Intellectual Property Protection in the Information Age

Subject: Tech & Engineering
Pages: 4
Words: 1169
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College

How should intellectual property be protected in the information age?

The arrival of computer technology has led to a faster access to information and ideas through digital networks typical of the information age. The information age has also radically changed how people collect and manipulate information especially through the use of sophisticated software. As a result authors of digital information risk losing their ownership rights as people can now easily manipulate ideas and make them look like their original ideas. Hence, this calls for the protection of intellectual property. The debate on whether to protect the intellectual property of digital information or not has been on for years. While proponents argue that authors of digital information should be granted ownership rights for their intellectual works, opponents argue that this would only restrict the flow of information that would otherwise be beneficial to everyone (Halbert, 1999). For opponents, recognizing intellectual property rights for authors of digital information confer them undue credit since ideas are part of our day-to-day life (Halbert, 1999). I, however, concur with the proponents and insist that authors of digital information should be granted intellectual property rights. But how should these rights be protected in the information age? Is it through laws or codes? In my view, the best way to protect intellectual property in the information age is through an ethical mix of both law and code.

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There are many laws associated with intellectual property in cyberspace. These include the Privacy Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Freedom of Information Act, Title 17 USC (Copyright), the Digital Millennium Act, and the WIPO treaty (Spinello, 2011). While the Freedom of Information Act seeks to ensure the free flow of information and ideas in cyberspace, the other laws regulate the flow of this information to ensure that it is not abused or manipulated in a way that is likely to interfere with the intellectual property rights of the owners. According to Spinello (2011), the protection of the intellectual property is morally justified by both “labor in the desert theory” and “personality theory”. According to labor in the desert theory, information results from individuals’ intellectual labor hence they deserve a right to fruits of their labor. Similarly, personality theory states that intellectual property is an external expression of an individual’s self-worth. Intellectuals should thus be rewarded for their labor. Therefore, protecting their intellectual property rights through the use of well-defined laws is like an incentive to encourage innovators to produce more work (Spinello, 2011). While there exist laws in the U. S. that protect intellectual property in cyberspace, there is a need to amend them in such a way that protects the ownership rights of innovators, but at the same time encourages the use of information for technological development.

However, the use of laws to protect intellectual property may enclose the much-needed information from the public. Laws may only work to favor intellectual property owners and not the general public. Hence, it is at this point that the use of ethical codes can as well be used together with the prevailing laws to ensure that the much-needed information is not enclosed from the public. For instance, the use of coding systems like Metatags that are incorporated into HTMS code to protect the rights of legal owners of websites protect such sites from unauthorized access and manipulation (Spinello, 2002). This may as well include the use of trademark terms that are unique to each website. Such codes protect the legal owners of the website in cases where the site is illegally sold to other users. The identification codes of the legal owners of the site will appear tagged to the site whenever it is searched by a search engine. This can be used as proof in the Court of law. Another way in which codes are used to protect intellectual property is through the use of “Open Source Software” (OSS). OSS ensures that software is distributed together with its source code (Spinello, 2002). This provides a means for recognizing the intellectual property rights of software producers. Apart from coding, ethical codes of conduct provide a reliable intellectual property toolkit in the information age where new software is developed at a faster rate than the law can be amended to keep pace. Ethical codes of conduct provide the Dos and Don’ts of cyberspace and are thus appropriate in protecting intellectual property rights.

What role might time play in information assurance, or in civilizing the cyber world and its laws?

Information assurance refers to steps taken to ensure the free flow of information and at the same time prevent any unauthorized manipulation of digital information (Baase, 2008). Information assurance aims to provide integrity, confidentiality and availability of information (Knapp, 2009). While integrity and confidentiality protect intellectual property rights by protecting the owners against unauthorized access and modification of their ideas and information, availability seeks to ensure that information is made available to the general public (Knapp, 2009). Information assurance and cyber security are achieved through the use of cyber laws and codes, which seek to regulate cyberspace. But what are the future of the cyber world and its laws? The cyber-world is a fast-growing space. Each passing day, many software are developed, some of which are intended to violate the existing laws by illegally using digital information to their advantage (Thierer & Crews, 2002). As a matter of fact, the cyber world is fast growing and hence the regulatory framework has to also keep pace with the growth.

There exist cyber laws, but most of them do not conclusively address cyber issues. Most of the laws only benefit the owners of intellectual property rights at the expense of the end-users of their products. Enforcement of some cyber laws even contradicts other important cyber laws. For instance, enforcement of the Privacy Act contradicts the Freedom of Information Act. While the Freedom of Information Act seeks to ensure free flow of information, Privacy Act accords authors’ privacy rights hence may enclose the much-needed information from the public. The future of information assurance and cyber security is, however, bright given the fact that our lawmakers have started to realize the weaknesses of the prevailing laws and are much willing to amend them.

As time progresses, laws will work out their kinks and start to address more cyber issues. Laws will be amended to ensure that they not only protect intellectual property rights but also ensure the availability of information to the users. There is hope for a reliable legal framework to ensure sanity in cyberspace. More international cyber security treaties will be drafted to govern cyberspace on a global scale. Nevertheless, intellectual property protection technology will also become more reliable with time. Coding will become more reliable and accurate as time progresses. This will make it easier to trace the source of information and make it difficult for people who manipulate cyber products to their advantage. Private-public partnerships to enhance coding technology will be a big step towards ensuring cyber security and information assurance.

References

Baase, S. (2008). Gift of Fire: Social, legal, and ethical issues for computing and internet (3rd Ed.). Lebanon, Indiana, U.S.A: Prentice-Hall.

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Halbert, D. J. (1999). Intellectual property in the information age: The politics of expanding ownership rights. Michigan: Quorum.

Knapp K.J. (2009). Cyber security and global information assurance: threat analysis and response solutions. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Spinello, R. (2011). CyberEthics: Morality and law in cyberspace (4th Ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Spinello, R. A. (2002). The use and abuse of metatags. Ethics and Information Technology, 4 (1), 23-30.

Thierer, A.D. & Crews, C. W. (2002). Copy fights: the future of intellectual property in the information age. Washington D. C: Cato Institute.