Digital Technologies – Digital Culture

  • Péter Mezei


In light of the existing copyright system and the latest developments of the law of the European Union (with a special focus on the authors’ home country, Hungary) and the United States, the article tries to answer whether and how the phenomena of Web 2.0 and P2P (“peer-to-peer” filesharing), the digitization for cultural preservation, and several other special technologies affect the culture of our age. This article argues that the several different usages influence the culture in three main ways: it can improve, preserve or deteriorate the culture. Naturally, it is hard to determine, if a use is either right or wrong. For example, P2P filesharing services are generally used for illegal purposes, despite the fact that the technology has several positive effects. Vice versa: one example of Web 2.0, YouTube, collects millions of home videos created by “average users”. However, episodes of copyrighted TV shows or sports events are also accessible on the YouTube servers. Similarly, the Google Books Project impressively aims to preserve and provide access to millions of books in digital form. However, the original plan to execute the project raised legitimate copyright and competition law concerns, and so it sheds another light on Google. To sum up: only time will tell, whether a technological innovation or use will result in the improvement of culture or contribute to the deterioration of it. Due to the technological revolution almost all areas of life have undergone a major transformation in the past few decades. Digital technologies earned a vital role in this reform, since they made time, space and energy saving activities possible through replacing analogue technologies.2 Digital technology heavily affected intellectual creative activity as well. The spread of digital technologies have had at least two important consequences: first, intellectual creations may be copied and changed without limitation and without changing the quality.3 Second, due to the evolution of digital networks the distribution of, access to, and the forming of an opinion on accessible works has changed too: it has become easier, faster and more effective – both in time and in place. The traditional forms of human communication have been generally changed as well. Nowadays, people cannot imagine their life without digital technologies. Social networking sites, chat rooms, blogs, podcasts, e-newspapers, or streaming of TV or radio programs are great examples. The evolution of an entirely new digital culture is apparent. Intellectual creative activity has become something of a norm in our everyday lives. It would appear that besides the traditional copyright paradigm a new copyright conception emerges, where the user-generated content earns great importance.4 Due to the mass creation of works of literature, musical and audiovisual works, and photographs the respect of copyright law and intellectual creativity has partially disappeared. The young digital generations – by lack of a better example – may feel that easier, faster and cheaper accessible materials do not have any monetary value. The article starts with an introduction that introduces three separate effects of digital technologies upon the improvement, preservation, and deterioration of digital culture. Part two discusses the phenomena of Web 2.0, i.e. the way internet users communicate via the World Wide Web and contribute to culture at the same time. This part makes it clear that the present copyright rules are capable of solving the legal controversies raised by Web 2.0. Part three reflects upon the controversial question of file sharing. The article concludes that though file sharing may have several positive effects, it is clear that it the application is generally used for illegal activities, and therefore has a remarkable negative effect upon the entertainment industry and culture. Part four introduces the topic of digitization of already existing works, and emphasizes that there are several major differences between the existing copyright regimes of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Hungary and the United States. The author proposes consideration on whether it is necessary to broaden current statutory rules on digitization by libraries, in order to allow for the much broader preservation and making available of the valuable cultural heritage of our world. Based upon this logical line of events the article will continue to introduce the main effects of digital technologies upon the culture: the improvement, the deterioration and the preservation of culture.