Music Copyright in the Digital Age

       A legal, economic, and cultural analysis of music piracy and its implications

European Copyright Law

Copyright in Europe is based in common law and was first employed internationally in the 19th century. Composers in Europe were generally supported by wealthy patrons before this time, but in the early 1800s a great market for selling sheet music developed. Composers now made their incomes mainly from this market and relied on national copyright laws to protect their rights. It was not until the 1886 Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works that an international agreement on copyright was made. Originally, 9 countries signed the text created at the Berne Convention. Since then, the text has been amended six times and has now been signed by over 130 countries.[1] Amendments have mainly been to keep pace with new technology, particularly with advances in video and sound recording. The most recent update in 1996 is the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, which adds technological protection measures for content available on the Internet.[2]

Current Copyright Law in the European Union finds its basis in the 2001 European Copyright Directive, by which the EU has changed its copyright law to comply with the WIPO Copyright Treaty with the goal of harmonizing copyright law across the European Union.[3] The legislatures of individual EU countries must implement the Directive on their own by incorporating it into existing laws of their respective nations; therefore, citizens cannot directly appeal to the EU Directive, but only to their own countries' laws.[4] Even though the Directive's purpose is to harmonize EU copyright laws, it is difficult to administer this adjustment because the responsibility is given to individual countries. Relying on the legislatures of each nation to implement Directive and each nation's courts to interpret the laws has produced a mix of opinions and practices across the EU.

The largest changes to existing laws are made by Article 6 of the EU Copyright Directive, which calls for the protection of technological devices for preventing infringing activity. EU countries must implement laws to protect technologies, such as digital rights management (DRM) protection, used by content owners to prevent illegal uses of copyrighted material. It is therefore illegal to circumvent any such technology in the European Union.


  1. Laing, Dave. "Copyright, Politics, and the International Music Industry." Ed. Frith, Simon, and Lee Marshall. Music and Copyright. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2004. 70-88. Print.
  2. Holden, Blythe A, et al. "Copyright and Digital Media in a Post-Napster World." GartnerG2 and The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. 01 Nov 2003. PDF
  3. Hugenholtz, Bernt. "Why the Copyright Directive is Unimportant, and Possibly Invalid." EIPR 11. (2000): p. 501-2.
  4. Koelman, Kamiel. "International Context.", Copyright laws in digital Europe. Free University of Amsterdam, 27 Jan. 2004.