Released by Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, the report urges changes to apply copyright law to information transmitted electronically as well as in books, magazines, movies or recordings.
"What will drive the success of the National Information Infrastructure is the content moving through it," the report's executive summary states. "Therefore, the potential of the NII will not be realized if the content is not protected effectively."
One key recommendation is to cover "transmissions," generally electronic, of documents or works under copyright law. Currently, a document sent via modem from one person to another may not be protected by copyright law.
Another is to ban devices or services designed primarily to thwart encryption or other software protection of copyrighted material. Such "black boxes" are designed to undercut efforts by copyright owners to use technology to protect their works.
"You have to make sure we have safe and reliable methods to protect intellectual property," said Philip Dodds, executive director of the Interactive Multimedia Association, a trade association of 300 major companies involved in interactive multimedia. "Without that you don't have an economic base to build an information economy."
The group of 18 federal agencies behind the report will hold two conferences, one to develop guidelines for fair use of copyrighted digital works and online services in public libraries and schools. The second is to develop a curriculum to educate the public about intellectual property law.
"The only way we can fully exploit the potential of the NII is if content is protected but made available to users," said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Patent & Trademark office, one of the agencies supporting the report. "We also have to educate people on the rules of the road."
Patent Commissioner Bruce Lehman will solicit written public comments by Sept. 7. Public hearings will follow.