Must everything eventually be available for free on the Internet? Steve Lohr, in an article in today’s New York Times, argued that all public digital data will eventually be free on the Internet, because it’s too difficult to protect the intellectual property (IP) rights of the authors.
Mr. Lohr presents an engaging argument for accepting the inevitable distribution and public acquisition of music, words, art, and other works protected by IP law. In facing this inevitable distribution of this collective corpus, we should rethink the protection we strive to afford creators of original works in a manner that recognizes and accepts the new technological environment in which we find ourselves.
An example of the misuse of Internet-related technology that has brings Mr. Lohr to his opinion is the wanton copying and distribution of digital music through file sharing services (i.e. Napster, KaZaA, Grokster, Morpheus), a violation of copyright law. In response, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) this week filed 261 lawsuits against individual users of file sharing systems, using their attempt to enforce current IP laws as a threat to the millions of other illegal music swappers.
Although, as Mr Lohr wrote, “[the Internet has] origins in the research culture of academia with its ethos of freely sharing information,” I can’t imagine that the early-adopter, circa 1960, academicians, scientists, and scholars freely shared all of their research and hard-earned scholarly writings. Having the technology to share data doesn’t require one to share the data. Having technical skill doesn’t grant one the right to acquire, let alone redistribute, data. I agree with Mr. Lohr that we must allow our approach to protecting the rights of artists to evolve in the face of technological advances; however, I don’t agree that it’s time to roll over and accept that dissemination of currently-protected works is inevitable and, therefore, shouldn’t be restricted.
Some things are inevitable: the sun will again rise and set,the net will continue to transmit data packets, and yes, copyright-protected music will be shared illegally. However, I judge that just because a task is difficult it is no reason to give up the fight. While I have no hard evidence at hand, my perception is that file swapping is most frequently done by young adults whose civil acumen isn’t matched by their technical skill. I think it’s reasonable that our file swappers are less practiced at critically thinking about the value of their civil responsibilities.
In handing over the reins of legal protection under the guise of accepting the inevitable aren’t we, the citizens who have had more opportunities to consider our responsibilities, failing to accept one of our primary civil responsibilities: raising the next generation to be upright, law-abiding citizens?
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