The DOI – twenty years on

The Digital Object Identifier (DOI) is only known to me through research journal articles. Surely there can’t have been 20 years of research published with DOIs. DOI is not only just for research articles, however, but for any digital object, particularly with any published item. The numbering of the DOI consists of a two-part scheme with the first part specific to the author, the second of the publisher. These digital objects would include books, periodicals, music, etc.

More importantly than the definition is its use in relation to copyright and intellectual property (IP).  Problems existed 20 years ago on cheap, easy reproduction of IP assets in the ever-expanding digital age, and the problem still exists now. Bide (2015) claims that “The key to managing copyright on the Internet, the core of the Armati paper, was and still is certainty of identification” (Challenges section, para. 1) pointing to DOIs as that identification. Alas, there is a cost associated with these markers which has yet to be overcome. Establishing a social norm of these markers to which people will adhere, and each identification user favoring the benefits as a whole instead of the individual cost will be the ultimate breakthrough (Bide, 2015, Challenges section, para. 8-9).

So where does this fit in with metadata? DOIs is one of many identifying marks. It is imperative that objects are giving proper citation to protect IP. Even if all objects have a DOI, that doesn’t mean it will be properly attributed, either by accident or on purpose, similar to problems arisen with YouTube video subscribers uploading proprietary materials for all to see for free. The social norm for identification for purposes of IP protection will continually be at war with those wanting a free ride. Thus there will always be a need for guardians in a proverbial watchtower. Perhaps one day there will be an easy way of embedding digital files with DOIs with permission settings to protect digital works regardless of the social norm within the next 20 years.


Bide, M. (July 2015). The DOI – twenty years on. D-Lib Magazine, 21(7/8). doi:10.1045/july2015-bide

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