Intellectual Property on the Internet
Written by Sianee Hawkins
The Internet along with the World Wide Web is one of the major inventions in history. The advent of the Internet introduced a lot of challenges in the way information is accessed and disseminated. Due to these problems, it becomes relevant to develop laws and regulations affecting its proper and fair use. I would like to open a discussion regarding another major issue of intellectual property on the Internet – online piracy.
In the article “A Post-SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) Shift in International Intellectual Property Norm Creation” Yoder (2012) reveals the shift in the development of intellectual property (IP) norms from large actors in the private sector (US entertainment industry) to smaller, more publicly-minded influencers (Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), think tanks, and the general public). The reason he gave for this shift is three-fold.
The first reason is the introduction of empirical analysis in IP norm creation. In the past, IP policies were created using unverifiable or exaggerated numbers. The second reason is the apparent ideological inconsistencies in the policies being posited by the initial creators of IP norms. The evolution of the forum for the development of IP norms went from a purely political organization to one based around trade. This creates a problem because theoretically, these two concepts are antithetical. Free trade is concerned with removing market barriers to allow for the free flow of goods, services and labor, whereas IP rights do just the opposite. The third reason is because of the Internet. The extreme connectivity of the Internet has rendered older models of IP protection, particularly copyright, clumsy and impractical. The Internet has made information more widely available than before and has reduced the cost of engaging in activism, especially against legislation that has the potential to alter the very architecture of the Internet itself.
According to Yoder (2012), “Widespread use of the internet in the western world has made it increasingly difficult (and arguably impossible) for copyright owners to control how their works get shared, disseminated and altered” (p. 385). In 1999, Napster, the peer-2-peer (P2P) file sharing client, was one of the first examples. However, the company encountered legal challenges when the Record Industry Association of America and artists such as Metallica and Dr. Dre accused Napster of copyright infringement. Despite its shutdown in July 2001, this music sharing company was revolutionary. Napster opened doors for other file sharing websites such as Morpheus and LimeWire (Yoder, 2012, p. 385). I believe that copyright should and can exist but not in an unlimited fashion, in the online world. Introduction of new, licit digital methods of consuming music that work on a subscription service like iTunes or through advertising like Spotify and Pandora have resulted in the reduction of illegal online file sharing. Having music, movies and games that can be checked out at libraries for free is also helpful in lowering rates of online piracy.
I admire the stance of organizations such as Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Heritage Foundation, for openly protesting the attempted adoption of SOPA and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). We need to protect our right to access information without restriction. In response to the We the People petition regarding SOPA and “combating online piracy while protecting an open and innovative Internet,” the Obama Administration stated,
While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet (Espinel, Chopra, & Schmidt, 2012).
Data used to justify the creation of SOPA and PIPA have been exaggerated and fabricated in order to protect IP that favors large corporations, with little or no foresight into the long term economic consequences. There should be research done to generate credible data that could be compared to data produced by the government and educational bodies. I understand that the American entertainment industry is greatly affected by online piracy, but these polices are not the solution to the problem. There needs to be a broader participation from the public and third parties, such as NGOs, think tanks, and non-profit organizations.
As the Internet continues to expand to meet the needs of users, information policies must be developed in order to make sure that it is stable and constructive. I agree with President Obama’s statement that “the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become” (Clinton, 2010). I would like to invite you to join in the protest of SOPA, PIPA and any other policies that are geared towards limiting the freedom of anyone to access the Internet. I would like to leave you with one question: Do you think it is necessary to protect copyright in the online world?
Clinton, H.R.(2010). Remarks on Internet Freedom. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/01/135519.htm
Espinel, V., Chopra, A., & Schmidt, H. (2012). Combating Online Piracy while Protecting an Open and Innovative Internet. Retrieved from https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/response/combating-online-piracy-while-protecting-open-and-innovative-internet
Yoder, C. (2012, December 1). A Post- SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) Shift in International Intellectual Property Norm Creation. The Journal of World Intellectual Property, 15(5/6), 379-388.