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Digital Rights is the catch-all term for rights issues that have an online or computing dimension. As our societies increasingly communicate using digital information on the internet this area of activity and law becomes more important.

Making, distributing and using information[]

One facet of digital rights debate and law centres around the relationships which occur when people create, distribute and use information. The information here has been divided into tabs showing two models, legal process and laws and space for proposals outside of the specific models. The models are to indicate some broad starting points, perspectives do not always fall neatly into these two models but they provide an indication of the kinds of ways people are thinking about these issues.

For example people who are interested in distributed authoring often also partner it with a broadcast project. An example would be an author with creative commons material who blogs and releases online and also publishes paper books through bookstores.(eg.Cory Doctorow) Please use the proposals section for posting models which you feel incorporate a balance. Post in either of the distributed or broadcast sections if your focus is on one or the other specifically.

Below are a list of the kinds of categories of information currently available.

Public Domain[]

The public domain comprises the body of knowledge and innovation (especially creative works such as writing, art, music, and inventions) in relation to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests within a particular legal jurisdiction. This body of information and creativity is considered to be part of a common cultural and intellectual heritage, which, in general, anyone may use or exploit, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Free use[]

Are the kinds of uses that were not defined under law previously such as the right to read a book you have purchased, to share it, to give a book as a present, to sell your copy of a book. Digital books are treated differently, but this is useful to include so that people can see the kinds of rights that have previously been a natural part of our exchange of information. Lending, sharing and other activities normally legal with paperbooks are not always legal with digital books.

Fair use and fair dealing[]

Fair use and fair dealing are specifically defined basic digital access rights with information which a person can expect to be able to apply. Fair Use/Dealing and Copyright are the two halves of the traditional access v protection model.

Creative Commons & Copyleft[]

The Creative Commons license effectively broadens the base of what is possible as a fair use by specifying customised extra access rights which a person can apply with CC licensed material. The Creative Commons website enables copyright holders to grant some of their rights to the public while retaining others through a variety of licensing and contract schemes including dedication to the public domain or open content licensing terms. The intention is to avoid the problems current copyright laws create for the sharing of information. -

Free Libre Open Source Licences[]

Free Libre Open Source licenses such as GNU GPL are also a way of relaxing the copyright control of the copyright holder in specified ways to enable the public to have improved digital access rights. FLOSS means the source is available and can be used on projects so long as the source of the results are also made available for others.

Open source[]

Based on source which is available to at least some people, but like public domain the source can be used in closed projects.


Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted by governments to regulate the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. At its most general, it is literally "the right to copy" an original creation. In most cases, these rights are of limited duration. The symbol for copyright is ©, and in some jurisdictions may alternately be written (c).

From the copyright ownership perspective protective rights have been traditionally a way to give one person or group a headstart on specific information as a result of their previous loyalty, investment or innovation. They usually in conjunction with a default system of access rights or rules about what people usually can expect to do with technologies, ideas and information. The restriction were on commercial copying of material.


This word has always been used fairly randomly to represent a kind of theft. For purposes of digital or intellectual property it is used to describe four main situations:

  • a home user working with material in a way which is not licensed.
  • a trader of material who is not licenced to trade that material.
  • a political party representing consumers who feel that the overall copyright system is broken.
  • some view the offensive(ie not defensive) copyright laws as a kind of piracy.

Is sharing theft?[]

With information there is a debate about whether information can be stolen as both groups still end up with the information. This quote from Thomas Jefferson represents that perspective:

"He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property."IP FAQs

However one can also equate copyright infringement as invasion of privacy, like publishing another's credit card number or phone number, without permission, in public. Copyright can be used to protect authors from plagiarism, and to ensure authors, musicians, scientists gain income and recognition for work they have created. Copyright cases are often based around potential loss of income as a result.

Some people do not recognise any licenses on information. Many are looking for ways which enable society to operate as a innovative and communicating and creative community. ie Effective in being able to interact with information, while also having a sensible system for providing some protection to authors.

Read: Perspectives ››