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In an effort to control flows of unauthorized information, the major copyright industries are pursuing a range of strategies designed to distribute copyright enforcement functions across a wide range of actors and to embed these functions within communications networks, protocols, and devices. Some of these strategies have received considerable academic and public scrutiny, but much less attention has been paid to the ways in which all of them overlap and intersect with one another. This article offers a framework for theorizing this process. The distributed extension of intellectual property enforcement into private spaces and throughout communications networks can be understood as a new, hybrid species of disciplinary regime that locates the justification for its pervasive reach in a permanent state of crisis. This hybrid regime derives its force neither primarily from centralized authority nor primarily from decentralized, internalized norms, but instead from a set of coordinated processes for authorizing flows of information. Although the success of this project is not yet assured, its odds of success are by no means remote as skeptics have suggested. Power to implement crisis management in the decentralized marketplace for digital content arises from a confluence of private and public interests and is amplified by the dynamics of technical standards processes. The emergent regime of pervasively distributed copyright enforcement has profound implications for the production of the networked information society.

Publication Citation

95 Geo. L.J. 1-48 (2006)