Ironically, one thing was lost in this process. Digital content creators in the pre-Web days had licensing agreements with the online providers, and their content was protected by proprietary technology. Put it into other words: sure, we have billions of images on Flickr today, compared to perhaps thousands on Compuserve in the mid-1980s, but while you can easily copy any image on Flickr and claim it as your own, in the days of Compuserve, this was not easy to do.
Instead, what we gained was legislation regulating exchange of intellectual propriety in the digital world — like, well, the DMCA or its equivalent on other national jurisdictions. This did nothing to diminish content piracy on the Internet; content monopolies like the whole music industry has changed in a decade, trying to cope with the fact that 100,000 music tracks are illegitimately downloaded every minute — not to mention, of course, all other types of content like images, videos, and software applications. A subtle move was made towards selling pure digital content to providing services, but I’m quite sure that this debate is by far not settled.
It’s also ironic that instead of “fighting the evils of the Internet”, people slowly adapted to it. For instance, Web designers at the very early stages of the World-Wide Web were paranoid about their layouts potentially being copied. These days, they’re pretty much ignoring that issue. Who cares, after all, if a blog read by a hundred people has exactly the same layout as, say, Apple’s website? Even Apple’s lawyers might consider that violation of their IP rights not to be worth their trouble. Amateur photographers push their images for sale on thousands of websites, from where they’re copied — but the revenue stream from selling legitimate copies has not prevented them from still making more than enough sales on Gettyimages or other similar sites to frighten them away from the Internet. Musicians know that what they earn from iTunes is just a fraction of what gets downloaded illegitimately, but that doesn’t mean that there is not enough money to be made through the many legitimate music download sites. In a sense, the Internet is too huge and too vast, and digital content creators, besides providing services, are also able to make enough direct content sales — much more than during the pre-WWW days, just because their market grew immensely — even if they’re aware of the lack of copyright protection on the Internet.
The protection, of course, exists: under copyright law. It’s just the sheer scale of piracy that might be daunting — it’s just virtually impossible (and gets even more impossible every day) to file lawsuits against all content pirates. And the “impossibility” comes from several issues: it’s too expensive; too many national borders are crossed; and the huge majority of the Internet pirates are just regular Jane and Joe Does who are not even aware that they cannot legitimately copy images, Web site layouts, or music without paying licensing fees. So the mentality of the digital content producers changed as they had to face this fact.