Copyright and innovation

“I look at internet as the new radio and radio as gone, piracy is the new radio: it’s how music gets around” — singer-songwriter Neil Young.

As such, Young explains the modern form of music piracy created on internet and in digital media. Singer-songwriter Shakira believes that piracy is “the democratization of music in a way.” IFPI estimates that more than 35 per cent of internet users have access to unlicensed music content. Pro-copyright groups argue that digital piracy puts the music industry at stake, thus they are working on copyright laws to prevent illegal access to online music (“The recording industry’s ability to develop the digital marketplace is undermined by piracy,” n.d.). However, copyright laws are used to control the flow of ideas, thus limiting innovation and the formation of new creative ideas. Not only this but also they harm freedom of expression. Monopoly exercised by the copyright holder over the music industry directs both innovation and free speech (Balkin, 2004).

Copyright is applicable to digital media materials and it is usually defined as a law that protects “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression”. However, digital media have made the action of breaking the terms of a law much easier, thus copyright infringement imposed significant challenges for the efficiency of copyright law (Packard, 2013).

The history of copyright law started in 1710 with the British statute of Anne (Intellectual Property Rights Office). The statute was the origin of copyright legislation, However the united states was the first to establish the first official copyright act (Intellectual Property Rights Office). Originally, copyright applied to books and printers. Over time, it also covered a wide range of works, namely sound recordings.

Packard states that no law “has been more affected by digital media than intellectual property,” (2010). With the continuous evolvement of digital media use, the struggle to adapt copyright protection on a fluid medium is escalating, and maintaining the balance between freedom of speech and intellectual property is at stake.

The digital revolution created the ability to copy and alter the information (Balkin, 2004). The standard example for that is the Phantom edit, in which elements of the original Star wars movie were removed. The modification of information is made possible because of technologies. Balkin states that “digital media invite not only simple copying but also innovation and collage,” (2004).

Technological innovation poses what Marx defines as “contradiction in social relations,” (Balkin, 2004). Contradiction results from technological development that is introducing new forms of freedom and engagement.

In a digital era, media companies hungered to use technology as it has become a major element in our daily lives. Paracopyrights were introduced in the Digital Millennium Copyright of 1998 to make the distribution and evasion of these technological devices illegal (Packard, 2013). However, the Act was further used as a tool to control digital content rather than only prevent illegal copying.

As tension between free speech and intellectual propery is significantly escalating due to the integration of digital media, I present examples of copyright infringement.

Photograph and Thinking out loud by singer Ed Sheeran

Songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard sued Ed Sheeran for $20m over his song “Photograph” that was a “note-for-note” copy of their song “Amazing” (Andrews, 2014). They said “Photograph raises this case to the unusual level of strikingly similar copying”. After “Photograph” reached number 15 in the UK singles chart, the songwriters commented that “Sheeran [was] unabashedly taking credit for their work”. The lawsuit case was dismissed after Sheeran settled a $20m copyright infringement (Andrews, 2014). Yet, the singer was again sued for his single “Thinking Out Loud” after he copied the major aspects of the melody and composition of “Let’s Get it On”. The lawsuit initiated on Twitter, when the public started comparing the two songs. Sheeran’s case shows that an unconscious/unwilling copyright could cost you a fortune!

One Last Time and The Way by Ariana Grande

In 2015, Ariana Grande was sued for copying a 2012 single called “Takes ALL Night” by Skye Stevens. The song-writer Alex Greggs seeked $150,000 as settlement, he said “there is substantial similarity on the most important rhythmic placement of the pitches on strong melodic and harmonic beats,” (Cavassuto, 2016). However, this was not the first time Grande gets sued for copyright infringement. In fact, she was sued in 2013 for “The Way”, in which a phrase was copied of the 1972 track “Troglodyte” (Cavassuto, 2016). Grande’s case is a typical case of copyright infringement; a backdoor ghost pursuing artists on a regular basis.

Youtube Star

The famous beauty and makeup Youtuber Michelle Phan was sued for copyright infringement; she was accused over the music she used in her beauty and style videos. The suit claimed that “Phan willfully infringes disregarding rights of ownership” (Welch, 2014). The Youtuber earned 6.7 million subscribers and her videos were viewed more than 1 billion times. The suit attributed the success of her videos to the music accompanying her work (Welch, 2014). Phan’s case shows that “when you’re that big, copyright infringement doesn’t go unnoticed” (Welch, 2014).

In conclusion, digital media is a double-edged sword, it creates stars and gets you exposures, but you can also get in trouble. The cases sited before show that copyright law was applied for financial profit. Many of copyright infringement lawsuit cases are directed by well-known against successful works. However, less-known figures are still suffering of plagiarism and copyright violations. Thus, copyright is essential if it’s efficiently and fairly applied to everyone.


Andrews, T.M. (2016). Ed Sheeran sued for copyright infringement for second time this year. Retrieved from

Balkin, J. M. (2004). Digital speech and democratic culture: A theory of freedom of expression for the information society. NYUL rev., 79, 1.

Cavassuto, M. (2016). Ariana Grande Sued for Copyright Infringement Over Song ‘One Last Time’. Retrieved from

Intellectual Property Rights Office. A brief history of copyright. Retrieved from

Packard, A. (2010). Digital media law. John Wiley & Sons.

Welch, C. (2014). YouTube star sued for copyright infringement over music in her videos. Retrieved from

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