Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.
New framework for thinking maybe?
Author: Jeremy Bowers Posted: 9/3/1999; 6:18:06 PM Topic: New framework for thinking maybe? Msg #: 10549 Prev/Next: 10548 / 10550
I know Dave wanted to tone the conversation down... hopefully, this meets the "something new to say" criterion. If not, delete it; I've got a local copy (and please forgive me).
What I've been trying to create is a new theorectical framework for handling some of these issues. Well, I'm sure it's not new, but it's certainly not in use (and I haven't seen it anywhere).
I'm getting a bit tired of being negative, so let me express this first in a positive manner, from the point of view of the rights of the original content rights owner.
You have the right to communicate in an unobstructed, direct manner with the recipient of your communication.
Explaining what this means to me is not going to be fun. There must be a better way to phrase it... perhaps one of you can show me.
For the purposes of explanation, there exists a message that a sender is trying to send, and the reciever is trying to recieve. On the web, we are lucky enough to have a page model, such that the definition of message is simple, even for dynamic pages. Other things won't quite be so easy, but the definition of "message" doesn't seem to be critical to the point here.
The sender controls all aspects of the message he is trying to send (pretty much by definition). The idea is that this message should be recieved, unimpeded, by the reciepient. Going back to my previous 8 examples, let me show you what I mean, in action:
Further web examples:
- No links: Not relevant.
- Linking to the home page: Acceptable. You are sending them directly to the source... no distortion occurs.
- Linking deeply: Again, under this structure, you can't really stop deep linking.
You can construct counter-examples, if you are creative enough; in that case, I prefer to let the principle stand and forbid those, because by constructing a counter-example, you are, by definition, constructing a situation in which communication is being impeded.
- Linking deeply, repeatedly: As long as there remains no particular pattern, you are still merely directing people to somebody else.
I can't eliminate the issue of distinguishing between this and the next. I think society pretty much just needs to pick something and stick with it.
- Linking deeply, catching an entire class of links (such as "todays news stories"): I think, by the time you reach this point, you are representing a significant portion of the site, and, intentional or not, it is not the intended communication (by the sender). There now exists a third party: The sender, the collater/collecter/scraper/whoever, and the recipient. That isn't acceptable.
Reminder: If permission is granted, this is a non-issue. Permission must be granted, however, opening up the possibility of selectively granting permission. (There already exist laws banning certain types of selection protocols (such as race and gender), and they will serve fine here.) My competitors may not carry my stories. All linux sites may. Authorized for personal use, as long as you link to us in the following fashion. Only Tom, Dick, and Sally may get to it using the password I provide. Whatever you want that's legal.
- Linking as above, with summaries of an entire class: Obviously, still illegal, but an even more egregious violation. I assume that, since we are working with the situation where permission does not exist, summaries were not provided, so the aggragator is either ripping off summaries already existing (bad!) or creating their own (even worse!), which will almost certainly result in distortion a large portion of the time.
- Linking as above, with large summaries of an entire class: This is just for numerical consistency :-) Using the "OL" tag has some disadvantages... :-)
- Simply mirroring all content of interest: Actually, I want to point out something here. Despite the fact you may be mirroring the entire content of a site, the mirrorer is still serving as a third party in the communication. The context necessarily shifts, because, by definition, if the context was the same, you'd still be on the original site (Q.E.D. :-) ). A trivial example would be reposting a campaign site for a hypothetical candidate for the Presidency "Todd" onto "Toddsucks.com". You are changing the context, which affects the message, and while in some instances the effect may be so small as to be un-noticable, as a class of distortion, we cannot allow this.
As for the non-web, I am willing to say that common custom has created what exists and it is basically permitted. For instance, clipping services under this model could be stopped, but if the industry was going to stop them, it should have by now. At this point, they are accepted. Over time, other practices may become accepted on the web.
