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The Internet has fundamentally changed the way people communicate and interact with one another. It makes censorship much harder, if not impossible. Because the Internet does not respect international borders, it is a thorn in the side of repressive governments all over the world which have traditionally controlled their people by controlling what they watch, hear and read.

Unfortunately, some oppressive regimes are already figuring out how to use the Internet to do their bidding. Yahoo recently complied with a request from the Chinese government for information about its users which was then used by the government to arrest a journalist and send him to one of the country’s most notorious prisons. Some governments are blocking certain terms in Internet search engines and collecting data about the people who use them.

Intellectual Property Rights

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations, is moving forward on developing a treaty that would give intellectual-property (IP) rights to broadcasters, cablecasters and possibly webcasters.  The treaty would in affect extend broad rights to distributors of content, not just creators.

Giving broadcasters IP-like rights would represent a shift in U.S. law, and could have far reaching, negative consequences for consumers.   For instance, placing new layers of rights on top of existing copyrights could stifle technological innovation on the Internet, restrict access to information and change the nature of the Internet as a form of communication.   Consumers need to be very wary of stronger IP protections that could curtail the development of innovative and diverse content on the Internet and stifle the use of innovative technologies.

Access to Knowledge

Access to Knowledge is a growing concern around the world directly related to the growing use of copyright and regulations to restrict access to knowledge tools, such as scientific research, educational materials, that are essential to teaching, scholarship, research, and the arts.  Knowledge goods are different from goods and services.  They can be copied and shared by wider communities of people around the world.  Industry, consumers and other stakeholders must take advantage of the growing pool of innovative technologies and manage knowledge resources with the public’s interest in mind, and avoid protections that create unnecessary restrictions.