Intellectual property in the digital age

Have you ever considered how simple it is to share media content using the Internet? It seems that everything exist in the cloud or even in some sort of non-tangible digital form. Consider this blog post; it’s available for you when you browse your way to the website address, but once you click away from the site it is “out of mind and out of sight.” I have very little control over who can access my writings once I publish them online; not to mention that there are ways to access this post off-line.

Intellectual property and copyright protection is highly important to me, as I am a copyright holder with multiple songs available on the internet. However, most of listen to music online, read e-books, and engage in media using the internet so this topic is one that affects all of us. Let’s dive into this discussion a little bit deeper, and we’ll start with robbery in the digital age.

Digital Theft

One of the many benefits of a computer and digital data is that it increases productivity with tools like select, highlight, cut, copy, and paste. In other words, if you like the words that someone else used all you have to do is highlight, copy and paste. Within seconds, you can share these words with your social circle, and those people can do the same thing. Did you intentionally steal those words from someone else? Probably not, but that is exactly what happened. This is a common occurrence on the internet, especially with social networking sites. Most internet authors probably expect and appreciate when their work is shared, as long as they receive appropriate credit. But what happens when you share e-books, mp3s, and other digital media? Is this considered theft or is it totally legal? Are you just letting someone borrow your mp3 files, or are you illegally distributing copyrighted material to friends and family for free? What separates you from a bootlegger? These are all questions to consider while sharing and accessing digital content.

Open Source Movement and Creative Commons

Before you begin to paint yourself as a digital thief you should consider some of the content that is available in the marketplace. Have you ever heard of a creative commons (CC) license? Well, in short, CC is a license that creators use to allow public use of content they create. It is a little more detailed than this, but you should visit the creative commons website for more information. A CC license is similar to open access software. Open access software allows software developers to access source code for use and/or modification from the original program. According to Carillo and Okoli (2009), the open access software community is important to the public as they provide answers to major consumer problems that the commercial world has yet to resolve. Open access software and CC communities use the internet as a means of communication to create, develop, and maintain software and other intellectual properties.

If the content that you are accessing and sharing on the web is open source or covered by a CC license then you are off the hook, but let me emphasize that not all media is created equal. Many intellectual property owners are gleaning for an opportunity to put digital thieves behind bars. “Within the open access context, debate focuses on whether an article is ‘open’ when it…is freely accesbile over the Internet but still subject to the standard restrictions imposed by copyright law” (Carillo & J.D., 2013, p. 789). In other words, some people assume that everything on the internet is open source, and this is not true. We should probably discuss some of the security and surveillance features that protect copyright owners.

Copyright Protection

Before I share some thoughts about how copyright owners are protecting their intellectual property, let me share why copyrights are important to the creative process. I mean, a good song is only good if people hear it so why would anyone be upset if people are distributing music via the internet for free? Maybe that is a silly question, but many people make that same argument in their minds right before they transfer their digital music collection over to a friend’s jump drive. Let’s imagine that a song is like a car. It moves people. I helps people get where they need to be. Now let’s imagine the keys to car are like the provisions of copyright law. The person who owns car has the sole right to lend the car to whomever he or she desires because, after all, the car belongs to the owner. The car owner can make copies of the keys and distribute them to whomever he or she desires. What if someone who borrowed the car made a copy of the keys and began sharing the car with other people? Well, more people would be able to drive the car, but what if the owner of the car did not want everyone to drive his car? What if you were the owner of the car? Can you imagine finding your car in a stranger’s driveway? And, what would happen when you wanted to sell your used car, but a stranger had already sold it without your consent? Do you think that a stolen vehicle retains its value as well as a vehicle that has never been stolen?

In my example, the song is the car and the copyright is the key that operates the car. A copyright owner has the right to share and distribute his songs to whomever he pleases, but those people do not have the right to do the same unless he gives them permission. Similar to automobiles, copyrights do not hold their value once they have been compromised or stolen. I hope you understand why copyright law is important to intellectual property owners. Now we are ready to discuss the provisions of security and surveillance.

Digital surveillance and privacy invasion

I think the easiest way for copyright owners to manage their digital property is to monitor distribution. In theory, it seems simple and logistic, but in reality it is more like an invasion of property. Should media producers have access to personal files or even have the ability to track how consumers are using digital products on their personal computers? How about in a professional environment? Do corporations and business owners have the right to monitor computer usage?