- Web annotation: No. The annotation service provides a means to interpose itself between any web sender and recipient. That the recipient chooses it doesn't really matter; the sender has the right to "speak", uninturrupted under this idea. If you want to discuss something, create some other communication channel between the discusser and other interested discussers, such as Usenet, an external web board, or something, but don't break in on another communication. (Note: One-to-many is handled as one talking to an entity called "many"... it still may not be inturrupted. Web pages are basically one-talking-to-one... even if the page was written by committee.)
- Search engines: Because they only point you to the sites, they are OK. If they tried to do any more then that, they would fall afoul of my criterion. In essense, the purpose of a search engine is to facilitate the creation of communication betwen those who have information, and those who need it. On the basis of this criterion, there is no reason to claim they need permission. There are other basises, and it is indeed good for the whole community to allow people to opt out (after all, who wants search engines to catalog every permutation of the links possible on slashdot, which allows millions of ways of looking at any given non-trivial set of comments, all embedded into the URL?).
- Framing: Not allowed. My message does not include the stuff in the frames around my site. This was a large part of the root of the issue in the first place.
The good things about this model
In my mind, at least.
- In many importent ways, this right already exists in the physical world. A great example is the Klu Klux Klan meetings. Despite the fact that the vast majority of people find them detestable, they are still allowed to hold their demonstrations, and the crowd is held back from interrupting, even though many, many people want to. (This is a reminder that the United States is not a democracy... in a democracy, we'd simply let the majority, the crowd, do as they mutually felt was correct.) Hijacking all copies of a newspaper and modifying it before it appears in the hands of the recipients would be found immoral, and I'm sure we could find some way to make it illegal (that's what a lot of case law exists for, right? to be called upon when something needs to be illegal.).
In other words, people's rights to free speech do not extend to interfering with others expression of free speech.
Ideally, we should be able to handle this without the creation of new rights; this line of reasoning is one of the reasons I've pursued this concept.
- It significantly reduces the size of the gray areas. There are still gray areas, but I am much more comfortable with the idea of society just deciding on an arbitrary standard and keeping everybody out of court as much as possible.
- It is extendable. It doesn't just meet the issues of today, it meets the issues of tommorow. It doesn't meet the issues of the day after tommorow (like, what about an AI extracting the meaning from your content and making the extraction available), but hey, I can't look into the far-distant future anyhow, so worrying about it probably isn't productive. (It's probably downright counter-productive; I'm 100% likely to be wrong about the distant future.)
- This doesn't try to exert infinite control on the user. The message must arrive cleanly... what the user does with it is up to them (subject to already existing copyright, trademark, and other IP laws). View it in any [current] browser you choose... translate it to another language (at your own risk!)... manipulate it for your own personal uses (may be banned by other things, such as liscensing agreements, but this model doesn't care about that). Doesn't matter.
If, at some point, browsers start doing crazy things, I may retract this general endorsement of browsers. For instance, the "What's Related" in Netscape is really pushing things...
This doesn't make the user jump through any more hoops, so information use is still unimpaired (as I share Mark Nottingham's concern to the effect of "As a user of information, I want as many rights as possible to access it, within reason.").
- This right actually has to exist, out of necessity, on some level. Obviously, if one takes the total negation of this, "You have the right to manipulate any information in any way you choose between any sender and reciever", there are huge, insoluable problems. Did that person really say that, or was there a distortion between here and there? That system is unworkable.
Obviously, just because the converse is false, does not prove anything about my statement at hand, but as long as this right must exist in some form, we might as well codify it, and use it to get us out of some hairy situations.
(Note, we've never needed to worry about this. Short of conspiracy to change something at the publisher level, the technical possibility has never existed to perform any systematic distortion as the possibility now exists. That's why I claim it has sort of always existed... just as we've all had the right to breathe without anybody challenging us. Now we have to state it explicitly, just as you might find yourself without the right to breathe on a space living center (see Heinlien, such as The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress).)
