A copyright gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights to that work for a certain period of time. This is intended to protect and promote inventors and artists so that they may receive direct and indirect benefits from their creative or intellectual work. For example, the copyright on Mickey Mouse restricts others from creating derivative works based on his distinctive form and manner for their own profit; anyone not licensed by Disney to sell products or designs featuring Mickey can not make money using that copyrighted mouse.
With the advent of the Internet, the issue of copyright came to the fore as permissions were no longer as easily protected. With file and music sharing, digital media, self-publishing, and a massive increase in publicly-accessible information, tracking down and prosecuting the violators of a specific copyright became infinitely more difficult; legal policies to counteract piracy and unfair use on the Internet began to be enacted.
In response to this, a debate over the redefinition of copyright, and of its necessity, spread throughout the online community. The advent of the Creative Commons, the creation of wikis, and the public, license-free release of creative works indicates a shift in consciousness toward a greater freedom of information; yet, the debate over how creators should be reimbursed, and how they can protect their works from unauthorized modification, will continue for some time to come.