posted Oct 16, 2003
in Communication Ethics

Communication Ethics book part for Wildly Inconsistent Answers. (This is an automatically generated summary to avoid having huge posts on this page. Click through to read this post.)

I'd like to take a moment and make concrete the points initially made abstractly in chapter 2. Our problem lies in the fact that we have chosen wildly inconsistent answers to these questions, both because of accidents of technology being perceived as fundamental ethical principles and because certain issues like Privacy have not been carefully analysed as in this essay to show how connected they are with other communication issues. Consider the following matrix of Issues and summaries of what seem to be our current system's answers to the preceding questions:

Issue When can it be received? What can the receiver do? Can those interact? Can the message be forwarded?
Music (Radio) Freely broadcast with no contract (no money from receiver)tape it for later listening (though the industry would like to eliminate this) can only make "personal" use (businesses can't just turn on a radio without paying) (codified in law since there's no contract) Only Fair Use
Music CD, Movies DVD receiver must pay for content + media somewhat up in the air, but space shifting and format shifting seem to be OK some CDs are trying to use DRM-like techniques to prevent certain uses like format-shifting somewhat up in the air; can you send your grandmother an MP3 from a CD you own legally? (Does whether your grandmother lives with you impact that?)
TV same as Radio same as Radio same as Radio same as Radio
Movies (theatre) controlled by physical access controlled by physical access, banning recording equipment on the premises. pay once, view once (but one can make the case that one is renting a seat for a period of time) never in physical possession of the movie, so nothing is possible
Privacy-sensitive Information information must be sent out to perform certain transactions nearly anything they want. (Some very limited exceptions like HIPAA restrictions) no, sender of PSI is typically allowed no control over the PSI after it is sentanything the PSI receiver pleases
Software heavy contract restrictions in the general case based on contract restrictions, seems to be no limit to what those contracts can contain (UCITA), though they've never been tested based on contract restrictions with no apparent limit based on contract restrictions with no apparent limit
Actual Speech controlled by physical proximity; admission charges or physical barriers may bar accessmay be recorded by listener, copyright for recording belongs to the recorder, not the speaker (speaker may have other copyright) none I know of none I know of
Books controlled by physical access mechanism unrestricted (historically impossible to restrict book users) no restrictions technically possible, so historically no-one ever thought of it traditionally, since books can't be copied they can be given to anyone and nobody cares. There are some interesting issues if a society wants to have public libraries.
Website text in general, may be as restricted as software is (usually freely available) technically, messages can usually be archived, but it's an open question if this is generally acceptable (and also an open question what it means if it's not) theoretically as rich as software contracts, usually not used theoretically as rich as software contracts, usually not used

There's a lot of summarizing going on in that table; for instance the "Privacy Sensitive Information" answers were specifically written with the common case of addresses, phone numbers, credit history, etc. in mind, not the more esoteric privacy sensitive information that still falls under my defintion. "Software" discusses the general case, even though not all software lays all the restrictions on the receiver. This isn't even complete, either, but I think this is enough to show the point.

The key here is to note the incredible discontinuity between the current answers to those questions, even though it's all the same thing, just numbers. Even very similar things like "Website text" and "Books" have wildly differing answers; as they merge ("E-books") it is impossible to simultaneously reconcile the differences while also keeping everything the same as it was before; one of those has got to go.

In fact, that's a general problem with effectively every technology here; you can not simultsneously preserve all of these historical accidents in the Internet era.


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