next up previous contents
Next: Degrees Of Freedom and Up: The Ethics of Modern Previous: Message Integrity   Contents



NOTE: I intend to flesh this chapter out someday, but not soon. In the meantime, it is in a state of disarray. I post this so that when I do flesh this out, the links to later chapters will not change on the web version of this essay. Plus you may find something interesting in here, or have it stimulate something interesting in your own mind. Some chunks of the next chapter may end up shifted into here to be handled with more appropriate context.

There are many contentious issues remaining with communication, but in light of the care lavished on the models in previous chapters, they do not rate full chapters. Instead, we can apply the models and see what they say. This serves both as further testing of the models in light of the Goals (chp. ), and also as evidence of their power, with their ability to actually say something about these debates.

Public File Sharing

Conflict: retail distribution/radio & television vs. person-to-person laws.

difference between select group and ``general public''

Source vs. ``downloaded from'': If I own a DVD of a movie, and I download a DIVX rip of that movie from the Internet, have I infringed anything? (Run through logic to ``no''.) If I haven't infringed, then how could the person I downloaded it from be an infringer? (...) Frankly, it's the users who are responsible for not downloading things they shouldn't, and thus the users who should be sued, if any.

And the current measures aren't sufficient; scanning a P2P network, even monitoring downloads, and simply assuming those are all infringements isn't right, because they aren't. It takes work to establish a crime, and that's the way it should be. The owner may well have already purchased rights to view the movie or listen to the song at will, so they may not be committing a crime.

Trade secrets and trademarks

Trade secrets and trademarks are two things traditionally covered under the ``intellectual property'' umbrella that I have not yet addressed. This is because I think they are basically OK as they are, and the translations into the modern era are pretty obvious. I've seen some abuses of these two over the past few years, but the courts seem to be navigating this area fairly well; the only large-scale trademark abuse that seems to go on systematically is the (XXX's) policy for domain name dispute resolution based on trademarks, and that takes place outside of the legal system anyhow.

Spam And E-Mail: Forcing Reception?

Two issues: Forced reception and money issues

Forced reception handled in Message Integrity.

Money issues are relevant, but just because someone commits a crime against you does not authorize you to respond with arbitrary force. Censorship is not an acceptable solution, especially because of the inevitability of collateral damage, but there are other good solutions.

Free speech implies both the right to speak and the right to listen. Forcing someone to listen infringes their right to free speech by denying them the choice of whom to listen to. In English that reads like a contradiction, but I bet it makes more sense in some other languages. (Applies to the Do Not Call list, too.)

Digital Rights Management

Digital Rights Management is an attempt to overturn the principle that The Sender Is Always On Top, by making it impossible for people ``above'' the DRM-protected message to manipulate it in any way.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to decide whether using this technology is ``ethical'' or ``unethical''. From a purely economic perspective, it is in the best interests of the consumer to reject this technology entirely, but economic utility is not always correlated with ethical nature.

Communities on the Internet and Community Standards

how does one define a community? Physical definitions are only useful in the physical world. A fuzzy definition seems inevitable, with people belonging to any number of ``communities''.

``Accessing'' Computers?

This one is pleasingly simple: Basically, a ``computer'' is never accessed, only messages are. There's some need for technical considerations for things like Denial of Service attacks, but that's much more limited. The reason the paper has such a hard time finding an answer is that it is answering the wrong question, focusing on the technology instead of the information flow.

Common Carriers are Vital

One of the interesting results of the model is that it shows that it is vital for the people who own the communication lines to keep their hands off the messages, and correspondingly not be responsible for the content of those messages at all. Otherwise, it is effectively impossible to use those lines for communication, as the messages will be corrupted by the owners of the lines, even if only by fear of being sued for the content.

Indeed, common carriers have a responsibility to get out of the way and just deliver content. The idea of a ``safe harbor'' is a good one; protect the common carrier as long as they don't meddle. If they insist on meddling, let them be liable for any mistakes they make, including the mistake of failing to filter. (Of course, in this age of lawsuits, that means they will choose to not meddle.)

A good case can be made that even on a technical level, they should not meddle. Not to mention it's a violation of the end-to-end philosophy, which is far from finished paying off.

Meta-engines (better name... meta-site?)

There are many sites on the web that collect and collate other sources of information, sort it and process it, and present it to the user in some format. Sites like this include ``meta-search engines'' that run the same search on multiple search engines at the same time and report the result, price comparision sites that allow you to query prices from multiple sites at a time, and review sites that collate multiple review sources and present one composite ``meta-review'' made up of many other reviews. Even a traditional search engine is really a ``meta-engine'', collecting data from many servers on the web and presenting it to you in a single interface, letting you ask questions and serving up slices and samples of various websites so you can pick the one you want.

Simple analysis will show that this is not really acceptable; while ``a price'' may not be a protectable concrete part, these meta-sites function by going out and grabbing communications off the web, extracting what they want from it, and presenting a new composite message to the user. In other words, in current legal terms the ``copyrighted content'' that is being misused is the page, not the prices; if the company obtained the prices in some other hypothetical legal fashion it would be acceptable, but munging the copyrighted page containing the prices contaminates the price information and would constitute a derivitave work (a term still meaningful under the communication model, just more general then the corresponding ``expression'' version). When this is done without permission from the owners of the original message, this is not ethical. It distorts the message the site wants to offer. Again, certain uses may seem acceptable in isolation but as a general ``right'' it's a very bad idea.

So would I ban search engines? Not completely, I just don't think it's ethical to index a site that does not express a desire to be indexed. I would make it opt-in. But in this particular case, you could make a case that the act of ``putting a web page on the web'' itself encompasses the idea of allowing your web page to be indexed by the search engines. The case is made stronger by the existance of a standard ``robots.txt'' file that a web site can use to tell search engines not to index certain parts, or not to index the entire site. (Violating a robots.txt would be unethical.) I'm not actually arguing for these instances, I'm presenting them as potential practical outs for the current status quo, but for consistency I really must say that either opt-in for search engines, or a rare explicit exception (which is hinted at in the DMCA, so it is not without precedent) would be much more consistent.

The interesting thing is that the bad thing is the message scraping. Once one has the data wrapping a database access around it isn't a problem.

ebay vs. bidder's edge

More generally then search engines, I think that we should let the market sort things out. If a ``meta-site'' that scrapes multiple store's sites is valuable, then they will develop because the stores being scraped will see it as in their interest to be listed. If a store does not want to be scraped, that is their right. The good stores will consent to being scraped because meta-price sites are the ultimate in targetted advertising. Stores that can't compete, won't, and will have to either sink or swim against their meta-site-listed bretheren on their own merits.

next up previous contents
Next: Degrees Of Freedom and Up: The Ethics of Modern Previous: Message Integrity   Contents