Intellectual Property Law and the Net: Problems

Yousuf Dhamee '96

The evolution of the Internet presents problems for traditional intellectual property law, which is better suited to deal with "the protection of tangible goods." Since the law is technically broken whenever material is duplicated without permission a cybercitizen commits a crime whenever he calls up a document from the World Wide Web on his screen. (Radcliffe) Clearly, this is not a reasonable state of affairs. In attempting to write more appropriate legislation, however, lawmakers have had difficulties comprehending the nature of the electronic medium. It has been frequently stated that duplication of information is endemic to Cyberspace. The digital medium facilitates copying and has created an environment where the weaving together of disparate fragments ("owned" by others) is recognized as an act of original work. In some respects we may be moving back towards the ideals of the oral age, where information was considered part of the public domain. The Net makes it difficult to ensure that authors are paid for the use of their works. Further complications arise because of the ease in which Cyberspace documents change hands and mutate. In this Baudrillard-inspired world copies and their originals appear identical. Legislators and judges must find a way to frame new copyright laws such that authors (artists/entertainers/musicians/scientists/etc.) maintain control over their work without the public losing the advantages of easily accessed information. A problem with creating overly strict intellectual property laws is that new production of ideas and texts would be discouraged.