Informational intricacies

NO INDIVIDUAL can hope to remain anonymous as integration of computing and telecommunications has vastly improved the ability to collate, classify and analyse information about each person. These databases have become as indispensable to the conduct of business and government as wires to an electrical system. Life outside this world of information will be like residing on another planet. A new underclass, which cannot pay for access to information technologies, is also being created, Anne Wells Branscomb does a masterly job of articulating a range of thorny intell0tual property rights issues thrown up by the new age.

The world's have-nots are irritated by restricted access to radio signals and 11 they are in arms over the scrambling of their favourite channels by the originators of satellite-relayed programmes, and their protests have stirred political passions". Politicians are inclined to side with the underdog and argue for equal access to the skies since buyers purchased the dish antenna believing that they will have access to all channels. Compulsions of information business, however, call for limitations on access.

Intellectual property protection of information products is riven with divided opinion on public access. In a sense, information providers are only packaging data available in the public domain. Faced with the conflicting demands of intellectual property protection and the democratic right of the public to access information, the politicians have taken refuge in ambivalence.

Digital communication facilitates transfer of photo-images stored in databases. Photographers and others in visual mediums can enhance their pictures by borrowing bits from other photographs. Lawyers, however, have to deal with an entirely new set of disputes. The copyright for the enhanced picture does not belong to a single individual but to a number of people who contributed to it and ways have to be found to credit each one of them, who should also have a share in the revenues realised from the sale of the final picture.

A major source of disputes is divergent claims on intellectual property for creative work that ondergoes progressive transformation. 'I he author lists an episode that occurred when scrolls of the pre-Christian era were accidentally discovered by some shepherd boys near the Dead Sea. Later, 2 professors at Cincinnati reconstructed the entire text aided by computers and bits of information available to them front ph, tographs. These professors were accuvill of stealing the intellectual property (it the Scroll team of 7 which had initial discovered it, even though they could lay claim to originality having reconstructed the missing pieces 4 the text.

New technological innovational create puzzi Ing situations and judges are reduced to making decisions by expedient till betiff alternatives are found to protect intellectual property.

From a distance, the haughty attitude of the U@ government towards insufficient protection of intellectual property in developing countries suggests insensitivity towards social concerns. But this is not true. By its vennature, intellectual property protection is fraught with conflicts over the private and public domain in any socico 'the legal community finds innovation ways to meet public needs without killing the golden intellectual good In that sense, much of the debate in developing countries has been steror and tangential.