Back to Blog
Rights Owners

New Challenges for Rights Owners

May 31, 2011

The internet revolutionised the way people could discover and share information, but as technology has developed, the volume of information which can be shared online, and the variety of its application have broadened significantly.  When the bandwidth available to typical internet users was sufficient, there was an explosion in online sharing of music through services like Napster, and later, the same happened for video through BitTorrent.  This poses a significant challenge to the enforcement of copyright, as the internet is a difficult medium to police, and neither locating infringing activity, nor identifying those involved, is particularly straightforward.

These difficulties are widely acknowledged and understood, but there is another feature of information which seems set to cause further difficulties for rights owners.  New and varied ways of using it.  While the bandwidth available to the public has had a substantial impact on the prevalence of copyright infringement online, another, similarly important factor has been the introduction of new formats, new ways of using data.  An early illustration is the availability of home video recorders, allowing members of the public to record and share video content.  Ubiquitous adoption of the  MP3 format made it easier for people to share music online.  Now, 3-dimensional printing promises to allow the public to copy actual physical goods.  New 3D printers are coming down in price, and give users the ability to print out products which have been downloaded from the internet, or scanned in.  A recent article by the Economist notes that this technology is likely to make it easier for imitators as well as innovators to get goods to market fast as good ideas will be more readily reproduced.  one website,, has already been issued a take down notice for offering the means to print out a 3D ornament, and the recent  Hargreaves report raised concerns over the possible implications of 3-D printing as convenient engines of piracy, but simultaneously vital tools in many trades, recommending further investigation.

Another interesting development is increasing interest in DIY genetics, an esoteric field traditionally restricted to specialist laboratories, but where more affordable technology may enable the public to develop their own biological products, or copy existing ones.  It is also not far fetched to envisage affordable machinery becoming available which enables the public to develop, produce and share pharmaceuticals.

These emerging technologies have the potential to revolutionise accessibility to treatments, drugs, and products where cost was previously prohibitive, but they also mean new challenges for rights owners who may find it increasingly difficult to protect their intellectual property.