It has become commonplace to say that we have entered the age of information. The words conjure up images of a reader’s paradise—an era of limitless access to information resources and unlimited interpersonal communication. In truth, however, the new information age is turning out to be as much an age of information about readers as an age of information for readers. The same technologies that have made vast amounts of information accessible in digital form are enabling information providers to amass an unprecedented wealth of data about who their customers are and what they like to read. In the new age of digitally transmitted information, the simple, formerly anonymous acts of reading, listening, and viewing—scanning an advertisement or a short news item, browsing through an online novel or a collection of video clips—can be made to speak volumes, including, quite possibly, information that the reader would prefer not to share.
This Article focuses specifically on digital monitoring of individual reading habits for purposes of so-called “copyright management” in cyberspace, and evaluates the import of this monitoring for traditional notions of freedom of thought and expression. A fundamental assumption underlying our discourse about the activities of reading, thinking, and speech is that individuals in our society are guaranteed the freedom to form their thoughts and opinions in privacy, free from intrusive oversight by governmental or private entities. The new copyright management technologies force us to examine anew the sources and extent of that freedom.
Part I of this Article describes the various copyright management technologies that are being developed to enable copyright owners to monitor readers’ activities in cyberspace and the uses they make of reading materials acquired there. Part II provides an overview of proposed federal legislation designed to reinforce copyright owners’ power unilaterally to institute intrusive copyright management systems. Part III considers, and rejects, the possibility that the impending digital copyright management regime constitutes no more than legitimate private ordering regarding the terms and conditions of access to copyrighted works. Part IV discusses the sources and justifications for an individual right to read anonymously, and argues that reading is so intimately connected with speech and freedom of thought that the First Amendment should be understood to guarantee such a right. Part V suggests that proposed federal protection for digital copyright management technologies may be unconstitutional to the extent that it penalizes individuals who seek only to exercise their rights to read anonymously, or to enable others to do so. Finally, Part VI argues that rather than seeking to enshrine a set of practices designed to negate reader anonymity, Congress should, instead, adopt comprehensive legislation designed to shield individual reading habits from scrutiny.
28 Conn. L. Rev. 981-1039 (1996)
Scholarly Commons Citation
Cohen, Julie E., "A Right to Read Anonymously: A Closer Look at "Copyright Management" in Cyberspace" (1996). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 814.