People create technology to fill specific needs and desires. And technology is regulated, or not, as people and society see fit. Few engineers set out to build systems designed to crush privacy and autonomy, and few businesses or consumers would willingly use or purchase these systems if they understood the consequences. (Bucy, 2005, p. 324)

Unlike security cameras in a store, office, or other public place digital surveillance probes beyond the capitalistic nature of business and consumer relations. Digital surveillance probes into the personal lives of computer users; every key stroke and mouse swoop can be traced. Perhaps digital surveillance not only prevents or discourages criminal activity, but it nurtures related criminal activity or encourages unethical business practices, like identity theft, and workplace harassment.

Finding a balance

Under current laws, the consumer is not given fair treatment in regards to copyright protection and digital surveillance. As Bucy (2005) explained, technology is not an excuse for privacy invasion. Technology is also not an excuse for criminal activity. John Morton, previous director of US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, stated in 2012 that public awareness and education are important in the effort to combat criminal activity (Kravets, 2012). What is the government doing to increase awareness of copyright protection and the harm it does to the United States economy? How is the government regulating, and enforcing laws that protect the privacy of consumers? I am sure that there is an ethical way to strike balance between copyright protection and digital surveillance, but the United States government is slow to find a role in this battle.

Today, technology is killing one of our most cherished freedoms. Whether you call this freedom the right to digital self-determination, the right to informational autonomy, or simply the right to privacy, the shape of our future will be determined in large part by how we understand, and ultimately how we control or regulate, the threats to this freedom that we face today. (Bucy, 2005, p. 326).

I asked a lot of questions in this post. Feel free to answer some of them in the comments below.


Bucy, E. P. (2005). Living in the information age: A new media reader (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Carillo, K., & Okoli, C. (2009). THE OPEN SOURCE MOVEMENT: A REVOLUTION IN SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT. The Journal of Computer Information Systems, 49(2), 1-9. Retrieved from

Carroll, M. W., J.D. (2013). Creative commons and the openness of open access. The New England Journal of Medicine, 368(9), 789-91. Retrieved from

Kravets, D. (2012, March 8). Pirates beware: DVD anti-piracy warning now twice as fierce. Wired. Retrieved from

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Intellectual property in the digital age

  1. Colette B says:

    Very interesting points you raise, I don’t know enough about most of it and I’ve only skimmed. However I would expect organisations and businesses to have rights to monitor computer use. That would be their responsibility and legal obligation surely? Any home user is responsible for any actions taken using their computer, software, internet service – aren’t they? If you get down to the finer details of user agreements. For instance most people seem completely unaware that any facility used to create, store and/or transmit their data/content is given world-wide royalty free rights to use, appropriate of create derivative works from that user-originated material. It’s a basic standard term of most user agreement for things like Flickr, Facebook, anything content-related that I’ve ever looked into. I could be wrong, but it’s what I expect, especially with ‘free’ resources/facilities. I’m also commenting on an old post and no idea if you still maintain this blog as forgot to check. So, cheers for the excellent article even tho I’m really too tired to read it as carefully as it deserves. cheers 🙂

  2. aaroneharris says:

    Colette, thanks for reading and commenting on this post. To give some background, I wrote this blog as part of an assignment for one of my classes at University of Phoenix, but it just happens to be a topic of high importance to me.

    I’ll attempt to reply to some of the questions your raised.
    Yes, copyright holders do have a right to monitor and issue a “takedown” notice if it is evident that someone has committed copyright infringement. The dilemma with digital media is that once a pirated copy has been released it is very difficult to control its circulation.

    All people are held responsible to the law even if they claim ignorance because ignorance is not an excuse. The strategy of most organizations that focus on protecting the rights of copyright holders, like ASCAP, BMI, SEASAC, and record labels, is to target the web sites and servers that host pirated material. So if you are running an illegal peer to peer sharing website than you should expect to get fined or sued for copyright infringement.

    Facebook and social media is another issue that hobby or amateur copyright holders will usually face. The dilemma is that you want to share your work with the public, but sometimes sharing via social media servers can result in losing some copyright holder rights. Usually, the agreement states that the copyright holder retains ownership, but the media platform (Facebook, Flickr, ourstage, etc.) is allowed to use any uploaded media for promotional purposes.

    Here’s a question for you to think about: What would you do if you found out that someone was steeling your photos off of your social media profiles and selling them to vendors for big money?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s