The stakes involved in all this are high, both economically and in social terms. Decisions we make now will determine who will benefit from the technology and who will have access to what information on what termsfoundational elements of our future society.
The Committee on Intellectual Property Rights and the Emerging Information Infrastructure believes that fundamental change is afoot. As a society we need to ask whether the existing mechanisms still work, and if not, what should be done. What options exist for accomplishing the important goals of intellectual property law and policy in the digital age? Test cases are now the stuff of daily news, as for example the upheaval in music publishing and distribution caused by digital recording and the MP3 format. The committee believes that society needs to look further out than today's crisis, try to understand the nature of the changes taking place, and determine as best it can what their consequences might be, what it would wish them to be, and how it might steer toward fulfilling the promise and avoiding the perils. Stimulating that longer-range exploration is the purpose of this report.
Although the report builds on some past efforts, it takes a broader approach, analyzing the issues from the perspective of a multiplicity of relevant disciplines: law, technology, public policy, economics, sociology, and psychology. The committee strongly believes that attempts to consider digital intellectual property issues through a single lens will necessarily yield incomplete, and often incorrect, answers. The report is narrow in one sense, focusing primarily on copyright because it protects the intellectual property most frequently encountered by the general public.
Opinions run strong on almost every issue addressed in this report, in large part because the stakes are so high. If, as is often claimed, societies are seeing a shift in economies as significant as the industrial revolution, with the transition to knowledge and information as a major source of wealth, then intellectual property may well be the most important asset in the coming decades.
Two events motivate reexamining the concepts, policies, and practices associated with intellectual property:
• Advances in technology have produced radical shifts in the ability to reproduce, distribute, control, and publish information.
Information in digital form has radically changed the economics and ease of reproduction. Reproduction costs are much lower for