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Sleepwalking Toward a Control Society? Ten Must-Know Trends

8. Copyright and patent laws narrow access on information

Information flows and the use of information have been recently subjected to regulation especially by means of copyright legislation. Companies use also patents to take over significant means or contents of the virtual space (Gustin 2012).

Copyright restrictions increasingly indicate disproportionate measures in relation to the users like excessively long copyright protection periods, which prevent libraries and museums from digitizing publications and from disseminating them on public networks for everybody to read (McDermott 2012). The most important material of the 20th century is practically speaking commercially copyright protected, although these documents may not be available on bookstores either. Paradoxically, this arrangement does not really bring profits to any party. Also, the lengthy protection period does not comply with the business cycles of publishing and present paradigms of the use of the documents.

At the same time, exemption provisions granted for libraries and museums are getting fewer and fewer. This poses further obstacles to citizens' access to information in the future. Public libraries already struggle hard for the rights of e-book loans (Coffman 2012). Without the right to lend out e-books those libraries are mercilessly marginalized from network developments. Copyright also leads libraries to practical problems without convenient solutions. How the true right holders of the 1930s newspapers can be defined? Why old newspapers cannot be imported freely into the network for a nominal fee?

There has been a move from ownership rights to licenses, which practically means that, the user (e.g. library) can rent or license a publication for its use for a certain period of time (McDermott, 2012). If it needs the publication at some later point, it must be acquired again. These practices develop new kinds of fears. Will the publication even be on the market after 10 years in some readable form? What kinds of contents libraries have after 10 years? This is how we arrive at entirely new questions regarding restricted access to information.

There is a constant battle over virtual space: who owns and regulates it, and who has rights on its' contents and gains profits from it. As Hamilton and Moon indicate, the right time to have influence on these developments is now. Copyright legislation is still under changes, which will indicate if there will be flexibility in the structures of Internet or if the changes will support the old models and interests of industry lobbying (Hamilton & Moon 2012).