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Internet and Intellectual Property

In pre-Internet days, the purpose of copyright and other intellectual property laws was to prevent unauthorized commercial gain from a product or an idea without the consent of the inventor/creator. But many of the works exchanged through internet, though unauthorized yield no commercial benefit to the distributors. Internet was invented with the intent to promote mass exchange of ideas which has also created confusion whether copyright protections extend to original ideas on the internet as well. The critics of the copyright protection argue that the creation of internet was meant to enable free flow of ideas without any restriction, thus, copyright laws should not extend to the internet (The UK Web Design Company).

The distribution channels on the internet such as peer to peer torrents are often decentralized which makes it harder to pin point the main culprit. In addition, there is no fool proof way to find those who may have engaged in unauthorized distribution of copyright work. The internet also creates jurisdiction problems because local and national boundaries disappear on the internet. Similarly, questions arise whether companies are liable when their customers or users of products use the products in an unintended manner. It also becomes extremely costly if not impossible in terms of both time and resources to prosecute every one guilty of breaking the copyright laws. Thus, internet presents serious challenges in the way of enforcement of copyright and intellectual property laws.

It used to be that when customer bought a product such as cassette tape or video cassette, he/she could make copies for non-commercial purposes. But some companies have tried to install lock-in software in digital media in order to prevent free distribution on the internet. Such an action also has the unfortunate potential of infringing on customers’ rights to make copies for personal purposes or enjoy the content on other devices. Similarly, customers also have a right to resell the product they purchase such as book or a car and it is known as the first sale doctrine (Meyer). But internet complicates the situation because content bought on the internet or in digital form can be duplicated infinite times with zero marginal cost.

The capabilities of internet could not have been predicted by the writers of the original copyright and intellectual property laws which is why older laws are incapable of fully addressing the modern challenges of intellectual property. The decentralized nature of internet also makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to enforce rules as well as prosecute those guilty of violating the laws. Internet has already changed the perception of copyright and intellectual property and it is likely that laws will evolve that may even take away some rights customers have become used to.

First sale doctrine may be a likely victim and customers may not be able to resell the digital content like they can resell physical goods. It is also likely that instead of buying a digital content, the customers will merely purchase a license and the companies will retain the right to cancel those licenses anytime. Customers’ purchase of digital content doesn’t give them full ownership rights anymore as has happened traditionally. It is now up to the companies to define customers’ ownership and selling rights for each product they sell. This also complicates matters because customers do not have the time to read license details for every purchase they make and more often than not, they agree to the terms without knowing anything about them.


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