Editorial: eReserves tied to weak intellectual property law

    UCSD’s current rumpus over its electronic reserves, a different side of the music piracy coin, represents merely a single battle in the war to maintain America’s crumbling intellectual property regime. It’s a war that will likely not find a satisfactory entente any time soon.

    At issue is a set of federal copyright protections, crafted in the age of the written word. With the advent of digital media, these protections will continue to erode unless lawmakers take the initiative necessary to adapt the law to the needs of the digital generation.

    Fortunately, a coalition of education and publishing leaders seems to be taking the initiative, and their eventual proposal will likely serve as the basis of a more robust regulation. In the meantime, though, publishers must turn to technological innovation — like Adobe’s protected PDFs — to stem the tide of copyright theft, not courts and threats.

    Any new proposal must delicately achieve a balance between two competing objectives: incentives for new discovery and universal accessibility to knowledge. As publishers rightly argue, intellectual property and the royalties it brings, encourages new scholarship. However, they overstate the threat of the public domain: Most academics will agree that they work for the love of the profession, not the meager payoffs of highly specialized and largely unread books and journals.

    Legislative reforms must reflect this reality, not the “Chicken Little” rhetoric of publishers.

    The debate over eReserves will not be settled any time soon, largely because both sides can find hints of support in the current ambiguous law. Congress, not the University of California nor the American Association of Publishers, will eventually offer the final resolution. We hope it’s sooner rather than later. than later.

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