posted Oct 20, 2003
in Communication Ethics

Communication Ethics book part for What Is the Receiver Allowed To Do?. (This is an automatically generated summary to avoid having huge posts on this page. Click through to read this post.)

In the past, once the message (in the form of an expression) was delivered to the receiver, there was no way to control how this message was used by the receiver. Now there are ways to control the message, even after delivery, via the Digital Restrictions Management technology discussed so often before.

For example, nearly all DVDs require the viewer to sit through the FBI warning at the beginning for the full period of time the DVD producer decides. Many DVDs actually require the viewer to watch previews before the main movie could be viewed.

Can the receiver skip commercials, like with TiVo? Can they rewind or fast forward at all? If they schedule a movie for 5pm does that mean they have to be there or miss out?

But all of these questions first presume that these restrictions are acceptable and we merely need to quibble about which ones are OK. We seem to have managed just fine without them until the present time. We're mostly still managing just fine without them, in the publishing and music industries. Why should we suddenly start trying to restrict people, just because we "can"? Is that a net value to society?

What about a model where once a receiver experiences your message, they have every right to experience it again?

If you could tape every moment of your life for your own personal viewing, would you like to be told that you can't legally re-experience moments in your life over again because they are copyrighted by someone else?

What if I told you that you were already taping your life through the wonders of "memory"? What's the real ethical difference between "remembering" a song you experienced before, and listening to it again? Especially since some of us have photographic memories and can literally re-read a book, rendering most of the obvious differences moot?

Does it even make sense to allow the sender these sorts of restrictions?

Clearly, I'm trying to bias you in favor of "no". I admit that. I know there are counterarguments. I just want you to consider all sides of the issue fairly. Again, I issue the "this is not just theoretical" disclaimer; the technology to tape every moment of your life for your personal use already exists, and will almost certainly be available to the public in five or ten years, barring legal challenges. (The buzzword to keep your eye on is "life caching".) Moreover, there's no theoretical reason why we won't eventually be able to produce devices to tap into the human memory directly, though that is even further off. Are we going to extend "copyright"-like concepts all the way into the brain? (Are we willing to extend the "right to free speech" into a "right to free thought"?)


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