What the Publisher Can Teach the Patient: Intellectual Property and Privacy in an Era of Trusted Privication

Intellectual Property, Privacy and Security and Copyright and Trademark

Article Snapshot


Jonathan Zittrain


Stanford Law Review, Vol. 52, March 2000


This paper looks at how technology used to protect copyrighted works can be used to protect medical privacy.

Policy Relevance

Technology could help balance health care patients’ rights to control their patient records with medical care providers’ needs for information.

Main Points

  • Technology for collecting and sharing information about people’s health can improve the operation of the health care system, but it is a potential threat to privacy.

  • Music publishers faced problems protecting copyrighted works when technology make it possible to copy quickly, cheaply, and perfectly.

  • Some have proposed solving copyright enforcement problems using “trusted systems,” databases that track the copying rights and privileges of different parties, linked to hardware and software that recognizes those rights.
    • The Secure Digital Music Initiative, or SDMI, is a technological standard that suggests that music publishers are moving toward “trusted systems.”
    • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, is seen as helping support this movement.
    • Movement towards “trusted systems” could limit some consumer choices.

  • Medical privacy policy issues are similar. Information can be shared quickly and cheaply.

  • Rights proposed by federal medical privacy law include the patient’s right to inspect records, to consent to information sharing, and to learn how information has been disclosed. Trusted systems technology could enable patients to review records, choose who is to have access to them, and who may make copies.

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