Copyright Policy in the Digital Era


The rollout of the World Wide Web and expanded use of digital technologies in the mid-1990s marked the beginning of a technological revolution that changed long-established modes of creating, distributing, and using creative works, from literature and news to film and music to scientific publications and computer software.  The Internet enables near instantaneous and free distribution to mass audiences, yet content creators and distributors have lost much of the ability to prevent infringement on intellectual property.


These changes have given rise to a debate between those who believe the digital revolution has undermined copyright protection and those who believe enhancements to copyright policy inhibit innovation and free speech -- a debate that has been poorly informed by objective data and independent empirical research, says a new report from the National Research Council.


Last week, the House Judiciary Committee announced plans to conduct a comprehensive review of copyright law.  The Research Council report proposes a detailed set of research questions that could inform key aspects of copyright policy, including the scope and duration of copyright protection, safe harbors and fair-use exceptions, effective enforcement strategies, and whether different industries should abide by different rules. 


In addition, the report calls for the collection, organization, and availability of data associated with the activities of various stakeholders and end-user populations.  Because much of this data resides in the private sector, the report also recommends that public and private organizations cooperate in building a copyright data infrastructure accessible to academic and industry investigators. 



Copyright in the Digital Era: Building Evidence for Policy is available for immediate release at  A Q&A session with members of the committee that wrote the report will be held at 1 p.m. EDT Monday, May 6, at the National Academy of Sciences building, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W.  Registration is required; reporters wishing to attend should contact the National Academies' Office of News and Public Information; tel. 202-334-2138 or e-mail