THIS PAGE IS NO LONGER MAINTAINED. It is left here for historical purposes. Please visit the W3C Privacy Activity for more information.


Intellectual Property Rights Activity

How we plan to approach the Intellectual Property Rights issues.

This is not (as of December 1997) a current W3C activity but may become one in the future.

Version 1.0: December 15, 1997


Networking technology is requiring us to rethink and reinterpret existing intellectual property law. For instance, digital networks cache copies of documents to improve performance -- is this infringement, should royalties be paid? If it isn't an infringement because it is temporary, how long is temporary? What happens if these cached copies decrease the hits a Web service sees, and consequently the revenue it generates from marketing? Does a link to an infringing copy of intellectual property constitute contributory infringement, or is this well within the bounds of fair use?

Intellectual property rights on the Internet is a contentious topic for a number of reasons. These include (1) does the nature of the technology require us to change the legal understanding or status of copyright as it stands now, (2) what rights should be associated with Web content, (3) how should the rights be expressed, and (4) should the expression of the rights be used for notification, enforcement, or payment negotiation? We expect the answer to these questions does not lie solely in technology nor policy, but the rational combination of both.


While there has been much heated debate regarding the questions raised on the Overview page, we expect the W3C can make a positive contribution by exploring two different approaches:

  1. To make it easier for users to obey the law. Combining payment and labeling technologies will make it simple for IP owners to express the terms and conditions related to their materials, and for users to comply with the stated policies.
  2. To make it easier to stop the indiscriminate redistribution of protected material by establishing a labeling system for enumerating sites that are known to contain infringing materials.

One can describe the first approach as a "social negotiation" protocol. This type of protocol can be used to address the problems of IPR and Privacy by leveraging PICS and PEP as the tools for conducting negotiations. For instance, consider the following scenario that the W3C may wish to address:

John is a Web disc jockey, and goes to his favorite online music store where he is told "Here is the copyright notice associated with this CD, notice that it costs $13.99 for personal use. If  you'd like to license the capability to serve the CD from your own Web site, it will cost $250, plus $0.04 per access. Fees that are due from Web hits should be paid to X."

Current Situation

See the Intellectual Property Rights Overview Page.


No products as of 12/15/97. Potential products could include an intellectual property rights PICS ratings system (vocabulary) and a demonstration of its integration with preference and payment negotiation protocols. These products may not be a direct result of this project, but other related projects such as the PICS, JEPI, and the Privacy projects.

Next Step

The W3C expects to have a briefing package available when this area can be resourced. Joseph Reagle is tracking the IPR area. Our initial impression is that the requirements of this domain (as well as those of the Privacy domain) are well met as an applicataion of meta-data. See draft-reagle-pics-copyright-00.txt for an example of this approach.

In order to advance, the W3C must:

  1. identify the significant stake holders in this complex area and how to apply their understanding to the problem above.
  2. understand the legal issues associated with (1) making statements about the sites with potentially infringing materials, and (2) a PICS label format that enables IP owners to describe the intellectual property and usage rights of their materials.
  3. understand the business/policy issues associated with caching IP that should not be cached because of temporal constraints (price lists, stock reports, etc.)
  4. understand the technical issues related to rights management and payment negotiation.

Public Commitments

No public commitment as of December 15, 1997.

15 December 1997