Crowdsourced Agenda for Free Expression

Prioritize Free Expression 4: Clear and simple rules


Finally, all of the above rights to fair use, fair dealing, recourse in the case of illegitimate notices or takedowns, format shifting, and more, depend on Internet users having a clear understanding of the rules surrounding copyright. Prioritizing free expression means making free expression rights clear; it is therefore no surprise that the second most important priority for the respondents to the first question in our consultation was clear and simple rules.56 What this tells us is that Internet users want intellectual property and copyright rules to be written in a manner that is clear and accessible. Citizens cannot exercise their rights if they can’t understand them. As the Authors Alliance notes, creators have a particular interest in clear rules – current copyright laws often make it difficult for creators to understand which rights they are giving up and which rights they are retaining when they enter into agreements with publishers or other institutions.57

Internet Voice

“I would like to get rid of the current copyright law(s); they are so convoluted that the ordinary citizen and even librarians who follow the law are unable to understand it. We need to start over on copyright.”

– Paul

More often than not, copyright laws and rules are written in a highly legal or technical manner that most people are not familiar with. This means that presently, the interpretation of copyright rules is the near-exclusive domain of legal experts. Crucial decisions such as how long a work should be considered copyrighted before it has entered the public domain, whether an instance of alleged copyright violation qualifies as fair use or fair dealing, or what kind of punishment is reasonable for realviolations are often left for litigators and judges to decide. Even Universal Music, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) have insisted that fair use determinations are so challenging it is impossible to take them into consideration before issuing takedown notices.58 Clear, simple copyright rules would help ensure everyone has an opportunity to understand their legal rights – and remove the excuse for not considering fair use rights that are so crucial to free expression. We suggest that policy-makers write and communicate laws in a clear, concise manner, designed to be accessible to the people they are meant to serve. A straightforward approach to copyright will help create empowered and educated citizens of the Internet, who understand how to share, give credit, and exercise their free expression rights.

Internet voice

“I would love to browse around the Internet without worrying about significant grey areas that give license for a vindictive prosecutor or district attorney to build a case to unjustly manufacture me into a criminal. There need to be clear black-and-white rules about what will and what will not get you in hot water.”

- Damon


56. See “Appendix 1: Methodology” for full results for Question 1.


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