Copyresponsibility

There has been a great deal of discussion about copyrights in the new world, where the ability to copy or distribute any piece of information without destroying the original is virtually infinite.

Much effort has been put into preserving the “old model”, where the right to copy is restricted based on the author (or more often, the publisher/distributor), in the form of DRM, civil lawsuits, new laws, and intellectual property. Overall, this effort has failed, and continues to fail. The laws are becoming more complex, but enforcement is still impossible.

We live in an exciting time. Society has not yet decided whether copying information is moral or not. We already know what a world in which copying data is immoral is like — the “old model”. But what would happen if a world where it was both accepted and expected that anyone who has access to a piece of information has the legal and moral right to redistribute it?

Personally, I think we must plan for such a world, because it seems inevitable. Perhaps the various organizations attempting to hold onto the old model will succeed, but not forever. I think coming generations will demand the right to access and distribute information as they see fit.

Ultimately, this would mean that anyone who has access to (“read”) a piece of information has an equal right to share that information as the author. We already see models where this is the case; very few people know or care who the authors of Wikipedia articles are, for example. When a YouTube video goes viral, you rarely look to see who uploaded it. Even if you do, you don’t know if they actually created the original.

I think this will place a great deal of responsibility on people who have privileged knowledge. The author of a document has exclusive right to its content until she shares it with another person. At that point, those two people would have an equal share in the right to the content. This is implicit and obvious, but something that has not been discussed much to date is that they also have an equal share in the responsibility of deciding who else may view that document.

If every single person who has access to the information agrees that no-one else should see it, then the information is private to that group. However, if the weakest link chooses to share it with outsiders, nobody else in the group would have the right to stop them.

Thus, in the copy-responsibility world, a huge amount of trust is required before sharing information that you consider sensitive. I know people who claim, “if it’s on the Internet then it’s public”, even if it’s inside a private Facebook group or Google Plus circle. This claim simply acknowledges that every member of that circle has an equal right to share that data, or equal responsibility to keep it within the cartel. (They are overlooking the fact that employees at Facebook and Google are also implicit members of that circle that may not be so reliable.)

In summary, I think it’s fair to say we live in (or will soon live in) a world where we no longer have a right to privacy. Instead, we will have a responsibility to privacy. We are responsible for our own “secrets” as well as the secrets of anyone who has shared their secrets with us.

3 Comments

  1. Nick says:

    Brilliant.
    It is my deepest wish that the laws attempting to uphold the old model prove useless not just to people who agree with these ideas described here, but to those who wrote the laws in the first place.

  2. smls says:

    I think that the whole idea of allowing information stored in one person’s brain (or outsourced brain, like on a hard drive) to “belong” to another person is completely immoral and at odds with the principles of civil liberties and property rights of the Western world.

    Those that introduced “intellectual property[sic!]” into the Western world (the founding fathers of the US), knew full well that it went against their own political principles like individual liberty and autonomy and free markets.
    Back then they openly called those now-Orwellian-named “intellectual property[sic!] rights” by what they were: arbitrary, government-granted monopolies on certain economic actions.
    The only reason they made an exception for them, was that they truly believed that they would provide enormous benefit to the economy as a whole and so the ends would justify the means.

    Well, a few centuries later, experience has shown that they really do more harm than good to the economy, so the utilitarian argument in favor of enforcing them has crumbled.
    And there never *was* an ethical foundation to support them, so one should think they’d be abolished by now.

    Unfortunately, reason and ethics are powerless against today’s corporate lobbyism and widespread status-quo-thinking (especially the latter).
    Any ethics debate about the topic is suppressed by close-minded invocation of those who have built their business principle around exploiting the existing laws at the expense of other people, and now think they have a God-given entitlement to be able to continue making money in the exact same way for all eternity.

    So, instead of abolishing “intellectual property[sic!]” laws, conservative and left-wing governments have expanded them to not only give certain people power over *economic* actions of competitors (like it used to be with the founding father’s patent system), but also wide-reaching power over *private* actions of millions of private citizens (i.e. today’s patent+copyright+DRM system) – something which one would expect in a totalitarian system, but not in the liberal democracies the Western nations are claiming to be.
    And indeed, those laws simply CAN NOT be consistently enforced without totalitarian government control (that alone should be a big clue as to their true nature), so they are enforced very inconsistently and erratically – again benefiting the big corporations who can afford whole armies of lawyers, at the expense of everyone else.

    (Sorry for the rant.)

  3. alex says:

    It’s not a good idea because it’s more like your work belongs to community. I think the author should have some privileges but not the total control like nowadays.
    Why shouldn’t the author/authors have rights like mentioning his/their name/names and the exklusive right to call his/their work original?