Extending The Spectrum Of Openness To Include The Moral Right To Share

from the now-there's-a-thought dept

Prefixing concepts with the epithet “open” has become something of a fashion over the last decade. Beginning with open source, we’ve had open content, open access, open data, open science, and open government to name but a few. Indeed, things have got to the point where “openwashing” — the abuse of the term in order to jump on the openness bandwagon — is a real problem. But a great post by David Eaves points out that the spectrum of openness actually extends well beyond the variants typically encountered in the West:

While sharing and copying technologies are disrupting some of the ways we understanding “content,” when you visit a non-Western country like India, the spectrum of choices become broader. There is less timidity wrestling with questions like: should poor farmers pay inflated prices for patented genetically-engineered seeds? How long should patents be given for life-saving medicines that cost more than many make in a year? Should Indian universities spend millions on academic journals and articles? In the United States or other rich countries we may weigh both sides of these questions — the rights of the owner vs. the moral rights of the user — but there’s no question people elsewhere, such as in India, weigh them different given the questions of life and death or of poverty and development.

Consequently, conversations about open knowledge outside the supposedly settled lands of the “rich” often stretch beyond permission-based “fair use” and “creative commons” approaches. There is a desire to explore potential moral rights to use “content” in addition to just property rights that may be granted under statutes.

He then goes on to write about the ideas of Sunil Abraham, founder and executive director of the Centre for Internet & Society (CIS) in India. Abraham has created an interesting representation showing the extended gamut of openness, which reaches from proprietary to counterfeiting and false attribution:

Eaves’s post examines some of the details of Abraham’s map:

Particularly interesting is Sunil’s decision to include non-legal “permissions” such as ignoring the property holders rights in his spectrum of openness. He sees this as the position of the Pirate Party, which he suggests advocates that people should have the right to do what they want with intellectual property even if they don’t have permission, with the exception, interestingly, of ignoring attribution.

This is something that several Techdirt posts have touched on before. One of the most telling facts about unauthorized sharing online is that people preserve attribution — there’s no attempt to hide who made the song or film. That’s probably why survey after survey shows that sharing materials online increases their sales — something that would be unlikely if attribution were stripped from files. Eaves notes that this aspect ties into a particularly hot topic at the moment — surveillance:

To Sunil, the big dividing line is less about legal vs. illegal but around this issue of attribution. “This is the most exciting area because this (the non-attribution area) is where you escape surveillance,” he declares.

“All the modern day regulation over IP is trying to pin an individual against their actions and then trying to attach responsibility so as to prosecute them,” Sunil says. “All that is circumvented when you play with the attribution layer.”

This matters a great deal for individuals and organizations trying to create counter power — particularly against the state or large corporate interests. In this regard Sunil is actually linking the tools (or permissions) along the open spectrum to civil disobedience.

It’s a fascinating piece that brings some fresh ideas to an area that has been steadily gaining in importance for some time. I hope that Abraham builds on these thoughts, and publishes some more extended and worked-out explorations of them — ultimately, perhaps, as a book.

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Comments on “Extending The Spectrum Of Openness To Include The Moral Right To Share”

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horse with no name says:

Dick Greger Augustsson

This reminds me of the vapid posts by Dick Greger Augustsson on torrent freak. You know, the ones where he claims that getting a single seat in government because of the voting system in place shows they are gaining.

Open doesn’t mean “free movies for everyone”. Thinking that pretty much dooms the arguments.

(ps: this post will likely be censored and held for an extended period of time… it’s the Techdirt way of being “open”).

Martin says:

According to this diagram attribution would be most intact at the proprietary end of the scale. I’m not sure I agree with this. I mean, how should one judge the cases where someone pays in order to take credit for the work of others?

I think that the actual creators may oftentimes be credited in a more reliable way nearer the Open Content World part of the spectrum.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re:

According to this diagram attribution would be most intact at the proprietary end of the scale.

That’s not how I read it – the “scale” (if any) seems to be more around legality than anything so I’d take that as the proprietary end of the scale being “more properly legal” for attribution than, say pirate radio.

Which makes sense since the laws are written for the proprietary end of the scale – I don’t think he was trying to say anything there about the “intactness” or value of attribution by various methods.

pseudoanonymous says:

I really don’t see how counterfeiting and false claim attribution fit on this scale at all. There is a complete disconnect between believing or ignoring someone’s imaginary property rights on the one hand and fraud and forgery of sorts on the other. Ignoring imaginary property rights might be illegal but that is the only thing it has in common with fraud that I can see. The two might often happen together, but that doesn’t mean they belong on the same scale. They are totally different animals. I suppose they are lumped together under trademark and brand law, but that doesn’t mean that they belong together in the mind of any sensible human being. Fraud, etc are essentially branches of dishonesty whereas the infringement of imaginary property rights is simply a choice to ignore an artificial monopoly. They are so dissimilar I just don’t get it.

Ninja (profile) says:

That’s probably why survey after survey shows that sharing materials online increases their sales — something that would be unlikely if attribution were stripped from files.

This is indeed interesting. What if the Intertubes decide to create entire new, imaginary artists and attribute real songs from other people to those artists?

I’ll go further: what if the Internet decides to create such imaginary artists and even titles to make insanely famous artists look like innocuous, common terms and make the anti-piracy efforts null or fuck up with the web so awesomely that they’ll be unfeasible and utterly unpopular? *wink*hint*wink*

out_of_the_blue says:

You can't make it moral to steal.

Actually, Abraham outlines at least some of my views: it’s a Populist argument based on class, BUT that does not okay you pirates in US / UK stealing content just because you needz entertainmentz! — Let alone does it justify Dotcom of Megaupload grifting millions off values he didn’t create or pay for.

“ignoring the property holders rights” — Well, you can try, but like I been telling ya, the moneyed interests fight back, and the result is to WORSEN society: you pirates give them an excuse to ratchet up controls. — IF you want to fight the class war, FINE, let’s LEVEL The Rich. But again, that doesn’t mean you get free entertainment: we need a higher goal, a MORAL goal of making the society FAIR.

In sum, this Populist line is NOT like Mike excusing piracy so his rich grifter pals can monetize content they didn’t produce!

So what is Mike’s position on piracy? — Here, try to guess!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You can't make it moral to steal.

Actually you can make it moral to steal (you’ve actually argued you can on many occasions and do so subtly in this very post) but that’s neither here nor there since this discussion doesn’t touch on stealing in even a tangential way.

What you’ve been telling us isn’t ideologically consistent. Fight back but not this way because reasons. Moneyed interests are grifting content but not JSTOR, they’re getting money for the valuable service they provide. You say we should ‘LEVEL the Rich’ but here we have a situation where ‘the Rich’ are retaliating and you blame the retaliation on what they’re responding to. You can blame the retaliation on the first movers and argue for first moving at the same time.

S. T. Stone says:

Re: You can't make it moral to steal.

Okay, so, let me see if I have this right: if we want to fight a class war, we have to bring The Rich down to our level?but if we try to do that by sharing content and information, we?re making things worse for everyone, including The Rich, who we?re supposed to be trying to make things worse for?

Anonymous Coward says:


Before the rest of the “rich” world agrees to give up their right to seek monetary compensation for their patented products to a “poor” country, let everyone spread the knowledge of responsible sustainability in a global society, and pass to every man woman and child the education neccessary to control birth and population so that the control of poverty and disease can be realized and minimized to a level that can be reasonably remedied with food and medical supplies readily available or that can be manufactured. Without such responsible control, there can be no hope for what the poorest nations seek to acquire from the rest of the world.

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