How is the Internet affecting the concept of intellectual property? (Page 2 of 4)

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Along with the proliferation of Internet usage, has also come a shift in ideas regarding how information should be viewed, accessed and distributed. Contemporary opinion regarding publishing and intellectual property range from "the concept that ideas should be completely free-unprotected and unrestricted, to the belief that intellectual property should be highly protected" (Lerch, 1999). The whole concept of the Internet was based on the premise that control of information should be non-existent. Information should be free, accessible and devoid of all restrictions. Indeed, it was this innate philosophy that was the inspiration of the early hackers that were to lay the foundations for what became the "computer revolution" (Levy, 1994).

The need for intellectual property law is usually justified on the grounds that innovation should be protected to guarantee creators a return on their investment; to credit a programmer for the time taken to develop a piece of proprietary software for example. However, Stallman (as cited by Volkman, 2001), states "proprietary software undermines utility" because "fewer people can use proprietary software" and users are "generally not privy to the source code that makes it work, and therefore unable to fix or adapt the program or learn from it". "Signing a typical license agreement means betraying your neighbors". The solution: "make software 'free' by removing intellectual property restrictions" (Volkman, 2001).

The motive behind the vast majority of pre-computer copyright cases was almost always for monetary gain. Lerch (2001) states, "Policy makers are facing a major paradigm shift in dealing with the mind set of the Cyberspace community. This culture has developed an alternative view of intellectual property, a more altruistic attitude in the sharing freely of information and ideas…a self-governance that is rarely encountered in the real world."

The notion of profit is the antithesis of what the Internet was designed to be. Yet "in our culture, time is money - so it only follows that creating new works…should equal money" (Lerch, 2001). Quite clearly there is conflict. Whether one holds the utilitarian view that intellectual property published on the Internet should be free for all or whether one is of the belief that stringent restrictions right across the Internet should be imposed, one thing is certain: intellectual property infringement, particularly copyright infringement is occurring on an unprecedented scale.

The Internet knows no bounds; it is borderless and therefore doesn't reside within any particular jurisdiction. Policing it therefore has proven problematic. What could be construed, as copyright infringement in one country may be perfectly legal in another. This poses the question of where jurisdiction lies. Many could be mistaken for thinking that copyright law does not apply in the digital world. However, US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan thinks the old rules do have relevance. He ordered websites "to cease publishing DeCSS computer code which can break the encryption that protect DVDs". He ruled that the publishing of such code was illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The judge's ruling doesn't eradicate the problem totally however, as it merely holds sway in the jurisdiction of the US.

A similar ordeal has befallen Napster, an online music-sharing service. Record companies claimed infringement when copies of their proprietary music were being routed through the site from computers around the globe. While Napster may be vulnerable to law enforcement, alternatives such as Gnutella and FreeNet "were designed as decentralized moving targets that operate beyond the range of the law. They don't go through centralized servers and aren't owned by identifiable companies, so can't be shut down. Such services allow users to trade free music beyond the reach of even creative judges with a yen for Internet censorship" (Free-Market.Net, 2001). Any file that any user wishes to offer may be made available and picked up anonomously through the system. In March 2001, a test version of FreeNet was posted on the web and it is believed that thousands of network servers are already running the program.

The problem of jurisdiction together with the sheer number of violators of intellectual property makes the enforcement of current laws ineffective. The Berne Convention attempted to merge copyright doctrine in the digital age but implementing law is still proving problematic. Instead companies are turning to technical measures to deter copyright infringement. Such measures include watermarking images. One technique created by Digimarc Corp. (2001) allows copyrighted information about the creator of an image to be embedded within an image in such a way that it cannot be seen with the naked eye but may be revealed using software (Abernethy & Allen, 1999).

The need for such technological measures is deemed necessary by many companies, as there appears to be a growing disregard for intellectual property rights on the Internet. Fair use is an established doctrine of copyright law that has "come under stress with the proliferation of digital information" The Internet facilitates the ability to copy digital text, images, sound and video with ease. "The extent to which copying for private use can be justified without violating the law" is causing "concern" (National Academies, 2001).

As an increasing number of people are copying work at will, the concept of ownership is becoming obsolete. Because information can be easily viewed and downloaded from the Internet and people have the ability to extract, manipulate and re-distribute the copyrighted material that they find, they will. According to Randall Davies, Professor of Computer Science at MIT, "Information has increasingly become an event to be experienced, rather than an artefact to be kept" (National Academies, 2001). People want to utilise the technological possibilities that the Internet offers and if this means copying work at the expense of copyright law, then so be it.

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Publication Date: Monday 14th July, 2003
Author: Ukwdc View profile

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