posted Oct 15, 2003
in Communication Ethics

Communication Ethics book part for Sender Control Over Message. (This is an automatically generated summary to avoid having huge posts on this page. Click through to read this post.)

And thus we come to the crux of this essay. What restrictions are the senders allowed to lay on the receivers with regard to what the receivers can do with their messages? I see several distinct issues:

  1. Can it be received at all? The sender may not send the message at all until (s)he is paid. Or they may not want to send it at all. Or they may not be allowed to keep a message to themselves. Are there provisions of standard contract law that can not be ethically applied to communication?
  2. What is the receiver allowed to do with the message themselves? Can they archive it? Do they have anything like "Fair Use" rights? Can they manipulate the message as they please (fast forward, rewind, etc.), or are there constraints on how they can experience it?
  3. Can #1 and #2 interact? Is the sender allowed to discriminate based on what the receiver will do with the message, or not? For example, is it ethical to charge a Pay-Per-View customer twice for seeing the same content twice? Or is it the case that once the message is sent, the sender no longer has an interest in what the receiver does with it? As a practical example, is requiring the use of Digital Restrictions Management hardware and software by a receiver ethical?
  4. To whom may the receiver forward the message to, and under what circumstances? This certainly interacts with #1, in that the sender may refuse to send the message at all if the receiver insists on being able to post it freely on their web page, but is also worth considering on its own, because there may be special limitations on the kind of restrictions a sender can place on the receiver. For instance, traditional "Fair Use" is covered here; I can forward a small snippet with commentary under certain limited conditions, and there is nothing the sender can do about it ethically. Can I manipulate the forwarded messages (i.e., use a snippet of video in my television program vs. the whole thing)? In what manner?

Having come this far, it may surprise you to learn that I have no intention of answering these questions. I have my opinions, which given this context are brief enough and inconsequential enough to be explained in a sidebar, and I would like to explore the issues in a bit, but I also believe unlike the other two degrees of freedom, there are multiple acceptable answers, even given the choices we've made as a society and the general principles I've laid out in the rest of this essay such as the Symmetry Property.

However, even in the domain of the multiple acceptable answers, not all answers are possible simultaneously. Some choices we make will constrict our freedom to make other choices, and we will either need to decide which is more valuable to us, or work out some way to cleanly delimit the boundaries between the domains where different choices take effect. As I take you through at least a partial analysis of the issues, the most important things to watch for are the fundamental conflicts between different choices made for how the sender can restrict the receiver.

On the one hand it seems rather odd that it took this long to get to this result. On the other hand, I don't think anyone who has been tracking these issues can deny that there's a lot of confusion and fuzzy thinking out there. One could probably spend two or three times more verbiage then I have just clearing away the fuzz, and until the questions are clarified, it's impossible to give good answers to any question. I believe that you can not just jump into this chapter and truly understand what I'm trying to say without the context and terminology provided by the previous chapters.


Site Links


All Posts