Ownership of intellectual property is one of the most confusing and emotionally charged issues of the digital era. Before the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, it was difficult to dissect intellectual property — the message — from the medium in which it traveled. Back then the laws governing the uses of both the medium and the message were relatively clear. Much has changed since those laws were conceived and enacted. An idea may now be expressed in many different media and the answers to such questions as "Who owns what?" and "What, exactly, is owned?" and "What rights does ownership convey?" are the subjects of heated debate. This issue of JEP offers a snapshot of both the topography of this new world and the issues surrounding intellectual property as we near the end of a century of change.

Fifty years ago an expressed idea almost always took the form of a printed page, a photographic image, a copyrighted object, a patented procedure, or an original work of art. We did not view content as ownable property divorced from the carrier medium. The idea behind a photograph and the photograph itself were inseparable; the photograph was copyrighted and by extension, so was the idea. That is no longer the case. The rules are no longer so straightforward.

In his article, "Copyright in a Time of Change," William S. Strong, a copyright lawyer who specializes in publishing, acknowledges the difficulties publishers have with copyright in the networked world. "There is a lot of change to embrace," he admits. "For 500 years publishers have had complete control over the appearance and location of their product, over how it is distributed and used, and over its production." Publishers are facing a radical shift in the fundamental idea of the book or the journal. To overreact to those changes and view them as "losses" is to potentially shut out potential gains. Instead, the key to benefiting from them is to "embrace change," take care not to "overreach and overreact," and to "educate your public," he writes. Sound advice in a time of change.

As we contemplate how copyright might change, we must also contemplate how to cope with those changes, especially in light of the fact that digital information is also global information, and global information represents good business opportunities. Our thinking about copyright must extend beyond the borders of any single country and encompass everyone with an Internet connection, regardless of where they live. In this global business environment, rights management becomes a necessity.

In "Electronic Rights Management and Digital Identifier Systems," Daniel J. Gervais gives us an in-depth look at copyright management, the application of electronic copyright-management systems, and rights-management solutions on global information networks. His paper provides insight into building an electronic infrastructure that works with copyright and takes advantage of the digital environment.

At the center of today's "Who owns what?" debate is the Internet and the World Wide Web. Many regard the Internet as a threat to intellectual property and seek to change laws to protect their interests, yet this new medium has brought about fresh business opportunities for those involved with intellectual property.

The software industry offers us another approach to marketing intellectual property with few, if any, strings attached. The appearance of the Linux Operating System in the early 1990s set the software industry — particularly that segment dealing with operating system development — on its ear. Here was an operating system for personal computers that could do nearly everything Unix does, and no company owned the rights to it. It was freely available on the Internet. The source code to Linux was "open," meaning anyone could make improvements or write new parts, and the results were shared with the community of users. Because of that open source, Linux has grown into a powerful, remarkably bug-free operating system available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Red Hat Software has built its business supporting this free product and it has been very successful. In last month's New York Times Magazine, Amy Harmon wrote that, "Red Hat Software in Durham, N.C., [is] aiming to make money by providing technical support for the software they can never own. In a bow to Linux's growing stature, Netscape and Intel invested last fall in Red Hat."

In "Giving It Away: How Red Hat Software Stumbled Across a New Economic Model and Helped Improve an Industry," Robert Young gives us an insider's look at the philosophy behind Red Hat's apparently successful approach in "Giving It Away." He shows us that taking a counterintuitive position to intellectual-property management can be a smart move. Red Hat Software has thrived by giving it away — proving that intellectual property running free can flourish and grow in ways that intellectual property locked away in a safe place cannot.

Yet the assault on intellectual property's freedom continues, with salvos from all directions. Pamela Samuelson sounds a warning that Article 2B, the proposed amendment to the Uniform Copyright Code, can eventually affect more than just the licensing of digital intellectual property. "Does Information Really Want to be Licensed?" explains why software publishers and the entertainment industry have lobbied hard for Article 2B. They claim the new law will prevent digital and Internet piracy. But Pam offers another interpretation: "Book publishers could start shrink-wrapping books and including licenses inside; once you break the shrink-wrapping, you would be agreeing, for example, not to review the book negatively." She concludes that trying to get around copyright with licensing will only lead to more problems for both owners and users of intellectual property, and will not solve the problems it is supposed to solve.

"As we prepare to move from one millennium to another, its clear that intellectual property is moving from the world of ideas to the world of commodities"

While Pam examines Article 2B from a licensing perspective, Mark Rambler examines it from a publisher's perspective in "2B or not 2B." He presents background on Article 2B, and opposing opinions from two of the strong voices in the debate: Raymond Nimmer, the reporter responsible for drafting the text of Article 2B, and Pam herself.

Mark's 2B story is actually a sidebar to his real-world scenario illustrating one aspect of intellectual-property ownership: the cost of access to the information. For ten years now the price of scholarly journals has been rising at an alarming rate. In what has become an ongoing debate, the publishers of those journals — in most cases large conglomerates — attribute their exorbitant subscription rates to the cost of acquiring, distributing, and protecting their intellectual property. Consumers — mainly academic libraries and educational institutions — accuse the publishers of intellectual property scalping at academia's expense .

But there are alternatives. In "Do It Yourself: A New Solution to the Journals Crisis," Mark Rambler examines the current serials-publishing situation as well as a radical new publishing model launched by a coalition of enterprising libraries in an effort to keep information flowing at an affordable price. SPARC (Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition) is a publishing alliance among societies, university presses, smaller commercial publishers, or start-ups, and libraries. It offers new journals a guaranteed subscription base and, in some cases, start-up capital. On the consumer side, libraries will pay a reasonable annual fee and pledge to spend a minimum amount per year on SPARC publications. Will it work? It will be interesting to see what happens to this commitment to disseminating quality at affordable prices.

As a marketing manager in publishing, I've been on both sides of the intellectual-property fence. I've licensed O'Reilly's content to providers, and in turn negotiated rights and permissions to content from outside providers for O'Reilly's use. I'm constantly amazed at the pace of change, not only in the knowledge bases we use, but in how we think about them, and how we allow others to use them. As we prepare to move from one millennium to another, it is clear that intellectual property is doing the same. It is moving from the world of ideas to the world of commodities. Each of the articles featured in this issue of JEP presents a different angle on what is essentially the same question: How will we leverage our intellectual property to achieve its maximum value, without limiting access or hoarding ideas? I am hopeful we will find a way.

Lorrie LeJeune is a product marketing manager for Technical Publishing O'Reilly & Associates, a premier publisher of books and software about computers and the Internet. She spends her time analyzing Internet and Web technology, developing books about bioinformatics, and explaining why O'Reilly puts animals on the covers of its books. A B.S. in Animal and Veterinary Science from the University of Maine helps her make those explanations more colorful. In previous incarnations Lorrie was a molecular biologist, an Electronic Publishing Specialist at the MIT Press and the University of Michigan Press, and a graduate student in Information and Library studies at the University of Michigan. Lorrie was a cofounder of The Journal of Electronic Publishing. You may reach her by e-mail at lorrie@ora.com.