ownership of communications (was Re: Flamewar (...))

Seth Golub (seth@cs.wustl.edu)
Fri, 8 Aug 1997 14:23:23 -0700

adam@cs.caltech.edu (I Find Karma) writes:

> Is your problem more with the stealing of words not intended for the
> public, or the forwarding of ideas not intended for public?

This is an interesting question of ownership.

If I write something and store it in a box, it's mine.

If I write something and show it to you, it's still mine, but it's
usually acceptible that you share the ideas.

If I write something specifically for you and give it to you, does
that give you some ownership of it?

Unless the escape of the ideas would be unusually damaging, people
tend not to mind. Some things are explicitly secret and sharing of
the ideas is frowned upon. Some things are implicitly secret (facts
about personal health, opinions of other people, stories of taboo
behavior), and revealing the ideas would be considered a breach of
trust. Implicit secrets are not always obviously secret.

> But you're saying for an EMAIL to go public, both parties need to
> consent to this?

Or perhaps just the author.

Videotapes are a bit different because the scene was jointly authored
by all who were present.

Quoting is a powerful thing. It removes the uncertainty of
intervening interpretation. Which one of these is more effective:?

Adam thinks Seth is an idiot.

Adam said, "Seth is an idiot.".

The latter is more credible, even though we lack context. We're not
left wondering whether how it might have been misunderstood -- we are
shown the edvidence and are allowed to intepret it ourselves.

Conversely, material written for a specific audience may be easily
misunderstood by others. Maybe Adam called me an idiot in private
email, but I know that with him it's a term of endearment. Quoting
out of context is damaging to him then, because it's putting his words
in a position of being misunderstood, though he could have been clear
if only he knew what audience he was writing for.

Words and ideas are each potentially damaging in their own way.
I haven't thought about this much, but I have a vague feeling that
direct quotes are usually more powerful and should be guarded more

Seth Golub seth@cs.wustl.edu http://www.cs.wustl.edu/~seth/