The Digital Rights War
Digital technology is opening up new worlds of potential, few more enticing than the emerging global marketplace for information products and services. Imagine being able to call up news articles, short stories, photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings, and other information any time, day or night, almost anywhere in the world. This is the vision that until recently sent the stocks of obscure Internet enterprises soaring and propelled relatively new companies such as Microsoft to the front ranks of American industry.
The great advantage of digital information--and a key source of its potential--is that, once produced, it is easy and cheap to disseminate. There is, however, a threat as well as a promise in this unique quality. Digital information is the equivalent of what land, factories, and equipment are in the conventional economy: essential property. And the very same low costs of reproduction and dissemination that are its great virtue also make possible unauthorized uses--including everything from copying a page from a magazine to pirating thousands of copies of a Frank Sinatra CD--on an unparalleled scale. It is no longer just commercial pirates peddling mass-produced bootlegs that alarm the Hollywood movie studios and the publishing industries; it is also the ordinary Tom, Dick, or Harriet who may be inclined to share copies of a favorite film or book with a thousand of his or her closest friends.
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--Vice President-elect Al Gore, at the December 1992 postelection economic summit in Little Rock