Video Review

``The Creeping Propertization of Information''

Professor Kevin W. Bowyer
Computer Science and Engineering
University of South Florida

This video is a record of a panel discussion at the 1997 Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy. The term ``propertization of information'' refers to the process in which what was once simply regarded as information comes to be viewed as (intellectual) property. This process occurs primarily through changes in the legal system. Also, naturally, it occurs primarily at the instigation of those who believe that they have something to gain in the process.

The panel moderator is Pamela Samuelson, who is a frequent contributor to {\it Communications of the ACM}\/ on legal issues in computing. Panelists include Alistar Kelman from the United Kingdom, Eugene Voloch from the United States, Niva Elkin-Koren from Israel, Mark Stefik from the United States (Xerox PARC) and Julie Cohen from the United States.

The panel discussion follows a pretty standard format: an introduction by Samuelson, statements by each panelist and then questions from the audience. Samuelson gives some background and introduction to the theme. Kelman argues, among other points, that consumers are not well represented in the process of modifying intellectual property laws. A favorite quote from his talk -- ``copyright is a tax on the innocent pleasure of reading.'' Voloch argues that (most of the time) contracts are good and should be enforced. The contracts of most relevance here are shrink-wrap or ``key-wrap'' license agreements. A key-wrap license is one where the license terms are displayed and you must type a key to agree to the license in order to continue installation/use of the software. He argues that lack of bargaining does not necessarily mean unfairness in the contract. Elkin-Koren essentially takes an opposing point of view to Voloch. She argues that licenses are reducing the rights of software users. She also asks whether licenses that expand the protections provided to the copyright owner should be considered enforcable. Stefik argues for the positive view of ``trusted systems.'' In this context, trusted systems are ones which can be trusted to follow the rules of intellectual property and licenses with respect to digital works. This is an emerging field that could become very important. Cohen essentially takes an opposing point of view to Stefik, raising serious concerns that emerge in use of trusted systems technology.

Like many panel discussions, the panelists could sometimes make the point more clearly with fewer words. But the pace is reasonable for a panel discussion and it touches on some important cutting-edge issues in intellectual property in the digital domain. Viewers will need to have some prior introduction to intellectual property concepts in order to get the most out of this video. Overall, this is a useful and informative video. I am comfortable recommending it for advanced treatment of intellectual property issues.

Video Format/Length:
The video was viewed in VHS format, approximately 90 minutes long.

Ordering Information:
This video is listed as ISBN 1-57844-045-9. It is available from:

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