The lockdown and isolation that we're all living through has brought certain realities to light; namely, that as much as many people may have lamented that much of life had moved online prior to March 2020, it was nothing compared to what we're experiencing right now. The last bastions of in-person activites have shuttered or moved online out of necessity, creating a brave new world that no one could have entirely predicted or prepared for. It's given us a new appreciation for the hassles of the physical world; personally, I'd give my paper towel supply to have the back of my seat kicked in a movie theater.
The speed with which we had to adopt social distancing measures didn't leave much time to consider the many complications of life at home with every interaction conducted online, and while IP considerations are pretty far down the list of problems we're facing at the moment, it's just one more mark against both current copyright law and the virus that's upended the world.
Over at Techdirt, Mike Masnick highlights an issue that's arisen as education and entertainment have moved to virtual forums: copyright law preventing reading over a livestream. He points out that, given how long copyright holders have spent trying to stamp out anything even the most specious of copyright cases and how much they've leaned upon tech platforms to police the problem to an absurd extent, we now find ourselves in a position where teachers are forced to seek permission to read books to students over a private video to instruct students — a burden they wouldn't have if they were to do the same in a classroom.
As if that weren't affront enough, no less than LaVar Burton — Geordi La Forge! Reading Rainbow!— was forced to seek our public domain works for his LeVar Burton Reads program before Neil Gaiman and others offered up their works.
Masnick cites a paper from copyright scholars outlining the fair use case for using copyrighted works online for teaching during this emergency, but fairly points out that the case is of no use if no one is willing to make it in the face of potentially costly lawsuits, even if the suits are baseless. It's not the first instance of our current crisis laying bare the faults in a system, and certainly not the most urgent, but hopefully the very real and very immediate effect of hindering education will force some hard looks at copyright law once we emerge from our self-imposed hibernation.