In the 1990s, a variety of industries dependent on copyright, trademark and patent law decided that the Internet and new digital technologies were getting way too dangerous. Upstart competitors with innovative business models were starting to invade well-established markets. Worse, ordinary people were starting to bypass the market system and challenge the supremacy of copyright and patent law (and to a lesser extent, trademark law). People began to create their own freely shareable alternatives using free software, co-production of content and virtually free distribution.
And so it was that the corporate giants of information and culture staked out the high ground of “property rights.” It would be the citadel from which they would defend their entrenched business models and fight the “dangers” of digital networks. The result has been the IP Wars, a sprawling set of political, economic and cultural conflicts that continue to rage today.
It is a far-ranging conflagration that affects dozens of creative and cultural enterprises -- film production and distribution, musical performance and recording, book publishing, photography and video production, pharmaceutical development, scientific research, scholarly publishing and databases, among many other arenas.
There has also been a strenuous backlash to IP industries. People with HIV/AIDS have risen up to fight the broad patent claims of the pharmaceutical industry, which has made life-saving drugs unaffordable to millions of people in need. Hackers have organized to resist the proprietary lock-down of software code, and insisted upon basic human freedom to copy and share their code. Subsistence farmers have resisted patent laws that promote genetically modified crops and threaten their seed-sharing practices.