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8/20/2007
10:57 AM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Where Do You Stand On Intellectual Property Rights?

On the issue of protecting intellectual property rights, especially in a digital world, we often divide into two extreme camps: one that views the World Wide Web as a wacky wonderland where just about anything goes; and one that approaches the issue with all the flexibility of a stalag commandant.

On the issue of protecting intellectual property rights, especially in a digital world, we often divide into two extreme camps: one that views the World Wide Web as a wacky wonderland where just about anything goes; and one that approaches the issue with all the flexibility of a stalag commandant.Exactly where in between should business technology execs stand? Well, somewhere in between.

Near one end of the extreme is the Software & Information Industry Association, which last week announced the first settlement in its Corporate Content Anti-Piracy Program. Its victim: Knowledge Networks, a market research company that regularly distributed to employees "press packets" that sometimes contained copyrighted articles owned by SIIA members, including the Associated Press and Reed Elsevier.

Knowledge Networks agreed to fork over $300,000 to settle the SIIA's infringement claims, and it will put its execs through the association's copyright-sensitivity program. The person who squealed on Knowledge Networks? He or she gets a $6,000 reward.

The SIIA's anti-piracy campaign is similar to one at the Business Software Alliance, which last month increased the bounty it pays workplace whistle-blowers to $1 million from $200,000. The BSA, which represents the world's leading software companies, says it has settled IP violations with hundreds of U.S. companies since starting the campaign in 2005, raking in nearly $22 million.

Near the other end of the extreme are those who argue that we shouldn't bother enforcing IP rights in a digital world, as it's impossible or self-defeating to keep people from copying and sharing articles, software, music, movies, and other content over the Internet. In a persuasive column on InformationWeek.com, writer Cory Doctorow argues that the recording industry, in particular, has hurt itself by cracking down on third-party file-sharing services that could have fostered sales of its content. But that's the recording industry's call, not ours. Short term, its commercial interests were being stepped on.

As a publisher of copyrighted works disseminated over the Internet and Web, InformationWeek has plenty of skin in this IP protection game. A quick search of the Web reveals many InformationWeek articles posted on third-party sites without permission, and without reference or links to the original source. (One site that posted an InformationWeek.com article without permission referenced as the source another site that also posted the article without permission.)

Should InformationWeek chase down and prosecute these rogue sites? We have to pick our spots. There's a big difference between companies and individuals who systematically pirate works for their own commercial gains and those who stray afoul of the letter of the law. Of course, there's no blanket policy to discern the former from the latter. Sometimes you just have to employ the common sense test -- are you just making a statement or are you righting a commercial wrong? As I've argued before, our nation's IP is the backbone of our economy, so it's worth protecting. But let's focus on the offenses that really matter.

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