Everything in cyberspace is composed of bits, the binary code that is the foundation of computing. In their digital form, images, music, video, and text are perfectly reproducible; not just once, but an infinite number of times. There is no degradation to limit the value of duplicate copies. With digital media, a copy is the original.
The binary reality of digital media poses vexing problems for how works are used (and reused), and the rights and responsibilities of producers and consumers under existing law.One of the virtues of the Web is its reach: the ability to widely distribute digital works faster and less expensively than ever before. There is great value in being able to communicate to millions of people. But there is a downside: content owners have little control over the subsequent dissemination and use of their work. Too many consumers unaware or confused by expansive license agreements, or willing to dismiss them as overly restrictive or unfair, approach the Internet with the erroneous belief that every item they encounter is in the public domain.
The laws that define and protect intellectual property span across three broad and distinctly different areas: patent, trademark and copyright (see below). The interpretation and applicability of the law to digital realm has become hotly contested. With copyright, some argue that the law has been applied indiscriminantly to digital works, and thereby harms both consumers and the evolution of the technology. They have gone so far as to advocate alternatives to conventional copyright, such as the "copyleft" and open source movements.
Content owners, especially the major music producers and film studios, see digital technology as a threat and have sought legal remedies to protect their financial interests. It was not until the launch of services like iTunes that the music industry began to embrace new business models for online distribution, after years of trying with only modest success to combat peer-to-peer file sharing through legal channels.
What is allowed with respect to the use of digital works under copyright law it not always clear. Although there are provisions for "fair use", the Web raises new questions of what is legal, appropriate, and fair to content owners and consumers. One major legislative attempt to grapple with copyright in the digital world, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, has made potential criminals out of users without lessening the confusion.
The applicability of copyright and patent law to software, the patentability of business methods, and the unregulated use of trademarks in paid placement search advertising are also major points of contention.