Intellectual Property and the Digital Economy

by Mathias Klang

Intellectual property is the hot issue of the digital economy. It stretches from the theoretical arguments on the right to own information to the serious everyday problems concerning the very basis of Internet geography. The panel was described on the web page: "New laws are proposed or adopted frequently to strengthen intellectual property rights. Contract and technical protections are strengthening intellectual property protection as well. This past year saw adoption of new trademark domain name cybersquatter legislation, significant developments in the legal protection for the contents of databases, approval of a new licensing law for computer information, and more legislation and caselaw on digital copyright issues, not to mention endorsement of e-commerce and business method patents that will have substantial impacts on computers, freedom and privacy. Some have even proposed giving individuals property rights in their personal information as a way to protect privacy..."

With these goals in mind the panel attempted both to educate and to inspire the audience on what is both a legally complex issue and an important question for the CFP/IS community as a whole.

Yochai Benkler of the NYU Law School spoke on the topic of copyright. Under the title "The politic economics of enclosure" he touched upon the important issues of the new copyright directive in Europe and the two (almost incompatible) bills proposed in the United States. One was the copyright in data and the other concerned prohibition of duplication. Randall Davis' topic was "The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age". This is the discussion the collision between information and intellectual property. David Post led the audience on a legal tour of Internet geography by explaining the problems of trademark law in relation to the domain name system. The talk included the basics of trademarks, an explanation of the problem of consumer confusion on the Internet and a discussion of the legal remedies open to the trademark holder. The talk ended with a critique of the legal remedies where the courts were economically inefficient and the alternate dispute resolutions were not always enforceable. The conflicts involved in this issue guarantee that there will be plenty of work to be done in this area in the future. Pamela Samuelson spoke on the basic foundations and purpose of intellectual property law. Starting with the philosophical foundations of IP she explained the rights granted upon the property owner and what these implied. She then continued with a discussion on the new set of problems created when IP law (especially copyright) is applied onto a digital environment.

On the whole the panel gave a well rounded picture of the problem area. Proving both the importance of sensible regulation (without attempting to define what that may be) and the need for legislation to be sensitive to the technological realities of the present rather than attempting to simply enforce the rules of the past.