'Freely accessible, yes; free of charge, no." These words about information in the Internet age are attributed to Bruce Lehman, the US commissioner of patents and trademarks. But they should be a touchstone for all participants in the current 160-nation copyright negotiations in Geneva, where Mr. Lehman heads the US delegation. Since copyright revision has been slow in the past, and global information delivery is rushing to the future, it's important to expedite sound international agreements for protecting the interests of both the consuming public and the providers of information.
Technology is moving ahead to enable Internet distributors of information to get some proportional equivalent to what people pay for newspapers, books, records, or cable TV. Right now cyberspace is full of words, images, sounds, and software in digital forms easily copied, transferred, or pirated.
It's one thing to hit upon an author who says, "Be my guest," inviting you to download his stories free, even print them out if you don't sell them. Many other goodies are available on the Internet, including library catalogs, classics in the public domain, and no-charge computer software. It's another thing to let almost everything be free, depriving "intellectual property" originators of royalties or other returns they have been entitled to "BD," before digitization. How to find the proper balance is the challenge to the World Intellectual Property Organization Conference scheduled to continue to Dec. 20 in Geneva. No one said it would be easy when there are such issues as whether a private user's look at something transmitted on the Internet technically constitutes making a copy that should somehow be paid for. The US is reportedly offering strong copyright protections of a kind refused in legislative proposals during the 104th Congress. …