Traditional safety valves

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In copyright law, the traditional safety valves are the techniques that balance the public's interest in open access with the property interest of copyright owners and the pressing legislation to give those techniques credibility of law through digital rights management.[1] Digital rights management techniques were created by the media industry in order to strengthen control over media use. The antithesis to digital rights management is open access (publishing). Open access allows people to publish their knowledge goods right into the public and skip privatization. The safety valves are in place to ensure the flow of intellectual property from private ownership into public view while keeping the interests of both in mind.

Two safety valves that apply both to copyrights and to patents are:

  • First-sale doctrine – Allows owners of copies of a copyrighted work to distribute them as they see fit. After the first sale of a product, the copyright holder cannot control distribution of that specific instance of the product. However the purchaser cannot reproduce the material, only distribute authentic copies. For example, if you buy a CD, you then have the right to sell it, but you do not have the right to sell copies of it. Patents have the analogous exhaustion doctrine as well.
  • Public domain – The body of works of authorship and inventions that are allowed free access, and aren't subject to exclusive rights (including government publications and other resources). All works and inventions enter the public domain if the limited[dubious ] term of copyright or patent expires. This expiration prevents permanent monopolies on works and inventions and ensures their eventual flow into the public domain.[2]

These additional safety valves apply to copyrights:

  • Fair use – An exception to the copyright and trademark laws that allows partial/limited use of protected materials. Fair use of a copyrighted work allows for artists, students, journalists, writers, illustrators, and others to copy and quote partial amounts of copyrighted works for purpose of commentary, remix, parody, scholarship, or news reports. A common example is citation in scholarly publications that allows for the referencing and building upon copyrighted works.
  • Idea–expression divide (Merger Doctrine) – Facts, ideas, and processes are not copyrightable, only specific expressions of facts and ideas. However, processes are routinely patented.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kranich, Nancy (June 2004). Heins, Marjorie, ed. "The Information Commons: A Public Policy Report" (PDF). Free Expression Policy Project. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  2. ^ Hirtle, Peter B. (3 January 2013). "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States". Cornell University. Retrieved 26 August 2013.