 Copyright Act was itself 24 years old, and beginning to show its age. The Internet, in contrast, was still new and shiny and scary, especially for legacy entertainment and information businesses and the copyright lawyers who represented them.

Seventeen years later, the Internet has become an essential feature of all of our lives and the copyright laws designed to tame it seem elderly and barnacle-encrusted. Remarkably, the legislative process that has made sensible copyright law reform all but impossible has stayed largely unchanged. Congress and the Copyright Office have recently launched what is billed as a comprehensive reexamination of copyright law with the goal of overhauling the law for the 21st century. It seems likely that these efforts will hew to the patterns of earlier copyright revision. Perhaps we stick with the tried and true approach to making copyright laws, even though it results in bad laws, because the process works so well for so many of the participants. Members of Congress can rely on affected industries to come up with broadly acceptable compromises, and to take on much of the burden of pressuring other interested groups to swallow them. Meanwhile, Senators and Representatives can continue to collect generous campaign contributions. The Copyright Office can be the center of attention as it plays a crucial role in managing the multilateral negotiations and interpreting their results to Congress. Copyright lobbyists and trade organizations can collect hefty fees from their members, in return for supplying them with laws that will give them competitive advantages against the next new thing, whatever it is. Because the laws that emerge from this process don’t work very well, meanwhile, everyone can look forward to another round.

Although the book is ancient in Internet time, people seem to have continued to read it. Now that it has finally gone out of print, I’m delighted to be able to make it more freely available under a Creative Commons license. In addition to the Afterword that I wrote for the 2006 paperback edition, I have included a postscript looking back briefly on what, if anything, we might have learned from the aftermath of the stories told in this book.

Postscript is available at:

Keywords: Copyright, Internet

Suggested Citation

Litman, Jessica, Digital Copyright (April 1, 2017). Digital Copyright, Maize Books University of Michigan Press, 2017, ISBN 978-1-60785-418-0, Available at SSRN:

Jessica Litman (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States


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