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The advent of the "Information Superhighway" has sparked much speculation about the roles of authorship, of readership, and of literary property in the vast system of interlinked computer networks that has come to be known as "cyberspace." Through computers linked to a digital network, users can access and add to vast quantities of material. At least in theory, every computer user can become his, or her own publisher, and every terminal can become a library, bookstore, or audio and video jukebox.

The prospect of pervasive audience access to and ability to copy and further disseminate works of authorship challenges the traditional roles not only of information providers – be they publishers, motion picture producers or record producers – but of the individuals who create the works. On the one hand, authors will be able to disseminate their works directly to the entire world of online users. On the other hand, this kind of dissemination ensures neither payment nor the security that users will not copy, alter, or further circulate the author's work. Does the "Information Superhighway" put the author in the driver's seat, or will the author become, as Garrison Keillor has warned, "the deer in the headlights" of a vast traffic the author cannot control?

While circulation in cyberspace may place works of authorship at the risk of uncontrolled copying or adaptation, the works have first to be made available for digital exploitation. As a result, Mort Janklow, a leading literary agent, offers a more hopeful prediction than Keillor's. The entrepreneurs of cyberspace still depend on the participation of authors: as Janklow puts it, "they've got the highway, but I've got the cars." That is, one can build the highway, but it does not follow that the cars will choose to come. Unless they can become author-friendly, digital media may remain just that: media, without content. Today's travellers on the infohighway are largely (although by no means exclusively) the bicycles and tricycles of e-mail exchanges, and the tractor trailers of enormous data compilations. If all kinds of works of authorship, particularly those of intense creativity and imagination, are to embark willingly on the cyber-road, then authors require some assurance that the journey will not turn into a hijacking.


Intellectual Property Law | Internet Law | Law