How is the Internet affecting the concept of intellectual property? (Page 3 of 4)

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The need for consumers to gain a "better understanding of the basic principles of copyright law" is something, which has been highlighted in the National Academy's (2001) report. The report states, "education in copyright law", together with "novel business models and new technologies" are likely to be "far more effective mechanisms than major legislative changes".

Barlow (2001) points out how, "whenever there is profound divergence between law and social practice, it is not society that adapts". Although large publishers have had some success in the practice of "hanging a few visible scapegoats", these actions are "so obviously capricious as to only further diminish respect for the law". The crux of the problem is that intellectual property is fundamentally different from physical property and it cannot be protected by the same means.

With physical goods there is a direct correlation between scarcity and value. With information however, the reverse is true. Familiarity is very important for software for example, because it creates unity; products become standards. Although difficult to prove, it could be argued that "there is a connection between the extent to which commercial software is pirated and the amount which gets sold" (Barlow, 2001).

To the majority of copyright owners, the idea of piracy is anathema, but John Perry Barlow, writer for The Grateful Dead, attributes the success of the band partly to the "pirates". He states: "We have been letting people tape our concerts since the early seventies, but instead of reducing the demand for our product, we are now the largest concert draw in America." He goes on to add, "True, I don't get any royalties on the millions of copies of my songs which have been extracted from concerts, but I see no reason to complain."

The technological capabilities of the Internet were believed to spell the end for copyright and these may be prophetic words. With the advent of higher quality music formats such as MP3 and greater bandwidth facilitating the ease at which music files can be copied, the lure to pirate copyrighted music is on the increase. The ubiquitous nature of the Internet means someone somewhere will always be one step ahead of the law. People always want things for free and the Internet has provided a means of doing that. It has also enabled global distribution and publication meaning that the concept of ownership is also facing extinction.

The laws associated with intellectual property were created to protect works in the physical world. In the virtual realms of cyberspace, where the fundamental concepts of intellectual property are altered, the law is moribund. The large corporations will no doubt continue to aggressively protect their intellectual property and where clear jurisdiction can be determined, infringement will be policed. However, as mentioned earlier, in terms of the masses, when society clashes with the law, it is not society that adapts. The Internet has not only changed the concept of intellectual property; it has unearthed an unyielding altruistic attitude promoting the right for freedom of information that was innate in the pioneers of the Internet and will come to be more prevalent in its future users.

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

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