Intellectual Property on the Internet
On one of my first web sites I had an original graphic design, done by one of my friends. The design was interesting and eye-catching, two necessary elements for my site. I kept the design on the site for over six months, before taking it down and rebuilding. Almost a year after the graphic went up on my site, the person who designed it saw it on another site. After he showed me, he expressed his disappointment. He had put his time and hard work into this and someone else had just copied the image off my site and used it for themselves. The design was my friend's work and his intellectual property.
According to the United States Information Agency, intellectual property is
[i]nformation that derives its intrinsic value from creative ideas. It is also information with a commercial value. Intellectual property rights (IPRs) are bestowed on owners of ideas, inventions and creative expression that have the status of property. Like tangible property, IPRs give owners the right to exclude others from access to or use of their property. (United States Information Agency, "Intellectual Property Rights Protection")
One example of tangible property is the ownership and use of an automobile. If I hold the title to a car it is my car, and I have the right to let people borrow this automobile. I also retain the right to prevent someone from taking my car. Just as I have the right to share or prevent others from using my tangible property, I ought to have the right to share my intellectual property, my word, graphics, and sounds, with whom I choose. If I choose not to allow someone else to use these ideas, then that person will be violating my intellectual property rights.
The concept of intellectual property has been around for a few hundred years. In "Intellectual Property Myths" it is stated that:
The first patent law was enacted in 1623, and the precursor of modern copyright - the Statute of Anne - came into being in 1710. These early laws were limited in scope and restricted to only a few types of information; the broader interpretation of these principles used today in the western world is quite modern, certain elements having been added only within the last few years. ("Some myths about intellectual property")
Although the concept has been around for a long time, protection of intellectual property has never been as much of an issue as it is today. Eric Chabrow explains:
That's because pre-Internet, intellectual property was fairly easy to protect. Books, illustrations, and reports could all be held in your hands. Even computer software, though trickier to protect, usually resides on disks that can be protected. But the Internet makes it a cinch for any PC owner to copy and distribute-that is, to publish-virtually anything on the World Wide Web. This powerful technology threatens to make copyright and other intellectual property protections obsolete. (Chabrow, Copyrights: What's Left?)