Intellectual Property

You'd like to move the tracks you bought from Rhapsody to a personal stereo like Apple's iPod, but the copy protection prevents you. Creating or using the software necessary to make the switch could put you behind bars.

You want to distribute your hip hop band's music, but the P2P system that's revolutionized your ability to reach listeners is being sued out of existence, a company claiming to own a patent to all streaming media technology is demanding licensing fees, and record labels are breathing down your neck over the samples you've looped.

You want to criticize Vivendi Universal on your website or blog, but the plug's been pulled on your "vivendisucks" domain name because of its unflattering reference to the company's trademark.

You want to build an open-source video recorder, but threats of a "broadcast flag" technology mandate are driving the TV tuners you need off the market.

In each of these instances and many more, your freedom runs up against intellectual property (IP). IP serves important public purposes: encouraging creativity (copyrights) and innovation (patents and trade secrets) and protecting the public from being defrauded by misleading advertising (trademarks). At the same time, IP must be carefully limited to protect your rights to create, access, and distribute information, as well as to develop new ways to do so.

In the move from analog to digital, offline to online, this delicate balance is becoming dangerously tilted, as legislators, courts, and IP holders push for ratcheting up IP rights.

EFF fights to preserve balance and ensure that the Internet and digital technologies continue to empower you as a consumer, creator, innovator, scholar, and citizen.

Freedom to Innovate

Innovation The Internet and general-purpose computers have unleashed extraordinary innovation, but some claimants are wielding IP to stifle new development. For instance, illegitimate, over-broad patents threaten software and Internet applications you use every day. Acacia says you can't stream audio or video without a license. Ideaflood wants Livejournal (and other sites) to pay for the right to give you a web address with your name in it. Having stolen obvious, unoriginal "inventions" from the public domain, these companies and others threaten small businesses and individuals — those least able to defend themselves against bogus claims. Through our Patent Busting Project, EFF is collecting evidence to challenge the worst offenders while documenting the damage being done.

Free Speech and Academic Freedom

Imagine if you couldn't include excerpts from your sources in your research reports, or you couldn't include a quote from a politician in your editorial about an election. Despite strong legal protection for these types of activities, copyright can still have a chilling effect on your free speech and academic inquiry.

For instance, only a year prior to the 2004 presidential elections, a group of students and activists published on the Internet internal memos suggesting that electronic-voting machine manufacturer Diebold knowingly distributed flawed e-voting machines. When Diebold used specious copyright claims to force people to take the memos down, EFF fought backsuccessfully defending the publishers and winning damages for copyright abuse.

Consumer Rights

You bought the CD or DVD, and that means you own it, right? But copyright holders are now using digital rights management (DRM) – sometimes misleadingly called "copy protection" – to take away your rights under copyright law and sell them back to you.

In one case, major movie studios used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to sue 321 Studios, which created software that enabled you make back-ups of lawfully purchased movies. 321 Studios went out of business, and a tool for making fair-use copies went with it. If you want a back-up, you have to buy another DVD.

Creative Freedoms

Creative Freedoms The idea of copyright law is that, after a time, every work comes back into the hands of the public, where it can be reused, recycled, and made part of new creativity without the artist having to pay a fee or call in the lawyers. Yet some copyright holders act as though copyright is both permanent and boundless, pressing claims that threaten even traditionally protected activities like making a parody. These claims strip-mine the public domain, robbing the next generation of artists of rich source materials for creativity.

In one case, the rightsholder for Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" threatened web animation studio JibJab over its popular "This Land" animated parody. But it turns out JibJab should never have been dragged into court in the first place. Not only is the parody clearly fair use, EFF uncovered evidence that the classic folk song has already fallen into the public domain – meaning it's free for anyone to use.

The Global Agenda for IP

Negotiating IP rights on the global level brings with it the same need for balance we discuss above, along with a host of uniquely international issues. In intellectual property treaties, trade agreements, and cross-border conflicts, it's critically important to take into account the divergent needs and interests of developed and developing nations. EFF has been participating in World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) meetings to discuss the "Development Agenda," an initiative to require WIPO to consider the impact of its decisions on public interest and development goals rather than pursue IP for its own sake.