Today is World IP Day, and as Acting Register of Copyrights, I had the honor and pleasure of hosting a program featuring remarks and a panel discussion focusing on the impact of creative works and performances on the lives of both creators and the public.
Here are my remarks from today’s event.
We are pleased to once again partner with the Copyright Alliance for this event, and this year we are particularly thrilled to have remarks by a special guest, Congressman Doug Collins, whom I will formally introduce in just a moment.
But first, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on this year’s theme from a copyright perspective. We know that copyrighted works such as books, films, and music entertain the world. But do they actually improve lives as the theme of this year’s World IP day celebrates?
Well, I expect for almost everyone in this room that question is a rhetorical one. Whether it is the way that copyrighted works inspire us, like the iconic photograph of the first female Boston Marathon runner by Harry Trask; or the way they impact change in our political environment, like the groundbreaking novel The Jungle by Upton Sinclair; or the way they humanize the struggle for equality, such as the searing photograph of Emmett Till’s open casket in Jet magazine—copyrighted works improve our lives in immeasurable ways. They make us laugh, they make us think, and, in many instances, they make us act.
In fact, copyrighted works can impact our health and well-being. According to one study, listening to music prior to surgery lowered patients’ anxiety better than medication.
Another study pointed out something we all know inherently, and have been told by our parents since kindergarten—that reading a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Simply put—it makes you smarter.
As a CNN article recently acknowledged, “Books can literally change your life.” Even video games—which are often seen by parents as mere child’s play—can, according to the American Psychological Association, strengthen cognitive skills such as reason, memory, and perception.
And copyrighted works such as software directly improve lives by allowing people with disabilities to access the world in ways never imaginable before.
Software allows those with amputated, paralyzed, or impaired limbs to operate computers and navigate the internet. It can magnify or read text on computer screens for those with sight impairments.
In short, innovative software has opened the door to an entirely new world of knowledge for many who thought certain life experiences were forever lost to them.
So, while this year’s theme for World IP Day, “Innovation—Improving Lives,” may not have immediately brought to mind the role of copyright and copyrighted works in our society, it is in fact a very fitting description of how important copyright and copyrighted works are to our culture and our everyday lives.
Because without copyright law, which gives artists, authors, and other creators the ability to make a living in the pursuit of their creativity, many of our most iconic songs, films, books, videogames, and photographs simply would not exist.
For example, it was a full-time photojournalist who took the photo of Kathrine Switzer running the Boston Marathon in 1967 that impacted and inspired female runners for many years to come. It was a full-time writer who wrote the iconic book The Jungle, which encouraged concrete legislative changes for the U.S. workforce. And it took hundreds of workers in the film industry, all supported by copyright law, to complete the groundbreaking films Norma Rae, Philadelphia, The Thin Blue Line, Moonlight, and many others, which have inspired and touched thousands.
Copyright, as the Supreme Court has stated, is “the engine of free expression.”
And sometimes it is even more than that. Many creators have used their copyrights to directly improve lives through a wide variety of charitable endeavors. For example, the proceeds of the sale of the Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl have been used to fund The Anne Frank Foundation’s charitable initiatives.
Many musicians have banded together to create and perform benefit songs. The famous song “We Are the World,” for example, raised more than $75 million for famine relief.
Finally, as the examples you’ll see during the discussion today demonstrate, artists often use technology and innovative tools to improve their own creativity and artistry.
So, again, while it may not have been obvious at first glance, this year’s World IP Day theme is perfectly suited to celebrate copyright today.