- And, perhaps most interestingly, this protects everybody. A large corporation is protected from having its message manipulated, stolen, changed, repurposed, whatever. It also protects the little guy, by making sure said large companies can't throw their weight around without possibly destroying things upon which they depend on for business. This might be the coolest thing about this idea. Everybody wins.
Some negative statements
- It is late for me, but I'm sure this can't possibly cover every possible circumstance on it's own. I can't come up with any this instant, but I'm sure one of you can. Still, it might provide a guiding principle.
- This is more personal and psychological... but is it just coincidence that I just "happened" to construct a model that re-inforces everything I already thought? It might help my credibility to have a consistent excuse for my beliefs, or perhaps I merely exposed the assumptions I had been non-conciously basing my thouhts on, but it raises the very natural question, what am I missing? That's not a direct weakness, but I'm sure it covers something. (Which is why I want to kick this around.)
- What does this do to weblogs? A link and a comment is OK. A link and a brief quote is still fair use (as I daresay that fits the idea of "editorial comment" just fine, thank you very mich). A link and a description... still OK. A link and a summary... not so OK.
Uh-oh... what's the difference between a description and a summary?
- That points to a problem throughout: Definitions. A lot of this stuff is ill-defined. Some of it I can't help right now, others I'm leaving out in the interests of space.
I wanted to state it positively, but an explanation is not complete without a discussion of what this implies for the reciever and the sender, not just the third-party-that-shouldn't-be-there.
You do not have the right to interfere, in any way, with communication between two external parties. (without permission, of course)
- The recipient may not open a channel that allows a third party to manipulate a message; that's a violation of the sender's rights. (In the long-long-run, it hurts the reciever too... but convincing them of that can be a challenge) The best current example is still annotation... now, if both the recipient and the sender agree to the manipulation, then the point is moot. (Sender and reciepent may still team up in any way they mutually agree to.)
- Corrallary: Anybody who wants to be a third party needs permission from both parties.
- The sender really can't control who links to them, as long as the link follows the rest of the rules (no framing, for instance). Sorry, Mega-Corp. The good news is that it is still wrong to mis-represent affiliation, sponsership, or agreement, and the link will be going to "Mega-Corp"'s site, cleanly.
- For censorship, this implies that only complete blocking is acceptable. Some hypothetical software that inserted "****" for all expletives would be interefering, whereas simply blocking the site would be a block of the connection (and the ultimately clean connection is the null connection; no possibility of misrepresentation!). The idea that all people have a right to talk to each other in this fashion is optional... all I am referring to with this proposition is that once a line exists, it must be kept clean. Extending could deal with censorship, if you're interested. (At this time, I'm not; I'm probably already biting off more then I can chew!)
Of course I like it; I created it! We'll see what I think in a day or two.
Still, I like this (so far). It covers a lot of issues, and while it does require new case law, it's really just an old principle, previously ignored due to the impossibility of violating it. It is unfinished, it is difficult to explain, and I've probably not done the best of jobs of explaining myself, but, at least before it is chewed on, I am finding it a useful abstraction to try to unify my otherwise disparate views.
This is already long enough, so I'll stop. I'm sorry it has to be so long, but I think if I tried to shorten it, I'd more then lose any savings in the explanations I'd have to make. This still isn't exhaustive, but it should be enough to get the idea.
(Please, if something doesn't seem to make sense, ask a question to clarify before flaming me for inconsistency! I am really nailing down the idea as I go along... it's wiggling, and hard to contain... one expects a certain amount of messiness at this stage. And apologies if this is stated somewhere else by someone else; I came up with it more-or-less on my own.)
Thanks for reading.
There are responses to this message:
- Re: New framework for thinking maybe?, Bruce Wyman, 9/3/1999; 9:57:27 PM
- Re: New framework for thinking maybe?, Jon Garfunkel, 10/5/1999; 5:50:50 AM
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