In the age of digital information, copyright and the idea of "fair dealing" have become more complicated issues. As users gain quicker and more comprehensive access to information, and more ability to store, duplicate and modify that information, their abilities have come into conflict with the interests of creators and publishers. The Internet provides a new type of environment for information because it is so global, digital, and highly networked (Poynder 3). Within this context, the roles of libraries and librarians are rendered more problematic. As institutions whose primary function is to supply and mediate access to information, how do libraries reconcile this responsibility with the legal conditions of copyright law?
The "right" in the word "copyright" is at the root of a semantic, cultural and legal problem. The word "right" implies something inalienable, inherent. But many would not characterize copyright that way. Siva Vaidhyanathan suggests that we should look at copyright as an incentive, a bargain struck between a society's users and its creators ("Copyright and Democracy" 156). This is also the approach taken by the American Committee for Economic Development in their report "Promoting Innovation and Economic Growth: The Special Problem of Digital Intellectual Property". This report notes,
This process [of protecting intellectual property], therefore, requires that intellectual property law and policy strike a fine balance between the rights of innovators (cre- ators) and the right of subsequent imitators and users (disseminators) who turn those cre- ations into new economic activity. (xi)Some also see copyright as a privilege, one granted by government to creators specifically to foster creation of new cultural material. The very nature of publishing something- whether it is on the Internet, on paper, or performed by an orchestra- is making it public, sharing it. What types of rights and privileges should follow this act of sharing depends on your perspective. As Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software movement, writes,
[D]igital information technology makes it easier for people to copy and manipulate information and it has made it possible for the general public to exercise the freedom to copy works. It is now a useful freedom for us all to have and as a result we can no longer afford to trade it away. (interviewed by Paul Gosling in Poynder, 59)
The term "intellectual property" (IP) has a similar semantic and legal ambiguity. The phrase's wide use today indicates how prevalent the 'idea as property' paradigm has become. But it is a mistake to see this as the only possible expression of the nature of ideas. Vaidhyanathan, for example, suggests that "intellectual policy" might be more appropriate (Copyrights and Copywrongs 12) because it implies a decision made rather than an inalienable right honoured. The ideas of "copyright" and "intellectual property" are more complicated than they may appear at first, and this becomes even more true when we include the digital world in the equation.
Many authors have espoused the belief that the values of the Internet and IP are antithetical, that the idea of reconciling them is absurd. John Perry Barlow writes, "Intellectual property law cannot be patched, retrofitted, or expanded to contain the gasses of digitized expression any more than real estate law might be revised to cover the allocation of broadcasting spectrum" (170). Laurence Lessig also makes a powerful argument that the success of the Internet has depended on its open, collaborative, and creative nature (44). The dichotomy created by traditional publishing, in which creators create and users consume, has broken down online. As Kevin Kelly writes in Wired magazine, "What we all failed to see was how much of this new world would be manufactured by users, not corporate interests... One study found that only 40 percent of the Web is commercial. The rest runs on duty or passion." Not only are users creating content; they are constantly engaged in remixing, parodying, reinventing, and reverse-engineering old content. The Internet has become the hub of what Wired called the "remix planet" (title for issue 13.07), a world where IP is constantly being de- and re-constructed in a constant search for better expression, new meaning, or, in the case of open source software, a bug-free release.
This is the chaotic world in which intellectual property law has attempted to make its authority known. In some senses it has been successful. But prosecution of copyright crimes online has proven problematic. Legal action can be taken against websites, companies, or individuals, but the users comprise millions of moving targets. Attempts have been made to control legal rights with technology using methods known as Digital Rights Management (DRM): encryption, watermarking, etc. However, DRM may never be able to stay completely ahead of hackers (Poynder 131). At present the Internet is logistically impossible to bring under complete legal control.
I will attempt to provide some insight into the changes that have taken place in copyright by reviewing recent literature on the subject. I will be considering perspectives in favour of, and against, tighter copyright; and the implications of digital copyright for users in general and libraries specifically. I have attempted to focus on recent literature that is relevant to the library-specific situation, although in some cases the works mentioned deal with digital copyright more generally.
Next section: Changes to Copyright