How is the Internet affecting the concept of intellectual property? (Page 1 of 4)

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According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations, Intellectual property, "refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce." Intellectual property is split into two main categories. Firstly there is industrial property, which includes patents, trademarks, industrial designs and trade secrets and secondly there is copyright, which includes literary, musical, artistic and audiovisual works.

Intellectual property is neither a new nor a static concept. "The grant by a state of some form of exclusive rights in their inventions to inventors originated in the early part of the 15th century in Venice and spread rapidly during the 16th century to Germany, France, the Netherlands and England" (Lehman, 2001). The Gutenberg printing press is often cited as the main catalyst in the evolution of intellectual property rights. Further technological developments over the centuries propelled the need for stricter measures in protecting people's creative works. The rules governing intellectual property in traditional media are well established. The Internet however, is forcing governments, companies and individuals to re-address the way in which intellectual property, particularly copyright law should be governed.

Intellectual property is the least respected form of property in society because it clashes with some people's traditional sense of what property is. The traditional view of property is linked to possession but with intellectual property the physical material such as the ink and paper or bits on a disk are not where the value lies. The value is in the actual work and how its distribution is controlled. The Internet is fundamentally changing the concept of intellectual property for it facilitates the ease in which works may be copied, manipulated and distributed.

The laws that govern intellectual property are being stretched to their very limits in the digital age. The first law in England regarding copyright was the Statute of Anne, which passed through parliament on 10 April 1710. It was the first act in the world to recognise the author of a work as the copyright owner and also provided creative works with a fixed term of protection. The laws regarding copyright serve one purpose, and that is to give economic incentives to authors, which will ultimately benefit society.

When the first copyright law was past in 1710, inventions such as the Internet and the personal computer, equipped with the technological capabilities that they allow could not have been foreseen. Therefore the law must not remain static but must change in a way that reflects the dynamic nature of technology.

Intellectual property, particularly in terms of publishing has traditionally been confined to such media as TV, radio and book publishing, each of which require the joint efforts of a group of professionals in the publishing industry to produce. What the Internet has allowed is the mass production of individual works. Because of the simplicity of posting material to the Internet, for the first time, individuals with relatively little knowledge of publishing are able to present their works to the world. This has resulted in a large increase in the amount of copyrighted material available, which a significant number of people are unaware conforms to copyright law. Many people believe that because they can place work on the Internet without permission from anyone else, they can copy material from the Internet in the same casual manner.

Moreover, the whole concept of what constitutes "copying" is fundamentally flawed with regards to computers because copying is directly related to the way in which computers function; accessing digital data, immediately invokes duplication. A report by a committee of the National Research Council of the National Academies (2001), has recently addressed this very issue. The report, entitled, "The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age" suggests that "the basic concept of publication should be re-evaluated and clarified", adding that "the information infrastructure, the computer networks and the World-Wide-Web (WWW) have changed what is meant by "publishing".

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

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