Comprehensive Roadmap for the Future

The Digital Dilemma:
Intellectual Property in the Digital Age (2000). National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. Paperback 34.36US$ at

There is a grown literature and ongoing debate on the ‘challenges’ and ‘trends’ of digital copyright issues. Until now, the discussion has lacked a comprehensive synthesis.

It seems that we might have a serious candidate here: Digital Dilemma is a profound and elaborate analysis of current megatrends within copyright law. Although the topic is hot, this is not a book of hype.

Digital Dilemma is credited to a Committee on Intellectual Property Rights and the Emerging Information Infrastructure. The members, and hence writers, of the committee are an interesting mix of leading scholars in law and technology.

The four main topics of Digital Dilemma are (1) individual access to works, (2) public access to works, (3) protection of intellectual property, and (4) an excursion to the copyright problems concerning digital music. The title of the book is a bit misleading since discussion is focused strongly on copyright issues.

The text is structured easy to approach: first a problem is indicated and described, then a recommendation is given for further discussion. These separate paragraphs for ‘conclusions’, ‘recommendations’ and ‘points of discussion’ add significantly the value of Digital Dilemma for further study. For example, the committee questions the very foundational notion of copy in copyright law and recommends research for a new foundation, which would – at the same time – satisfy the goal of copyright and be more appropriate in the digital environment. A hypothesis is laid that the new concept could be based on the use of a work. If this shift in concepts turns out to be desirable, then the whole existing system of copyright law would need a fundamental revision.

Most of the text is left very abstract, untied to any particular legal system. However, this is not to say the text would lack insight. Digital Dilemma attempts to present a worldwide context for further study – with emphasis on actual questions.

The book is not limited to legal discussion. Far from it. The topics cover also relevant technological aspects and ‘trendy’ business methods, which lay the ground for legal study – especially concerning the protection of intellectual property. In digital economy, it may be profitable to forget enforcing. A new business model with optional technical protection may lead to increasing profits. Instead, a conservative, literal enforcement of intellectual property rights could decrease the outcome. There is a growing number of real life examples of this trend.

All in all, Digital Dilemma is a very recommended reading for scholars, students and people who have interest in the future regulation of intellectual property. It raises questions and fuels debate. We need only to remember that the discussion is to start (not end!) from here. This book is a roadmap for the future. Digital Dilemma may well have a same kind of impact as the frequently cited White Paper from 1995.