The debate over downloading, even before the Internet

This morning I learned that I paper on which I was a co-author just won the “2011 Best Social Informatics Paper Award” from the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) Social Informatics Special Interest Group (SIG-SI).  The main authors, Professors Kristin Eschenfelder and Anuj Desai, are smart and cool colleagues of mine here at UW-Madison.  The paper, titled “The Pre-Internet Downloading Controversy: The Evolution of Use Rights for Digital Intellectual and Cultural Works,” appeared in the journal The Information Society last year.  Here’s the abstract:

This article describes and explains the shift in the database industry’s treatment of downloading. Downloading began as an unwanted by-product of new technology and became a product feature. The authors explain this shift in terms of shifts in “use-regimes,” or changes to market practices, legal rules, user expectations, and technology-based tools that shape the use of intellectual and cultural property. In the early 1980s, citation database users did not have the right to “download,” or save, citations from bibliographic databases, but by the early 1990s, citation database publishers had partnered with bibliographic citation software developers (e.g., ProCite) to make easy downloading of citations a product feature. In this article, the authors tell both the lost story of the pre-Internet downloading controversy and how and why the meaning of downloading changed over a twenty-year period. In doing so, they present a theoretical framework that is useful for analyzing changes in use rights for a variety of types of intellectual and cultural goods. Finally, the authors compare lessons from this historical case study to contemporary use right debates in the intellectual and cultural property literature.

Members of the UW-Madison community can view the article (or “download” it!) through our institutional subscription (others can view the preprint here).  And if you’re curious about just what “social informatics” is anyway, a very good resource is the Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics at Indiana University, Bloomington.