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Whether shopping on the Internet, buying music, or downloading to an iPod, consumers have daily encounters with digital rights. Taha Jiwaji ’08 (Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania) is studying how digital rights affect the average person as well as corporate America.

Jiwaji is collaborating with Rita DeFrange, visiting instructor of civil and environmental engineering, through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

The researchers are assembling data on the effects of digital rights, studying business trends, and forecasting future developments.

“We’re researching where the technology industry is going and how there is this constant striving for change to make things faster, cheaper, better,” says Jiwaji, who is pursuing a B.S. electrical and computer engineering and A.B. with a major in economics and business. “It really gets me going.”

The research is unique in that it explores how digital rights affect the individual and examines the issue on a larger scale.

“People often don’t understand what digital rights are,” DeFrange explains. “They don’t understand, for example, that when they log onto and type in and select books, that Amazon is holding onto some of their personal choices so they can make future selections for the customer. The first part of our study is answering the question, ‘Is that infringing on a consumer’s personal rights?’”

Questions over digital rights have arisen in cases where two companies have rights embedded in hardware but must have equipment that can handle both technologies. Apple’s iPod is a good example in which that company’s hardware must be compatible with personal computers so users can download iTunes music.

Jiwaji and DeFrange plan to use their data to explain how digital rights affect society.

“The goal here is to understand the effects of the digital rights, which in a sense is a manufacturer’s ability to control an environment and how that affects consumers,” DeFrange says. “It’s all about control.”

That may be the case for the companies involved, but for Jiwaji, the project is all about learning. He considers the program a valuable tool to pursue both his career interests.

“My two interests are a perfect mix for this project as we study both how the technology industry behaves and how businesses work and combine those to understand the industry as a whole,” he says. “I really enjoy looking at the big-picture.”

DeFrange plans to present the research as part of her dissertation “Digital Rights Management: A Study of the Effects as they Relate to Manufacturer Control and the Scope of that Control.” She also hopes to present the findings in scholarly articles early next year.

In the meantime, she is enjoying watching Jiwaji learn many new things about his fields of interest.

“He’s actually doing this research much like a graduate student or even a doctoral student,” she says. “He’s really digging into it. I think some of the things we’re looking at from a research perspective are allowing him to see why companies take so long to make some of the decisions they need to make.”

“When I ask for a piece of information, not only do I get information and responses back from him, but I also get nonbiased factual information developed from his reading and the interoperability between the pieces of information,” she adds.

Jiwaji is taking advantage of the opportunities Lafayette offers in addition to the EXCEL program.

“There are so many other opportunities,” he says. “I get the opportunity to study technology as an undergraduate and to be involved in a lot of other activities on campus while also doing my academics.”

Jiwaji is an assistant project manager for the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, treasurer of International Students Association, vice president of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a member of Muslim Student Association. He is a past recipient of the Lehigh Valley Section of the ASM Award, given annually to the student who has attained the most impressive record in the introductory materials course.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News

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