The recent U.S. District Court decision concerning the controversial file-sharing service Napster has once again fueled the debate about copyright and digital media (for more information on the Napster case see: http://www.wired.com/news/mp3/0,1285,41784,00.html . Although the decision has caused a big stir it is very much in line with recent developments in the field of digital copyright.
Over the centuries copyright law - originally tailored to the technology of print - has been adapted several times, in order to respond to technological changes. Now it is yet again challenged by the advance of digital technologies. These represent something completely new in respect of the fact that they allow the entire information (text, sound and visuals) to be generated, altered and used by and on one and the same device irrespective of whether it is provided online or offline. As a result creators of intellectual property are afraid of an increase in the unlawful reproduction of works, and also Internet service providers (ISP) as well as private and public (libraries, archives etc.) content providers are confronted with a variety of problems.
Questions such as which legislation applies to the violation of copyright in global computer networks, how to handle features such as frames and links that result from the hypermedia structure and are characteristic of digital content, or if ISPs can be held liable for content put online by their customers are yet to be solved. In general the actual discussion about the future of copyright is dominated by two opposing positions:
- Tightening of copyright: Especially the big content production and distribution industries as the main beneficiaries of royalties support the idea of enlarging copyright. Like that they could acquire more control for longer times.
- Relaxation of copyright: Besides a small group, which is in favor of eliminating copyright altogether, others believe that only a relaxation of copyright can guarantee that information is not monopolized, but in the public domain and accessible for everybody.
Although there exists a countermovement, the general tendency is towards an enlargement of copyright. Developments such as the increased use of copyright management and control systems (e.g. CPRM) and new legislation or draft bills e.g. the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act or the proposed EU Directive on Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society can be seen from this perspective. Concerns and critique regarding this trend have arisen especially among the library and archive community, but also amongst Internet Service Providers, who see the rights of copyright holders considerably strengthened at the expense of a free access to information by all.
Information Age: For Whom? by Michael S. Hart
Roundtable: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Copyright?
Cultural Economics: Copyright C.P.U.: Creators, Proprietors & Users by Harry Hillman Chartrand
Open Code and Open Societies by Lawrence Lessig
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)