News stories about copyright often pop up in the technology press. The subtext is usually like: “here’s how deeply broken copyright is.”

Don’t believe the subtext. Copyright is not broken in any sense that matters.

Copyright is in the process of adapting to changes in information technology. The process of adapting will take a longish time. The process started in the 1980s, which led to passage of landmark legislation such as the DMCA in the 1990s. In the years 2000-2010 the DMCA safe harbors were tested and defined in detail, and internet sites went from flat defiance of the law to grudging compliance. That’s 25 years of progress. I imagine 25 more will complete the job.

Copyright is not a monolithic thing that can be fixed with a sweep of the hand. It is a large body of law and common law. Nobody in any stable government, whether a judge or legislator, is empowered to make deep changes. Even the most powerful can only make tweaks.

These tweaks pile up and very slowly turn into major change. The process is like a glacier carving out a valley one grain of dirt at a time.

We are riding on that glacier, so it is hard to see the changes. That problem is caused by how small we are in the universe. As individuals we want change to happen at a pace that’s convenient to our perceptions, like the dramatic arc of a 30-minute sitcom. You can step out of that limitation if you choose.

When you see a story about how broken copyright is, it’s part of the glacier’s movement. Maybe the impact will be an improvement in how copyright owners and web sites communicate. Maybe the impact will be slightly more fair treatment of uploaders. Whatever it is, it will be small, so you will be tempted to think it’s too small to matter.