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round; they are never "checked out." These same advances in technology create new opportunities and markets for publishers.
But there is also a more troublesome side. For publishers and authors, the question is, How many copies of the work will be sold (or licensed) if networks make possible planet-wide access? Their nightmare is that the number is one. How many books (or movies, photographs, or musical pieces) will be created and published online if the entire market can be extinguished by the sale of the first electronic copy?
The nightmare of consumers is that the attempt to preserve the marketplaces leads to technical and legal protections that sharply reduce access to society's intellectual and cultural heritage, the resource that Jefferson saw as crucial to democracy.
This deceptively simple problem illustrates the combination of promise and peril that make up the digital dilemma. The information infrastructureby which we mean information in digital form, computer networks, and the World Wide Webhas arrived accompanied by contradictory powers and promises. For intellectual property in particular it promises moremore quantity, quality, and accesswhile imperiling one means of rewarding those who create and publish. It is at once a remarkably powerful medium for publishing and distributing information, and the world's largest reproduction facility. It is a technology that can enormously improve access to information, yet can inhibit access in ways that were never before practical. It has the potential to be a vast leveler, bringing access to the world's information resources to millions who had little or no prior access, and the potential to be a stratifier, deepening the division between the information "haves" and "have-nots."
The information infrastructure has as well the potential to demolish a careful balancing of public good and private interest that has emerged from the evolution of U.S. intellectual property law over the past 200 years. The public good is the betterment of society that results from the constitutional mandate to promote the "progress of science and the useful arts"; the private interest is served by the time-limited monopoly (a copyright or patent) given to one who has made a contribution to that progress. The challenge is in striking and maintaining the balance, offering enough control to motivate authors, inventors, and publishers, but not so much control as to threaten important public policy goals (e.g., preservation of the cultural heritage of the nation, broad access to information, promotion of education and scholarship). As usual, the devil is in the details, and by and large the past 200 years of intellectual property history have seen a successful, albeit evolving, balancing of those details. But the evolving information infrastructure presents a leap in technology that may well upset the current balance, forcing a rethinking of many of the fundamental premises and practices associated with intellectual property.