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Intellectual Property Issues on the Web

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

How do copyright and other Intellectual Property concerns relate specifically to the Web? Several initiatives and issues have come about in recent years that are due to digital rights and how to manage them.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Digital Rights Management (DRM) allows content creators to provide protection for their Intellectual Property. DRM solutions address not only the social and legal concerns of Intellectual Property in the digital realm, but provide technological solutions as well. So, for example, if you are creating a multimedia project for your Web site, technological solutions to protect your work with a digital signature or similar option are likely to be some aspect of DRM.

An area of hot controversy, opponents refer to DRM as "Digital Restrictions Management" and feel that DRM can be used to protect Intellectual Property so that it blurs rather than clarifies the lines of ownership and privacy, and impedes innovation. What's more, opponents feel that DRM raises questions about what constitutes real protection and what may be governmental agenda.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Signed into law by President Clinton in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) adds very specific information regarding how digital information is managed. It's considered to be the most dramatic reform of copyright law in U.S. history. Key topics covered by the act include:

  • Digital copyright protection (see DRM)
  • Fair use in the digital environment
  • Online service provider liability

The act is very detailed and, as with DRM in general, extremely controversial—with opponents claiming that it's being used to block innovation. (You can find more information about the act as well as its opponents in the Online Resources section below.)

Creative Commons (CC)

As you can see, issues of rights in the digital age are passionate and decisions made regarding rights will ultimately alter not only U.S. law, but laws all over the world.

In an effort to afford authors more control over their published material on the Web, an organization called Creative Commons (CC) has successfully introduced three licenses that extend copyright. These licenses notify others clearly about copyrighted materials appearing on a site, allowing authors to define that material as follows:

  • Available for all use, including commercial use
  • Available for non-commercial use, provided that attribution is made
  • Not available for use

Creative Commons licensing is becoming a very popular way for authors and designers to clarify to others exactly how their content can or cannot be used.