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Caught in a Web, Intellectual Property in Cyberspace Mass Market Paperback – 15 Jan 2001

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 201 pages
  • Publisher: Derwent Information (22 Dec. 2000)
  • ISBN-10: 0901157015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0901157010
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 10,695,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

From the Back Cover

A new war is taking place in cyberspace. File-swapping services like Napster and Freenet are challenging the very raison d'jtre of copyright, corporate brands and trademarks are being regularly highjacked by cyber- squatters, and controversial new e-commerce patents are pushing at the boundaries of what is patentable.

These developments have sparked a ferocious debate, and raised a fundamental question: is traditional intellectual property fit for a web-based economy?

Caught in a Web charts this debate, describes how courts and governments are struggling to adapt IP laws to the new technology, and interviews leading thinkers from both sides of the barricades.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1 - All change or plus ca change?

One of the most compelling questions of our times is the extent to which the web will transform our lives. Does it fundamentally alter the social and economic laws that seemed immutable; or does it merely change some of the ways in which we operate our businesses, communicate with each other, and organise our lives?

Polarisation of investor sentiment between 'old economy' companies (as represented by the Dow Jones Index) and 'new economy' companies (traded on NASDAQ) reflects that degree of uncertainty. So too do the dichotomised discussions about the web taking place every day in newspapers, on television and on the web.

But while much of this discussion tends to focus around questions of pornography, work patterns, business models, management style and investment choice, there is a less obvious - but equally important - debate under way about the role of traditional intellectual property (IP) in the new economy.

Until now, much of this discussion has taken place amongst lawyers and IP specialists - mainly in the US. Increasingly, however, the topic is attracting the attention of governments, regulators, and even the mainstream media. Meanwhile, the debate is spreading and becoming as controversial a topic in Europe and Asia as it is in the US.

It is also a discussion that inspires heated exchanges from opposing camps - not to mention costly litigation! On the one hand there are those who, like Victor Siber, former head of IP at IBM, and now with New York lawyers Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells, argue that the web has changed very little with regard to IP rights.

On the other hand, internet organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), along with supporters of the free and open source software movements like Richard Stallman (founder of the free software movement) and Tim O'Reilly (open source activist and founder of O'Reilly & Associates), argue that traditional views of IP are in conflict with web development.

So what is specific about the web that it has triggered this debate? And what are the implications of the changes it introduces?

What's new? Digital copying, and the ability to generate endless replicas without loss of quality is not new of course. What is new is that the web has made it possible to replicate - and then distribute - multiple copies of copyrighted material to any number of people around the world with the click of a mouse. The web, in short, exemplifies the 'network effect' - if you are the only one with an internet connection, it isn't worth very much since there are no others to email to or any web sites to visit. As the network expands, and friends, family and business contacts all get connected, that connection becomes exponentially more valuable. As Kevin Kelly, Editor-at-large of Wired magazine, points out: "Mathematics says the sum value of a network increases as the square of the number of members."

The implication of this for owners of IP is that their copyrighted materials, including software, music, pictures and - once broadband becomes widely available - whole movies, can be flawlessly pirated at will. And as more and more people are wired to the Internet, so the threat of this piracy grows exponentially.

Clearly this phenomenon has considerable implications for copyright.

The knowledge economy
One implication of the knowledge economy is that it is increasing the value that companies, organisations and individuals attach to the knowledge, or intellectual assets, that they create or acquire. Today ideas are more and more viewed as a company's most important assets. As Fred Warshofsky, author of The Patent Wars, states: "The new technologies, new processes, and new products that constitute IP now form the economic bedrock of international trade and national wealth. Human creativity in the form of ideas, innovations, and inventions has replaced gold, colonies, and raw materials as the new wealth of nations."

As a result, companies are becoming far more focused on protecting their ideas and their innovations - and it is to IP laws that they are turning in order to do this. We are, therefore, seeing much greater interest in copyright and trademarks. More controversially, the web has sparked an arms race of patenting activity - with companies flooding patent offices with applications to patent web-based technologies and business methods.

The triumph of non-rivalrous consumption and open source software?

The ease with which digital content can be distributed on the web has also stimulated growing interest in 'non-rivalrous consumption'. This in turn has raised questions about the role of traditional IP in the new economy, with some concluding that IP is inappropriate or irrelevant on the web.

What do we mean by non-rivalrous consumption? It is best understood by comparing it with the way in which we 'consume' property. "When property law gave me the exclusive right to use my house, there was a very good reason for it," explains Lawrence Lessig in his recent book, Code and other Laws of Cyberspace. "If you used my house while I did, I would have less to use. When the law gives me exclusive right to my apple, that too makes sense. If you eat my apple, then I cannot."

By contrast, he adds, "If you 'take' my idea, I still have it. If I tell you an idea, you have not deprived me of it. An unavoidable feature of intellectual property is that its consumption, as the economists like to put it, is 'non-rivalrous'. Your consumption does not lessen mine. If I write a song, you can sing it without making it impossible for me to sing it. If I write a book, you can read it without disabling me from reading it. Ideas, at their core, can be shared with no reduction in the amount the 'owner' can consume. This difference is fundamental."

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 reviews
J. Bryans
5.0 out of 5 starsA thought-provoking, readable guide to IP in the Digital Age
4 April 2001 - Published on Amazon.com
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