Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Coming Culture Clash

There was an interesting dialogue on Miss Snark's blog yesterday.

The discussion centered around the case of William Bright, a web designer who lives in New York. Bright digitally shrunk the maps of the New York and San Francisco subway systems, along with a number of other subway maps, and made them available online ( so that commuters could download them for free onto their iPods. Both BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) demanded that he remove their maps from the Internet, claiming copyright infringement.

The Snarklings were divided on the issue--with some championing Bright while others supported the notion of protecting copyrights.

This is yet another skirmish in the ongoing war between the cultures of the virtual world and the "real" world. One of the first battles in this war occurred in 1999 when Napster introduced a service that permitted a form of peer-to-peer file sharing of music. Major recording companies hit back immediately, filing suit to prevent Napster from facilitating what the industry saw as piracy of their copyrighted music. An injunction followed in early 2001 and Napster eventually went bankrupt.

Apple Computer stepped in, making deals with the recording companies to permit legal downloads of their music, and introduced the iTunes Music Store in the spring of 2003. Now there are many services through which music lovers can purchase single tunes or entire albums for download. Still, there are legal issues relating to users who continue to exchange material without paying for it.

Earlier this summer, Google stepped right into the copyright wars; this time, with respect to written matter. The company, best known as a search engine, announced a massive effort to digitize millions of books and make them available through online searches. Following the initial outcry of copyright infringement, Google explained that they will only offer excerpts--not the entire text--of copyrighted material during any search. Google contends that this will actually encourage purchase of books that might otherwise go unnoticed. However, this did not satisfy many writers and publishers and, less than two weeks ago, the Authors Guild filed suit against Google's proposed library scanning program.

And, now, we have Mr. Bright with his little subway map copying program.

All three of these examples--music, books, subway maps--represent places where the new and free-wheeling Internet culture has collided with a proprietary culture that has been in place for centuries. Over the next few weeks, I propose discussing this subject in more depth in this blog. As a writer, I am very interested in what challenges and opportunities the Internet offers and want to more fully understand the subject.

Just musing . . .

No comments: