4.7 trillion reasons for well-designed copyright

$4.7 trillion. According to a new study by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, that’s the amount of revenue generated in the U.S. by the “fair use economy” -- industries that rely on fair use and other limitations on copyright. They account for 1/6th of U.S. GDP, one out of eight jobs, and $281 billion in exports.

The Internet and information technologies are key drivers of the economy, but few realize that copyright law’s delicate balance is essential to this growth. Copyright law not only provides artists with certain protections, but also includes important limitations that promote innovation and legitimate re-use of information.

For example, without limits on copyright, search engines would not exist. Indexing the Web would be illegal, because that requires creating a copy of websites first.

The importance of well-designed copyright goes much further, though. iPods, Tivos, and any other digital media device that is capable of making copies depends on balanced copyright. The Internet’s very function is to make and disseminate copies of information -- it couldn’t exist without limitations in copyright. Congress laid the foundations for the Web in 1998, when it enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and created a set of “safe harbors” that protected online service providers who respond properly to copyright holders’ notifications of alleged infringement. Virtually all Web platforms -- from the smallest website hosting platforms and community bulletin boards to YouTube, Facebook, eBay, Craigslist, and everything in between -- depend on this legal framework.

CCIA’s study attempts to quantify the economic impact of these and other industries by using a methodology put out by the World Intellectual Property Organization. This methodology has also been used in several studies that analyze the economic contributions of content creators.

As more people and more devices access the Internet at even faster speeds, one can expect the “fair use economy” to be increasingly important. In fact, the “fair use economy” has been growing at a faster pace than the overall economy: from 2002 to 2007, it accounted for 23 percent of U.S. real economic growth. Maintaining balance in copyright law will be crucial to this continuing innovation and growth.