Copyright: The Next Virtual Battleground in Cyberspace
The original idea behind the Internet was to transmit information freely around the world. Now individuals want to put copyright protected materials on it, but no legal mechanisms are in place to protect these materials and no boundaries have been defined to control them.
The role of copyright regulation within the Net is brewing to be a political and economic battlefield (Barlow, 1996). As the virtual world witnesses an influx of mainstream users (from individuals to corporations), governments and businesses are racing to clear the way for a virtual marketplace by imposing rules and controlling the flow of information. Lawmakers are currently considering legislation to apply copyrights to all digital transmissions to enhance the sell and distribution of products like movies, compact disks, books, and magazines on-line. But what effect will this have on the Net community?
Practically every company must protect their intellectual property (i.e., intangible property created by individuals or corporations which is subject to protection under the trade secret, copyright, and patent law). Most of this protection comes from copyrights, which grants the owners of the expression of an idea the right to prevent anyone from making copies of it, distributing it, or performing it without permission (Laundon, 1996). This applies to software, brochures, videos, blueprints and much more. But the traditional concept of copyright falls short when it comes in contact with the Internet, where anyone with a modem can be a broadcaster and a viewer. Control in the cyberspace arena will not be an easy task.
Much of the current debate about electronic copyright stems from the interpretation of the exclusive right of owners to electronic media. The law, under the “fair use” exception, allows copies to be made without payment or permission under certain conditions; copying for the purpose of research, teaching, journalism, criticism, parody and library activities (by the way, all information gathered or copied in support of this assignment was obtained under the “fair use” provision J). The problem is where to draw the line that would allow protection of intellectual property, but also easy public access to electronic media (Okerson, 1996).
Until formal legislation addresses this problem, information systems managers and their companies need to address two types of intellectual property theft. First, they’ll need to stop employees from using the Internet, Web or Intranets to illegally distribute copyrighted information created by other companies. Under current rules, Internet providers are liable for knowingly and/or unknowingly disseminating unauthorized copyrighted materials. As an example, Netcom Online Communication Services Inc. was tried and found liable for contributory infringement after it failed to remove copyrighted materials that had been placed on one of its servers (Chabrow, 1996). One way to prevent this is by educating the employees on the rules and regulation that are applicable to the transfer of information. Four common fallacies concerning Internet use should be clarified (Muth, 1996):
1) Only marked “Copyright” information is copyright protected. There is no longer a requirement that copyrighted works need to have a copyright notice. If a private party created an article, image, recording, or software, then that item is copyrighted.
2) Since making copies of software, images and text on the Internet is so simple, people believe that copying this is legal. Copyright laws have never said that easy copying eliminates the author’s rights. The law does recognize some situations where private, non-commercial copying may be permitted, as discussed previously under the “fair use” exception. But commercial use and distribution of this material is illegal.
3) My business cannot be liable for the personal copying done by my employees. When businesses provide access to the Internet to its employees, it becomes potentially liable for their actions. Sometimes (and of course we never do this! J) employees may surf the net, make copies and store files in their office computers. Even if they are doing this on company time, businesses have been held liable for copyright violations by employees using the business computers to access the Internet.
4) My business owns the copyright for our home page. Many companies have hired consultants to create their home pages to present information about their products or services to Internet users. When this happens, the copyright for that home page (i.e., the fancy graphics and format) belongs to the consultant unless there is an express assignment of the copyright to the purchaser.
Congress is currently debating bills concerning copyright laws dealing with the above problems. But in the mean time, the best way for businesses to avoid these types of copyright problems is to make their employees aware of the rules and regulations concerning material accessed through the Internet. Rules that once applied to only a few companies now bind millions of people.
Information systems managers also need to guard their own intellectual property from the Net copyright pirates. To reduce this problem, software packages are being developed to enable users to block out unwanted material, or to safeguard electronic distribution of copyrighted works. Mechanisms include encryption, holographic technology and/or digital signatures embedded in the electronic media, which could trace illicit copies back to the source (Barlow, 1996). Automatic paying systems, which are digital packages that ensure the publisher gets paid automatically whenever a user calls up a program or data, also seems to be catching on for business to business transactions. Even though some of these means may be costly and not always hacker resistant, they can provide the business adequate protection and avoid more expensive litigation issues.
Another important issue is that the Internet has no physical territories, and its users are only subject to the laws of whatever jurisdiction and country they live in. This is crucial when dealing with countries like China that have very lax copyright regulations. To help with this multinational matter, there is now a Virtual Magistrate, an online tribunal founded by the Cyberspace Law Institute to resolve disputes arising in the electronic world (Barlow, 1996). They plan to rule on voluntarily submitted cases, including copyright infringement cases, by the norms of cyberspace rather than terrestrial courts. It is up to the parties to agree to abide by their case decisions.
The core copyright industries in the U.S. (publishing, film and music) accounted for more than $200 billion in business annually (Okerson, 1996). Vast sums of money will be gained or lost as a result of the legal decisions to be made regarding ownership of intellectual property transmitted via electronic media. The controversy between network enthusiasts that believe that “all information should be free” versus businesses that contend that “the real future of the global Internet lies in metering every drop of knowledge and charging for every sip” will continue. Legislation is currently pending in Congress to clarify and strengthen copyright and other intellectual property rights in cyberspace. These laws are evolving to adapt to the growth and multiple uses of the Internet. How society ultimately changes the Copyright Act will largely determine the nation’s information future. In the end, a set of rules that pleases neither side but is tolerable by all may be the formula to take cyberspace into the next century.
Okerson, Ann, “Who Owns Digital Works?”, Scientific American, July 1996
Muth, R. Tomothy, “Business, Copyright, and the Internet”
Chabrow, Eric R., “Copyrights: What’s Left?”, 25 March 1996
Laundon & Laundon, “Management Information Systems: Organization & Technology”, pg. 151, Prentice Hall, 1996
Barlow, John Perry, “Law Creeps Onto the Lawless Net”, 1996