Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Strong Copyright + DRM + Weak Net Neutrality = Digital Dystopia?

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Strong Copyright + DRM + Weak Net Neutrality = Digital Dystopia?

Article excerpt

Three critical issues--a dramatic expansion of the scope, duration, and punitive nature of copyright laws; the ability of Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems to lock-down digital content in an unprecedented fashion; and the erosion of Net neutrality, which ensures that all Internet traffic is treated equally--are examined in detail and their potential impact on libraries is assessed. How legislatures, the courts, and the commercial marketplace treat these issues will strongly influence the future of digital information for good or ill.

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Blogs. Digital photo and video sharing. Podcasts. Rip/Mix/Burn. Tagging. Vlogs. Wikis. These buzzwords point to a fundamental social change fueled by cheap personal computers (PCs) and servers, the Internet and its local wired/wireless feeder networks, and powerful, low-cost software. Citizens have morphed from passive media consumers to digital-media producers and publishers.

Libraries and scholars have their own set of buzzwords: digital libraries, digital presses, e-prints, institutional repositories, and open-access (OA) journals, to name a few. They connote the same kind of change: a democratization of publishing and media production using digital technology.

It appears that we are on the brink of an exciting new era of Internet innovation: a kind of digital utopia. Gary Flake of Microsoft has provided one striking vision of what could be (with a commercial twist) in a

presentation entitled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Imminent Internet Singularity," and there are many other visions of possible future Internet advances. (1)

When did this metamorphosis begin? It depends on who you ask. Let's say the late 1980s, when the Internet began to get serious traction and an early flowering of noncommercial digital publishing occurred.

In the subsequent twenty-odd years, publishing and media production went from being highly centralized, capital-intensive analog activities with limited and well-defined distribution channels, to being diffuse, relatively low-cost digital activities with the global Internet as their distribution medium. Not to say that print and conventional media are dead, of course, but it is clear that their era of dominance is waning. The future is digital.

Nor is it to say that entertainment companies (e.g., film, music, radio, and television companies) and information companies (e.g., book, database, and serial publishers) have ceded the digital-content battlefield to the upstarts. Quite the contrary.

High-quality, thousand-page-per-volume scientific journals and Hollywood blockbusters cannot be produced for pennies, even with digital wizardry. Information and entertainment companies still have an important role to play, and, even if they didn't, they hold the copyrights to a significant chunk of our cultural heritage.

Entertainment and information companies have understood for some time that they must adapt to the digital environment or die, but this change has not always been easy, especially when it involves concocting and embracing new business models. Nonetheless, they intend to thrive and prosper--and to do whatever it takes to succeed. As they should, since they have an obligation to their shareholders to do so.

The thing about the future is that it is rooted in the past. Culture, even digital culture, builds on what has gone before. Unconstrained access to past works helps determine the richness of future works. Inversely, when past works are inaccessible except to a privileged minority, future works are impoverished.

This brings us to a second trend that stands in opposition to the first. Put simply, it is the view that intellectual works are property; that this property should be protected with the full force of civil and criminal law; that creators have perpetual, transferable property rights; and that contracts, rather than copyright law, should govern the use of intellectual works. …

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