Copyright overtaken by technology

Public IP networks and digital technologies that enable the copying and transmission of digitised works of music are a very real threat to the industry's raison d'etre.

The three strikes and you're out plan to disconnect filesharers from the net, proposed by UK business secretary Lord Mandelson, has encountered criticism from ISPs and digital rights groups alike, but fails to tackle the central issues.

The ISPs justly complain that they are being made to shoulder the weight and the cost of enforcing a law that is beyond the remit of their service.

If copyright law is unclear about the rights of individuals to copy or give away articles that are in their rightful possession, how can an ISP be asked to arbitrate on the rights and wrongs of content over which it has no control?

An ISP provides a telephonic connection to the internet and access down the wires to billions of web pages, but can not and should not control the content of those pages, or access to them.

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The central issue is copyright and the ownership of ideas. Paradoxes of ownership and authorship of innovative and creative work lie at the heart of the debate about "intellectual property rights" - a debate which is a vital part of the culture that has evolved around the internet, and the gadgets with which we work, rest and play.

At first glance the issues are simple. The films, songs, software, texts and images that we download from the internet belong to somebody, "and should be paid for."

Everywhere we look there are countless casual infringements of copyright. Casual infringements caused by people using the web as a free information exchange, swapping music, software, knitting patterns, photographs and texts that are all protected by existing copyright law. They are breaking the law, often without knowing they are.

The effects of this widespread ignorance of, or indifference to, the law, are not alike for all industries or every individual. And not all of them are as simple as they might appear.

Copyright law protects the physical expression of an idea, not the idea itself, and serves to protect two classes of individual, the owner of the "intellectual property rights" and the creator of the original artefact.

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