The virtual world has arrived and it is clearly here to stay. And with the digital age, there will be an entirely new dynamic in the legal community as court cases and legislation move forward involving copyright and patent infringement. Intellectual property claims traditionally had been limited to patents, trademarks, and compositions. Those traditional compositions included both musical and literary works. Negotiations are now underway internationally that supposedly will protect copyright holders from international infringements, but much of the discussions have been classified in the United States as top secret due to national security concerns. This may be the primary reason.
The leaked information on these discussions contained in the controversial TPP treaty suggests that the internet service providers will assist the governments in stopping online piracy and infringement by merely blocking the offender from internet access. While this may begin with copyrighted materials, the capacity for a chilling effect on the First Amendment is ominous. This suggests that there is a real paradigm shift just around the corner for the legal industry concerning intellectual property claims if common computer users are targeted by the private/public sector information policing octopus when the TPP is finally approved and signed in secret, as is being advanced by the Obama Administration.
Regardless of international agreements, there will also be plenty of opportunity for legal claims in sovereign bordered jurisdictions. The United States is a prime example. The Department of Homeland Security has already seized many websites that were promoting copyrighted material, resulting in criminal charges on some operators. That list of shutdowns and prosecutions include individuals who were only supplying links to other pirated broadcasts on a particular website, as well as posting advertisements for suspected piracy website operators.
The “fair use doctrine” legal defense was completely denied in many of these prosecutions and seizures cases, although all seized website operators were not charged. This means that the trend in infringement cases is no longer merely for civil infringement cases. The government realizes an opportunity to send a message with fines and incarcerations as part of the mix. The governments, at least the U.S. and British governments, are still actively looking for anyone who can be banned from the web for promoting any goods in any manner if they do not own the patent or copyright.
Initially, the focus had been on knock-off products carrying the official logo of a similar product. Many of the individuals were selling pirated trademarked goods that were advertised on the fair use link websites. However, the DHS expanded the group to include those merely posting URL addresses for the actual streams by using the crime complicity argument. With the behemoth digital information extraction that is being implemented by the National Security Agency, conducting a piracy criminal investigation can now be completed in stealth by sending an email and following with a few directed clicks of a computer mouse. This will result in a criminal charges and will result in the need to hire a criminal defense attorney.
When this situation is compounded by the fact that computer programs are also protected by copyright ownership by the coder, the capacity for legal action is multiplied significantly. Although inventions and programs are susceptible to copyright ownership by others who have improved an existing protected digital product, the legal arguments will still continue and the legal industry will still be smiling. Intellectual property law is easily the field of law that is most prominently positioned for growth in the future, and there appears to be no end in sight.