When radio launched, music companies worried that their works would be ripped off.
When copy machines started showing up in local offices and libraries, publishers said people would use them to make illegal reproductions of books.
And when stores started selling cheap videocassette recorders, the motion picture industry thought people would stop buying their movies, instead opting for pirated versions.
Now, with the rise of the Net, almost every industry that owns the rights to intellectual material fears how the vast network of new technology will erode their rights.
But new laws are not necessarily the answer, says Trotter Hardy, who recently completed two-year study, "Sketching the Future of Copyright in a Networked World," for the U.S. Copyright Office.
Every time a new technology is invented and adapted, people who own the copyrights on the intellectual property affected--be it music, books, movies, or other media--turn vigilant, trying to protect their property, he said.
"We've had new technology problems, and they come up time and time and time again," said Hardy, a law professor at the College of William and Mary. "We've seen it with photocopying, cable television, radio, motion pictures, and phonograph records.
"These patterns have just happened time and time again for the last hundred or so years--which doesn't mean they are not problems, but it puts them in perspective," he added.
Copyright owners, who make their bread and butter from intellectual property, are terrified from worst-case scenarios they see arising from the Internet, which they believe has the potential to create a seemingly infinite number of violations.
They have reason to worry.
New technologies muddy the issues, often making it unclear as to what is and isn't copyrightable. They also brings rise to new uses of copyrighted material. And the issue that worries copyright holders the most: new technology breaks down barriers such as price and ease of use that once prevented pirates from stealing works.
"The Internet is just sort of a gigantic copy machine and fears arise," Hardy said.
Indeed, Hardy acknowledges that industries need to safeguard their copyrights. But while he drew no conclusions in his actual report, he insists that new laws are not the answer.
"Most of the time we don't need new legislation," he said in an interview with CNET News.com. The Copyright Act, which underwent its last major revision in 1976, is written in such a way that it is essentially technology-neutral and will be up to the court system to interpret, he said.
Interest groups, however, have been pushing Congress to approve new laws to protect them in the Internet age. They want to know that they will have some protections before they invest in technology.
In a rousing speech at summer Internet World, Motion Picture Association of America chief executive Jack Valenti blasted Net copyright violators and threw his support behind the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is charging ahead in Congress.
But Hardy said that such laws are the wrong approach.
"It's unfortunate because it's exactly the wrong time to be locking in changes, he said. "The Internet's changing like crazy. We shouldn't be passing laws.
"New legislation is mostly to satisfy interest groups," he added. "What it does is make the Copyright Act much more complicated and that, in itself, causes more problems than it solves."