Post Date: October 31, 2003

“During the past year, the Berkman Center has been exploring ways in which the legal system might be modified to exploit more fully the enormous economic and cultural opportunities latent in the new technologies for distributing music and film — while at the same time ensuring that artists are fairly compensated,” said Harvard Law Professor William Fisher. “This grant will enable us to extend and deepen our inquiries considerably — and to begin to test some of our proposals.”

The project will look at possible future copyright scenarios and analyze the comparative advantages of each in terms of economic incentives, effects upon the business landscape, impact upon the interests of consumers, and legal and other costs involved in implementation.

“The crisis in digital media is one of the most intractable problems in Internet law today. There’s been too much rhetoric, too many lawsuits, and too little serious research into the possible future scenarios for digital media on the Internet,” said Harvard Law School Lecturer John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center. “We’re extremely grateful to have the support of the MacArthur Foundation, as well as Gartner|G2 and the Soros Foundation, behind the Berkman Center’s multi-year study of this problem and we’re excited about our prospects.”

Although researchers expect that new approaches will emerge during the course of the project, initial analysis will focus on five models. They include the continuation of the status quo, which assumes continuation of the current U.S. copyright regime; legal enforcement of current laws, which would forecast what would happen if owners of digital media were better able to legally protect against unauthorized use and copying; technological enforcement of property rights, a model in which Digital Rights Management technologies are effectively used to limit online file-sharing; treating the Internet and intellectual property as a public utility with government regulation, and compulsory licensing, which would require creators and producers of digital content to be compensated by the government when their products are consumed.

“New technologies have revolutionized the way people gather and share information, making it possible for anyone with a computer to copy and transmit digital content,” said Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation. “The technologies also make it possible to block access to important information, including data developed at public expense. The Berkman Center helps those engaged in policy concerning digital technology better understand the long-term political, economic and commercial implications of various copyright options designed to manage digital content and its availability. This research is searching to find a balance between the needs of the creator of information for adequate compensation — which includes everything from research reports to files of music and artwork — and the needs of the public to have access to that information.”

Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society is a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. It includes faculty, students, fellows, entrepreneurs, lawyers and virtual architects working to identify and engage with the challenges and opportunities of cyberspace.