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About us - History
As the most flexible of the intellectual property rights, copyright is subject to constant pressure to adapt in order to respond to a variety of social, cultural, economic and political demands. These demands are sometimes generated by new developments and sometimes by new perceptions and approaches to older issues. There is, for example, a widespread perception that new information and communication technologies have generated serious problems for the integrity of the copyright regime that surpass previous technological challenges, such as the development of the photocopier. As a result there is a demand from certain quarters for the strengthening of the rights of copyright owners. Copyright is also being called upon to address lacunae in the intellectual property regime relating to developments in the areas of genomics and biotechnology.

At the same time, economic and political developments, especially those promoting regional and global market liberalization, have generated pressure for harmonization and conformity amongst historically diverse copyright systems. One effect of this pressure has been to expose and entrench crucial differences in national copyright systems. Another effect of the pressures for harmonization and conformity has been to stimulate existing concerns about the extent to which the traditional knowledge and other cultural products of indigenous peoples is capable of being protected under the new global regime of copyright. Both of these issues, while generating considerable conflict, have required copyright scholars, policy-makers and legislators to look again at the role and function of copyright in our diverse, multicultural society.

Recently, a great deal of concern has been expressed about the increase in the power of copyright owners at the expense of both the authors of copyright works and the users of such works. This is connected with alarm at the way in which copyright law appears to have facilitated the build up of significant concentrations of power over diverse forms of cultural products. These concentrations are constituted by multinational corporations, which enjoy substantial horizontal and vertical controls over the relevant markets for cultural products. They also often hold the patent rights over technology involved in the production or communication of the cultural products in question. The opaque and unaccountable nature of these corporate entities, allied with specific instances of the exercise of their wide intellectual property rights, has raised concerns about the compatibility of copyright law with human rights concepts, such as the right to freedom of speech. A similar concern is that the monological control of cultural communication that may be exercised by these corporate entities tends to undermine the dialogical nature of cultural development. This is a clear threat to what is often described as the cultural development function of copyright law.

The role, function and theoretical basis of copyright law is now more uncertain than ever. The multifarious challenges to copyright offer unparalleled opportunities to re-examine copyright law and to forge a copyright law that serves the interests of society at large.

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