Digital rights

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from lucychili

As a broad topic digital rights divide into

  • rights to access/use, and
  • rights to own/control technologies, ideas or information.

From the ownership perspective protective digital rights have been traditionally a way to give one person or group a headstart on specific information as a result of their previous loyalty, investment or innovation. They usually exist as special cases and work in conjunction with a default system of access rights or rules about what people usually can expect to do with technologies, ideas and information.

Recently there has been a shift in this system which puts much more emphasis on the creator and content distributor side of the balance. Where previously copyright protections were a special consideration or exception to generic access rights, now we are requesting generic access rights as exemptions to copyright. This is a reaction to the internet which enables people to share information freely. The DMCA lobby have successfully lobbied to have their perspective on digital rights implemented around the world as a prerequisite of trade negotiations with the United States.

As a result there is a response from other parties to try and regain consideration, control and access to information. The internet also changes the landscape of information managment from the perspective of those who aim to create and distribute it. Publishers and distributors have far more access to the buyer's personal equipment and conversations which then has extensive implications for basic rights with information. For example there are moves from broadcasting groups to define the broadcasting process as a process which claims rights for the broadcaster at the expense of the artists webcasting or sharing their work online.

Many groups are concerned about the current legal situation and are talking about these issues.

  • Some groups are working on developing alternative models which look at the needs of creators and consumers in an internet enabled world.
  • Some groups are looking to negotiate with the existing digital rights laws to establish exemptions for fair use and fair dealing.
  • Libraries have specific needs and are lobbying for those.
  • Universities have specific needs as researchers who need to be able to report freely and are lobbying for those.
  • Some groups are reacting directly to the existing system by argue that the system is not valid in their eyes.

Artists, musicians, authors and scientists and people who create with information have not traditionally had a strong voice in these negotiations as their rights were often expected to be represented by the distributing organisations. The internet provides an opportunity for these groups to find ways which they can directly manage and license their work.

So basically there are opportunities which have emerged as a result of the internet. Some parties are aiming to establish right of way with those opportunities. People around the world who have not traditionally needed to lobby to have fair use and fair dealing rights to access information are at a disadvantage because the groups which have access to the international treaty process have been investing heavily in progressing their perspective.

Internet enabled communications methods such as blogging have enabled people around the world to see each other and to discuss the concerns openly. The challenge for these groups is to translate that online perspective into effective voices at the treaty table. It has been suggested that this will take a mass recognition of the issue around the world by people, and pressure through electoral and government lobbying processes. Given that many of the people in this internet community are the people who do innovate and create and manage information there may be ways to effect change more directly. The challenge is to gain enough support to be recognised as an important voice at the treaty table.

Eben Moglen has contributed greatly to debates on these issues: