Research Handbook on Human Rights and Digital Technology
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Research Handbook on Human Rights and Digital Technology

Global Politics, Law and International Relations

Edited by Ben Wagner, Matthias C. Kettemann and Kilian Vieth

In a digitally connected world, the question of how to respect, protect and implement human rights has become unavoidable. This contemporary Research Handbook offers new insights into well-established debates by framing them in terms of human rights. It examines the issues posed by the management of key Internet resources, the governance of its architecture, the role of different stakeholders, the legitimacy of rule making and rule-enforcement, and the exercise of international public authority over users. Highly interdisciplinary, its contributions draw on law, political science, international relations and even computer science and science and technology studies.
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Chapter 4: Digital copyright and human rights: a balancing of competing obligations, or is there no conflict?

Benjamin Farrand


Questions of effective and proportionate copyright protection on the Internet have been the subject of considerable academic attention and policy-making consternation since the late 1990s. In particular, a question of specific concern is that of the interaction between copyright protection and human rights, and indeed, whether the protection of copyright is in itself a human right. This chapter seeks to explore these issues further, asking ‘what tensions exist between copyright protection on the Internet and other categories of human right?’ The chapter provides an overview of the international framework for the protection of copyright (including on the Internet), and the comparative treatments given to copyright and competing rights in the European Union and United States. In particular, it highlights the divergence in approaches between the EU and United States, with the EU seeing copyright as a form of human right that must be balanced with other competing human rights, such as the rights to freedom of information and privacy, and the United States not only discounting human rights approaches to this field, but considering that copyright as a right cannot be in conflict with other rights, but instead incorporates their protection into its rationale and modus operandi. This creates significant sites of protest in the online environment, particularly amongst activists, who consider that not only is copyright directly in conflict with other competing rights, but has been granted far too much supremacy over other human and fundamental rights.

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