Who owns information?: from privacy to public access

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Basic Books, Jun 8, 1994 - Business & Economics - 241 pages
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Once upon a time information was hard to get. Now it's astonishingly easy, whether it's a person's phone number, medical records, or research. But as a society we haven't reached a consensus on how to control - or even whether to control - all this accessible information. So a war is going on between private citizens and information-based businesses over who owns such valuable data as a person's name, photographic image, telephone number, shopping records, and medical records. Similar battles are raging over who owns the airwaves and computer-user interfaces, and one of the most vituperative information wars is going on among academics over who owns the words on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this engaging, sometimes poignant, often hilarious book, Anne Wells Branscomb elucidates such conflicts. With fascinating case studies ranging from Citizen Mog, who sued J. C. Penney for the use of his time in listening to telephone sales pitches, to "Captain Midnight", a satellite dish retailer who disrupted HBO's transmission as a protest against the cable company's scrambling its signals; from Lotus Development Corporation's going to court to outlaw clones of its spreadsheet software to the Anti-Defamation League's charging Prodigy with permitting hate messages to be transmitted via E-mail - the book shows how the law is lumbering along, trying to apply the old rules to a new game. Having spent billions of dollars on the apparatus that makes it possible to access, manipulate, and store information, we need to invest in understanding the economics, law, and ethics of information, Branscomb writes. We need to develop a legal "infostructure" to support the burgeoning information marketplace. What is thedividing line between public and private forums: face-to-face meetings only or cyberspace as well? What are the consequences for society of allowing information to be packaged and sold? Should all information be declared forever public? These are issues of crucial importance to a wide range of professionals, including lawyers, librarians, telecommunications experts, database managers, and journalists, as well as to private individuals. As we enter the information age, the question "who owns information?" becomes more urgent and more timely than ever.

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Who owns information?: from privacy to public access

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What could be, to put it mildly, an extremely dry and confusing topic-the rights of persons both to access information and to maintain private ownership of it at the same time-has instead become the ... Read full review


Control of the Legal Infostructure
Who Owns Your Name and Address?
Who Owns Your Telephone Number?

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About the author (1994)

Anne Wells Branscomb is a legal scholar-in-residence at Harvard University's Program on Information Resources Policy.