MacArthur has announced a grant of $600,000 over three years to Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society to explore options for the future of copyright in a digital environment. The grant is made through the Foundation's special funding initiative on intellectual property and the long-term protection of the public domain. 

"New technologies have revolutionized the way people gather and share information, making it possible for anyone with a computer to copy and transmit digital content," said Jonathan F. Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation. "The technologies also make it possible to block access to important information, including data developed at public expense. The Berkman Center helps those engaged in policy concerning digital technology better understand the long-term political, economic and commercial implications of various copyright options designed to manage digital content and its availability. This research is searching to find a balance between the needs of the creator of information for adequate compensation - which includes everything from research reports to files of music and artwork - and the needs of the public to have access to that information."

The grant is in support of the Digital Media in Cyberspace Project, which is designed to help increase understanding of the legal, business, and economic aspects of how copyright might operate in the digital environment in the future. The project will look at possible future copyright scenarios and analyze the comparative advantages of each in terms of economic incentives, effects upon the business landscape, impact upon the interests of consumers, and legal and other costs involved in implementation. Although researchers expect that new approaches will emerge during the course of the project, initial analysis will begin on five models. They include:

  • continuation of the status quo, which assumes continuation of the current U.S. copyright regime;
  • legal enforcement of current laws, which would forecast what would happen if owners of digital media were better able to legally protect against unauthorized use and copying;
  • technological enforcement of property rights, a model in which Digital Rights Management technologies are effectively used to limit online file-sharing;
  • treating the Internet and intellectual property as a public utility with government regulation, and 
  • compulsory licensing, which would require creators and producers of digital content to be compensated by the government when their products are consumed.

About the Initiative on Intellectual Property and the Long-Term Protection of the Public Domain: Through the Initiative on Intellectual Property and the Long-Term Protection of the Public Domain, the Foundation seeks to contribute to an intellectual property regime in the digital era that balances the legitimate needs of both creators and the public. Grants support policy analysis, scholarly research, and participation in significant international forums where intellectual property policy is made. The Foundation will also support work designed to protect - over the long term - the public domain of information and ideas.

Digital Media & Learning, Education, Technology, Youth