The Information Superhighway - National Information Infrastructure

Born in Alphabet Soup

In February 1993, President Clinton formed the Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) to articulate and implement the Administration's vision for the National Information Infrastructure (NII). The IITF is organized into three committees: the Telecommunications Policy Committee (TPC) which formulates Administration positions on relevant telecommunications issues; the Committee on Applications and Technology (CAT), which coordinates Administration efforts to develop, demonstrate and promote applications of information technologies in key areas; and the Information Policy Committee (IPC), which addresses critical information policy issues of the NII.

The Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights (WGIPR) was established within the Information Policy Committee (IPC) to examine the intellectual property implications of the NII and to make recommendations regarding changes to U.S. intellectual property law and policy. The so-called 'White Paper' embodied the Working Group's analysis and recommendations.

Why Should You Care

This was the inflection point where people made decisions about what your future is going to look like. In the case of the 'White Paper', the Information Policy Committee of the IITF decided that intellectual property rights were going to be maximally protected. Consequently, they formed the Working Group to look at the issue to see if it might be necessary to change the Copyright Act in order to facilitate the NII. In order to have well ordered commerce on the NII, you have to have workable and enforceable rules of the road. Disney and other movie studios made it clear that under no circumstances would they distribute movies on the NII if copyright laws pertaining to the NII were ambiguous or unenforceable. After taking a good, long look at the issue, the Working Group decided that the Copyright Act was a healthy work horse of an Act, and with a few minor adjustments, fully capable of handling new technologies for at least a couple more years.

Carpe Diem

The most interesting aspect of the 'White Paper' is that its commerce based position raises several conflicts with the current state of the Internet, both philosophical and technological. Philosophically, it comes into conflict with the 'Information wants to be free' mentality of the Internet. Technologically, it comes into conflict with the fact that there is no longer any mechanical or cost barrier to reproduction. Despite the Working Group's confidence in the Copyright Act, industry interests prevailed, and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was spawned.