Digital Rights Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Digital Copyright problem of the Digital Age is that while information is easy and economical to publish and disseminate, exploitation of digital copyright and intellectual property rights remains a contentious issue. The question of who owns the right to digital information is one of the most hotly contested issues on the Web today. The subject of intellectual and digital copyright is fast becoming a topic that is expected to have a major impact on shaping the future of the networked world.

The very nature of the Internet with its wide range of formats and diverse types of data has made the issue of intellectual property rights a minefield of contending voices. The complexity of online copyright, which often involves wide legal and ethical ramifications, has even become a contemporary pseudo-philosophical issue with questions like "Who owns what?" And "What, exactly, is owned?" And "What rights does ownership convey?" becoming the subject of heated debates. However, the real problem lies with the practical day-to-day understanding of what is meant by intellectual property and how it is being observed and abused online.

Elliot Zaret clearly outlines in his article, Access Denied: the Limits of Fair Use, copyright is a term that is often loaded with different and sometimes misleading interpretations. Simply put, copyright is a legal device that is intended to provide the creator of a work which conveys information or ideas with the right to certain controls over that work and the way it is used. However, as Zaret states, copyright also has another purpose and that is to advance the progress of knowledge by giving the author of a work an economic incentive to create further works. On the one hand, too little control of copyright takes away the economic incentive to create further works while on the other hand, too much copyright control denies access to creative information and halts the advancement and dissemination of ideas. It is this balancing act between authorial and publishing control and free access to information by the public that is one of the chief causes of the controversy in copyright - especially in the light of the fluid nature of the Internet and the hectic battle of words about what constitutes intellectual property and who controls it.

This "balancing act" is strongly emphasized in Zaret's article. He outlines very clearly the origins and growth of copyright issues from its inception to the present Information Age. Importantly, he also points out that online copyright was initially used as a form of media censorship and control by the powers that be. This is an important facet of the debate that cannot be ignored in the present discussion about digital copyright.

The article outlines the dilemma of copyright in a digital and networked age. A central theme of Zaret's article is that while "computers form the center of a contemporary digital lifestyle that provides new ways of listening to music, viewing images and making videos," the technology presents a problem in that it is exceptionally easy to duplicate information, music and images files. That's how digital copyright infringement erodes the established copyright laws as they presently exist. The article further elaborates that the difficulty lies in the fact that present copyright laws are intended for on offline and not on online world. This presents enormous problems with regard to the ethics and practical implications of determining digital copyright.

On the one side is the entertainment industry, which wants to fight what it sees as theft and piracy through a combination of lawsuits and legislation, giving it more control over the access to media. On the other side are consumer groups and the technology industry, which want to fight what they see as a rent-seeking industry trying to protect an outdated business model at the risk of jeopardizing fair use and First Amendment rights.


The article is extensive in the rigorous way in which it elucidates the central and cardinal points surrounding this problematic debate. The central focus, which is aimed at achieving a balance between free speech and copyright law, is of vital importance to the future of Information Technology and the Internet. Furthermore, the problem also points to another important aspect that both articles refer to - namely, the issue of Fair Use.

Fair Use is a concept that is at the center of the online copyright storm. The basic idea of Fair Use is that the public has the right to utilize part of any copyright material for purposes of commentary, criticism and reference. This is an essential part of the journalistic and academic world and no research could take place without the right to Fair Use. The important aspect of Fair Use that interests me is that without Fair Use it would be near impossible to criticize or offer comment about any scientist or politician; novel or film, without being able to quote from existing data. Yet, Fair Use is one of the most important aspects guarding free speech and criticism. The principle is important in that it serves to limit the copyright holder's dominance and total exclusivity. This has become a central flashpoint in the ongoing debate and criticism of the Digital Millennium Act. Zaret's article also defines the parameters of this issue in a clear and comprehensive way.

Fair Use is basically a limitation on the copyright holders' right to control copying of their work," says Robin Gross, executive director of IP Justice, a group that advocates fair use rights in digital media. "[Fair use] tries to balance the interests -- the competing legitimate interests -- between the copyright holder and the public, which needs to have access to information to be able to share ideas. The copyright law does not give total control to the copyright holder over what they choose to allow or permit. There is an intentional breathing space.

However, as almost every book and article on the subject clearly states - Fair Use is not a science and there are no set guidelines that are accepted by all. This can be problematic in that if a copyright owner disagrees with an interpretation of what constitutes Fair Use, then the matter could end up in court. Zaret's article succinctly points out that "No one knows what fair use is,"

In practice Fair Use is when a small portion of text or work is taken as an example of that work. The rule of thumb is that less is better and the smaller the extract that is used the less likely it will be viewed as infringement of copyright. Usually, if the amount of the work used approaches 50% of the total then it will be considered unfair usage. The usage should also not adversely affect the original author's financial gain. (ibid)

There are a myriad of factors to take into account when dealing with Fair Use. These include whether the usage can be considered to be a copy of the original work and to what extent the usage of the original improves or transforms the original. As Zaret states, all of these aspects relate to the central issue, which lies at the heart of both articles under discussion: namely the freedom of access and information in a digital world as opposed to the rules and of copyright. This aspect is further compounded by the desire of corporations, governments and industry to control the usage and outflow of information.

Zaret mentions that while technology allows for easy copying and distribution of copyrighted material, the same technology can also be used for purposes of encryption and access-denial to information.

There are two facets to the new technologies that work as a double-edged sword: the ease of copying and distribution, and the ability to limit access through encryption" and "it also offers the copyright owners new ways of limiting access to their work through encryption and a "copy protection" option. (ibid) This central aspect compounds the digital copyright issue even further and adds an ethical dimension, opening up the important issue of the corporate claim to all information and products. Added to this is the contentious issue of the fairly recent move using encryption and other methods to prevent any copying or sharing at all - even when the product has been purchased and is legally the 'property' of the purchaser. One thinks of the restriction on Microsoft's Windows XP in this regard.

Zaret states that "In the digital world, to which the law is just really getting its hands around now, takes some getting used to because of encryption technologies; possession does not necessarily confer the ability to copy." In this regard the larger debate is also largely centered on the issue of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which made it a crime to circumvent any copy protection technology or DRM. The DMCA made it illegal even to disseminate information about how to evade the encryption.

This argument relates to the second article - Copywrong: Copyright Laws are stifling art, but the public domain can save us by…

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"Digital Rights", 04 May 2004, Accessed.18 January. 2018,