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Pondering the fate of copyright.

Grabbing an image, downloading a music track from a new compact disk, or sending a copy of a news article to a friend is a cinch on the Internet. Such easy sharing of digital information, however, poses difficult problems, says computer scientist Randall Davis of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It calls into question traditional forms of intellectual-property protection, such as copyright, which have long served as tools for maintaining a delicate balance between the need for public access to information and the interests of the creators of that information.

In a new report, a panel of the Washington, D.C.-based National Research Council (NRC), chaired by Davis, foresees major changes in the handling of intellectual property. It also emphasizes that innovative technology and novel business practices, applied in conjunction with existing copyright laws, are likely to be far more effective in protecting electronic information than sweeping legislation would be. The panel's draft report, "The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age," is available at

The dilemma arises because easy copying--illicit as well as legal--stems from the same technology that permits people to have unlimited access to information. "The tradition of providing for a limited degree of access to published materials that was established in the world of physical artifacts must be continued in the digital context," the NRC panel concludes. However, because electronic media and computer networks blur the distinction between publication and private distribution, the panel recommends that the concept of publication itself be reevaluated.

One trend the panel emphasized is an increase in the licensing of digital information, especially software. However, such access management makes information "more an event to be experienced, rather than an artifact to be kept," Davis observes. Online journal subscriptions are actually licensing arrangements. "When you buy a subscription to a traditional journal, you own the back issues when the subscription expires. With an online journal, what do you own when the subscription expires?" Davis asks.

The panel's report also touches on such issues as archiving and preservation, protecting material cryptographically, allowing fair use, and maintaining access to government information.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:intellectual property
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 27, 1999
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