Copyright and Plagiarism in 2016 (And 2015)

Fireworks ImageAt this time last year, we took a look back at 2014 and then looked ahead to some of the themes I anticipated seeing in 2015.

However, rather than make two separate posts, I’ve decided to condense both the reflection and crystal ball gazing into one post. This is both to save time and to acknowledge the simple fact that all of my future predictions are rooted very firmly in what has already happened.

After all, any prediction has to be made based upon what has happened in the past.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a quick moment to look at what happened in 2015 and then cast our gaze forward to some of the things we can expect to see in 2016.

5 Copyright and Plagiarism Keys from 2015

When looking back at any extended period of time, it can be difficult to pick out themes and shifts because there’s so much conflicting data. Much like reading tea leaves, finding themes in copyright and plagiarism is trying to find patterns in randomness, finding some commonality in the actions of countless individuals acting in their own interests.

Still, when one steps back from it, there are a few common themes that do emerge, even if they are only loose ones that sometimes defy definition or explanation.

  1. What is Copyrightable Anyway?: Most of the big copyright stories from 2015 centered around what can be protected under copyright. Whether it was Blurred Lines and the protection of the “feel” of a song, The Batmobile being considered a character, Happy Birthday to You losing its copyright claimants, Yoga Poses being ruled non-copyrightable (just like chiropractic procedures) or any of the other dozens of cases in the same vein. The boundaries of copyrightability were poked and prodded at by courts all over the country with some very mixed results.
  2. The Royalty Revolt: 2015 was the year that musicians and songwriters made a tremendous push to get more royalties from streaming music services. The highlight of the year was a Copyright Royalty Board ruling that slightly raised rates for services like Pandora but there were plenty of other battles to be had. SoundCloud settled a royalty lawsuit that also began in 2015, Pandora signed a deal with ASCAP and BMI and, at the end of the year, Spotify was sued for $150 million over unpaid royalties. However, some of the most interesting royalty fights took place over pre-1972 sound recordings, which are not federally protected and had been widely streamed without royalties being paid to performers. This included a big settlement involving Sirius XM and another involving Pandora.
  3. Smaller Creators Got Involved: Though copyright got personal in 2014 with a deluge of leaked nude photos, including leaks involving both celebrities and SnapChat users, copyright was still viewed largely as a problem for big companies to worry about. In 2015 that changed with some of the biggest copyright stories involving smaller creators such as popular YouTubers complaining about Facebook “freebooting”, Damn Interesting taking on a popular podcast over alleged plagiarism and Facebook users (incorrectly) trying to assert control over their content. In short, more and more Internet users are seeing themselves as content creators and consumers, changing the nature of the dialog.
  4. Repeat and Systemic Plagiarism: On the plagiarism front, 2016 was a year of people who got second chances after plagiarism scandals and then fell short. This includes Arizona State University professor Matthew Whittaker and Australian columnist Tanveer Ahmed. However, more disturbing was the stories of systemic plagiarism such as the tale of nearly 200 South Korean professors facing criminal charges for plagiarizing academic publications and a story that broke as the New Year was ringing in about 50,000 UK students accused of cheating. It seems that systemic cheating was worse than ever in 2015 and second chances even easier to come by.
  5. Globalization: Finally, as one might expect in the age of the Web, globalization was a big issue in 2015. The centerpiece issue of the year was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial treaty involving dozen different countries along the Pacific Rim that was signed in October after years of negotiation. Though primarily a trade agreement, there are several copyright harmonization elements to the treat, which are among the most controversial. Beyond that, there conversations about ending “geoblocking” within the European Union and, in the most prominent criminal copyright infringement case in some time, a New Zealand court ruled that former Megaupload head Kim Dotcom is eligible for extradition to the United States. As copyright becomes more global, these international issues are becoming even more crucial and more difficult to answer.

All in all, 2015 was a year where we tried to answer many of the biggest questions about copyright including what it protects and how it will work on a global level. However, for plagiarism, it was a year that raised a lot more questions, such as how do we deal with repeat plagiarists and how do we stop system plagiarism?

In short, it was an exciting year and one that will definitely be remembered for a long time to come.

