Panelists (from left to right) Lee Knife, Daniel Ramier, Larry Downes, and Michael D. Smith discuss the practical implications of 'cloud' technology. (Rachel Morello/Medill)

WASHINGTON – Do you know where your computer’s information is stored? Increasingly, the answer is up in the air.

Cloud technology is one of the latest developments to hit it big in the world of digital information. This service allows users to store and access libraries of their content on massively distributed remote servers. Information can be accessed through different types of devices, ranging from tablet applications to streaming services.

The “clouding of entertainment media” is a focus of the eighth annual State of the Net Conference starting Wednesday and hosted by the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus.

A handful of leading technology companies, including Apple, Google and, have introduced cloud services in recent months.

While policymakers applaud the innovation of these companies, some wonder whether the service will continue to grow. According to Lee Knife, executive director for the Digital Media Association, almost all negotiations on cloud-based media service models are shaped by existing legal frameworks.

“It was easy to keep [technology and law] separate in a physical world – it is very difficult to keep them separate in a cloud world,” said Knife.

“Shouldn’t we divorce the policy and the politics from the business models? The reality is, you can’t.”

But on the morning of a partial Internet blackout in protest to the Stop Online Piracy Act under debate in Congress, the issue of policy was hard to ignore.

“Today, the state of the ‘net is very, very annoyed,” said Larry Downes, consultant and author. “The nature of this particular response … does indicate sort of a sea change, which is certainly relevant to this topic [of the cloud].”

Downes said the type of change the cloud brings to digital distribution of media is sure to face some resistance at first.

“The media industry is past the ‘denial’ stage now, and they’re clearly now fervently in the ‘anger’ stage…it will take a couple more to go until we actually get to ‘acceptance’,” said Downes. “Ultimately, of course, the technology wins.”

Daniel Reimer, a German employee of RapidShare (an Internet file-hosting service), urged policymakers to consider the global market when trying to figure out what to do with cloud technology.

“The market appetite transcends national boundaries, and so does the cloud,” said Reimer. “Whatever type of regulations we come up with…in one country affects the rest of the world.”

Reimer advised policymakers to take their time when trying to regulate technology.

“Things like SOPA or PIPA (Protect IP Act) can really choke a new and growing business model,” said Reimer. “We can’t overregulate this new, upcoming technology.”

One observer at the conference noted that for today’s youth, cloud technology fits their evolving technological standard. For them, ownership may seem an outdated concept: Instead of buying a car, simply rent a ZipCar by the hour; instead of buying music on iTunes, use Spotify or Pandora. Subscription-based cloud services offer an alternative to hard drives.

Downes said young people “get that there is a better economic model.

“The most interesting thing about the way information works when you divorce it from the physical artifact is you have this idea of collaboration,” he said. “The more [information] is used, it becomes more valuable.”