Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Electrons, Electronic Publishing, and Electronic Display

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Electrons, Electronic Publishing, and Electronic Display

Article excerpt

This article provides a perspective on electronic publishing by distinguishing between what we call "Newtonian" publishing and what we call "quantum-mechanical" publishing. This distinction revolves around the means by which information is distributed. We conclude that much of what is currently called electronic publishing is actually classical Gutenberg-style publishing carried out by modern methods and that, from our perspective, electronic publishing has been a reality for many years. Computers and recent advances in telecommunications, however, have greatly increased the capabilities of electronic publishing and have also given rise to the possibility of creating new types of publishable artifacts, some of which we describe. The article ends with an examination of some of the recent copyright-law issues and their relationship to quantum-mechanical publishing; in particular, this section explores the distinction between the replication and the display of a copyrightable work.


Suddenly people are speaking of the "advent of the electronic publishing age." Yet publishing has existed since the time of Gutenberg and, for nearly a century now, information has been disseminated electronically. One can argue that electronic publishing was established, at least in America, in East Pittsburgh in 1919-1920 with Frank Conrad's music broadcasts at radio station KDKA (previously station 8XK).(1)

In this paper we will explore the meaning of electronic publishing. We will argue that much of what today is called electronic publishing is firmly rooted in the printing press tradition, albeit updated to use electronic paper. Our thesis is that electronic publication is a delivery medium: publication is an action, a process, rather than an artifact. From the verb "to publish" comes the noun "publication," which means simply anything that is published. Calling something a publication says little about the nature of the thing, except that it can be reproduced or displayed at a distance. An electronic publication, in the strict sense, is anything that is published through electronic means; it says almost nothing about the nature of the work--the content of the media.

Our first task must be to distinguish the new electronic delivery mechanisms from the classical, Gutenberg, delivery mechanisms. We will then review some of the works that can be delivered through these two kinds of media. We will discuss not only updated forms of old printed works reworked for electronic delivery, but also new classes of works based on electronic technologies. The latter are not, from our point of view, merely electronic publications, but rather new kinds of works that can be delivered only over the channels of electronic publication. They are artifacts that exploit the capabilities of the electronic channel in essential ways. Finally, we will explore some of the ramifications of electronic publication for intellectual property rights and the copyright laws used to protect such rights.


Since Gutenburg, publishing has primarily involved hard copy media, of which paper has been the most popular. Traditionally, each step of the publishing process--authoring, submission, referencing, editing, typesetting, printing, disseminating, storing, and delivering--has used paper.

How do paper and electronic media differ? To label the distinction, one might say that hard copy publishing is "Newtonian," and electronic publishing is "quantummechanical."

The difference between the two becomes apparent if we construct a simple thought experiment about document delivery over a relatively large distance. It is not relevant whether the publication was created or stored electronically. What is relevant is the method of delivery.

In this experiment we wish to deliver a published journal article to a space station in orbit 800 kilometers above the earth. …

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