Property Rights in the Internet Age

There is very little doubt that the emergence of the internet has made public access to information and communication easier. The ease and speed with which data can be retreived from the internet has therefore greatly changed the way information is produced and disseminated for public consumption. However, such technology is not without its trade-offs.

One of the gravest challenges that the increased popularity and usage of the internet presents is the problem of protecting intellectual property through the enforcement of an internet copyright law that benefits not only the authors, publishers, and users of the World Wide Web but society as a whole. Indeed, the internet holds a lot of potential for transforming the way people live.

The internet or “the electronic network of networks that links people and information through computers and other digital devices” (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2001: 307)  has ushered in the information revolution. It is therefore not surprising that one can find almost the entire world in cyberspace. The internet itself continues to be transformed with every click of the user’s mouse and from the creativity and innovation of millions of users and developers around the world. Thus, every imaginable human interest and activity can now be found online.

(Doucette, 2005) Those who benefit most from the birth of the internet and its growth are individuals, organizations, and institutions whose lives are directly connected to the production and consumption of data and information such as students, artists, scholars, scientists, software designers and engineers, and a host of other information-technology professionals. For these people, the internet has been a useful tool in research and in accessing information from global sources which complements existing forms of media and publication.

On the other hand, the internet has also its drawbacks, among the most obvious of which is the difficulty in protecting the intellectual property rights of individuals who are involved in the creation of content in the internet. Ironically, this problem stems from the very same ease and speed which has captivated and enthralled internet-users worldwide; at the same time, it has become easier to download, copy, and share documents and other forms of media format such as music and videos owing to the rapid advancements in internet-based applications.

Thus, the dissemination of information has grown harder to control which makes it easier for users to intentionally and unintentionally infringe copyright laws. (Skvarka, 1996) The necessity of implementing a system of protecting intellectual property rights in the age of digital media has therefore become a generally accepted idea among scholars. Copyright, according to Rosenoer (1997) is important since it “provides an author with a tool to protect a work from being taken, used, and exploited by others without permission.

” (Rosenoer 1997:1) This law grants exclusive rights to the owner of the copyrighted work which makes it unlawful for others to reproduce, distribute or sell, perform or display in public the copyrighted material. The internet copyright law thus covers all content such as web pages, pictures, artwork, music, videos, documents, and even e-mail messages or postings. There are limitations in that “only expression is protected, not facts or ideas.

” (Field, 2006) The law also does not apply with regards to “fair use” which permits an individual to use the work of others without necessary solicitation of approval when the activity is intended to advance the interests of education, research, and other areas of public interest. (Field, 2006) “Fair use” excludes those that are intended for commercial activities or for works that are aimed at generating income.

Despite the presence of existing copyright laws, it would be safe to assume that the number of copyright violations have increased dramatically especially with the expansion of the internet and the continuing development of open-source technologies in the World Wide Web. On an individual level, users are apt to use the web for a variety of activities from entertainment to communications and in the process may inadvertently commit such violations.

Some users may intently commit these violations for their selfish interests. This is demonstrated by the increasing concern on the rise in plagiarism in the academic circle due to the convenience with which students and researchers can easily retreive accomplished work from the internet and pass these off as their own. Consequently, the burden of detecting and examining these papers fall on the shoulders of academic institutions and personnel.

Open source technology has also given users much leeway in distributing copies of copyrighted materials such as songs and videos although these usually are free of charge. What has definitely been more problematic for authorities to solve is copyright infringement done by organized cybercriminals. This usually involves stealing and making copies of music, videos, software, and other information for commercial purposes. This is most prevalent in developing countries where knowledge of computers and access to the internet remains limited.

Millions of illegal copies of music, videos, software and other files thus reach flea markets and are sold at bargain prices which severely hurts copyright holders. The internet itself is home to many sites that allow or even encourage its users to post links to download which often includes copyrighted material. Most of these materials then become available even outside the web through various storage technologies such as burning and copying, which often contributes to the decrease in market value of copyrighted material.

(Klein, Lerner, and Murphy, 2002:205) Napster’s file-sharing technology, for instance, allowed its users to play, download, and copy music and other files from the internet under the pretext of “fair use” which prompted the court to declare it guilty of copyright infringement by enabling its users to indirectly make thousands of copies of copyrighted files by “exposing the copyrighted material to reproduction and distribution by the general public. ” (Klein, Lerner, and Murphy, 2002:206)