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Technology should lay down law

A technology industry organization says digital property is best protected by engineers, not lawyers.

A technology industry organization says digital property is best protected by engineers, not lawyers.

In a 25-page report released today, the Information Technology Association of America says that focusing on who is responsible for online copyright violations causes only legal gridlock. Instead, Internet service providers, copyright holders, and content providers should use technology to protect materials before they hit the Net, according to the paper, titled "Intellectual Property Protection in Cyberspace: Towards a New Consensus."

The association will introduce the report at the World Intellectual Property Organization Diplomatic Conference this week in Geneva, Switzerland, where 158 delegates are debating the future of digital intellectual property copyrights. The conference runs through December 20.

The paper concludes that content providers should protect their property before it is distributed, using such tools as electronic envelopes, digital watermarks, encrypted signal software, and authentication devices. Violators should be tracked using such technologies and prosecuted under current copyright law.

Digital protection technologies suggested in the report include Argent's watermark system, which hides the mark within a digitized image or recording and can reveal who bought the copy legally; Cryptolope Containers by IBM, which hold an encrypted version of a document and rules for publishing; and digital headers by the World Wide Web Consortium that label Internet content such as property rights management.

Although the report strongly supports regulation under the current copyright law, it also outlines areas for refinement. It suggests new requirements for "taking down" unauthorized transmissions, states that access providers should not be held liable for unknown infringements on their services, and says knowledgeable violators should be prosecuted regardless of whether they profit from an infringement.

Protecting content is one issue, but other groups concerned with digital copyrights say the pendulum is swinging in favor of information providers, not information seekers.

Adam Eisgrau, legislative counsel for the American Library Association, says his organization has no objection to new legislation or to using technology to protect content but that proposals like those in Geneva should provide flexibility for Congress and other legislatures to update the exceptions to property owners' rights.

"It needs to provide balancing provisions to ensure public access to information for purposes like journalism, teaching, research, and general curiosity," he said. "Technology employed for protection must also make room for the kinds of public-access information now expressly permitted in current copyright law."