Copyright and Plagiarism in 2016

With the book shut on 2015, it’s time to look ahead to 2016 and what we can likely expect in the coming year.

One thing I’ve learned from a decade of doing these analyses is just how unpredictable copyright and plagiarism can be. Overall, I’m probably battling closer to .500 with my predictions and I consider that a success.

However, there are a few storm clouds that are definitely brewing and looking to dump some serious rain on the field.

  1. Globalization Redux: The globalization issues are far from resolved. The TPP is signed but not ratified, Kim Dotcom’s extradition is far from final and the EU has only begun its debate on how it wants to shape its digital market. However, that is just the beginning, we’re seeing more and more international cooperation in copyright enforcement but also greater pressure for copyright portability and consistency. There may not be a new treaty on the horizon (other than the TPP) but copyright is going to become more and more an international issue this year.
  2. Unsafe Harbors: Perhaps the most obvious storm cloud, we’re heading for a major global clash on safe harbors and the questions of what responsibilities web hosts and intermediaries have when it comes to protecting copyright. In a recent case, US ISP Cox lost its safe harbor protection in a lawsuit against BMG. That resulted in them getting hit with a $25 million judgment. Musicians and filmmakers have called for “Takedown and Staydown” systems to replace the current “Notice and Takedown” on sites like YouTube, but YouTube responded instead by creating a fund to defend a small number of users from false notices. However, the biggest evidence of this particular storm cloud is that the U.S. Copyright Office has announced a review of safe harbor rules in the U.S. and is seeking public input. Expect a lot more on this front in 2016.
  3. Encryption Battles: One area where copyright and privacy advocates may be sharing the spotlight is the battle over encryption. With the recent battles over government spying, the use of encryption has taken center stage but encryption is used not just to protect private data, but copyright protected works. In the U.S., the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it largely illegal to break encryption on copyrighted works. However, new exemptions will take effect in 2016, including exemptions that allow tinkering with cars, phones and tablets as well as some video games when copyright protection makes legally-purchased games unplayable. However, we’re already seeing the beginning of this one with a lawsuit filed today over a device that can break encryption on 4K video. Expect to see a lot about encryption in 2016 and copyright to play a large part of that conversation.
  4. Leaks and Release Windows: Release windows, the releasing of movies and songs to various platforms at various times, have long been under fire. A recent massive movie screener leak not only saw several movies leaked on pirate sites before their appearance in movie theaters, but also are seeing films released before other windows, including the DVD one. Meanwhile Netflix, normally one of the later windows, will be releasing 16 new TV series on its service this year. With pressure on so many sides, it’s likely that we’ll see experimentation with release windows in 2016 beyond what we’ve seen in the past, with content creators seeking ways to either stretch or compress their release window timeframe.
  5. Focus on Plagiarism Policies: Finally, to turn to academic and professional plagiarism news, 2016 is shaping up to be a year where schools, businesses and even entire nations focus on and update their plagiarism policies. A lot of institutions have been caught flat footed when hit with plagiarism scandals including the Japanese Olympic Committee, the entire country of Romania (which is already considering reform) and South Korea with their recent prosecutions. Finally, there’s an awakening of organizations realizing that it could happen to them as well and slowly a movement is getting underway to start thinking about these issues in advance.

All in all, 2016 is shaping up to be a year with an eye further in the future, the topics that are beginning to look like they’ll be the center of conversation in 2016 likely won’t see full resolution until 2017 or later.

Not that there really every is full resolution in these types of debates.

Bottom Line

We are now entering my eleventh year running this site and every year has been eventful, though often for different reasons. Sure, not every year has matched the pitched insanity of 2012, but 2015 came pretty close with a controversial treaty, several major rulings and a lot of dialog.

But one additional prediction that I will make is that there will be at least one surprise. In 2015, we had the surprise that was the Blurred Lines decision, in 2014 we had the nude photo leak.

Something will happen in 2016 that will shock us and surprise us. That’s the nature of this industry and there is no way to predict what it will be, just know that it is almost certainly coming and to be ready for it when it happens.

Beyond that, I hope all of you had a great holiday season, a great New Year’s and are looking forward to an amazing 2016!

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