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

I Find Karma (
Fri, 8 Aug 1997 19:39:31 -0700 (PDT)

Seth brought up some good points here...

> (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.

But not always. If an International Pundit and World Renowned Sex
Symbol --- let's dub this superman "X" --- takes said ideas and profits
off his own spin of them without sharing any of those profits or fame or
sex symbol notoreity with you, is that acceptable?

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

Now THIS is an interesting question. What, exactly, is ownership?

Is it true that, "To name is to own" ??? That is, if I know what
something's name is, then do I necessarily own it?

Or, is it true that "To trust is to own" ??? That is, if the previous
owner trusts me enough to transfer that ownership, then do I necessarily
own it?

Or how about the disappearing-data problem: how can I trust someone to
only own data (an idea, if you will) for a specified amount of time,
after which that person's ownership of the data disappears and the
person can no longer use the data until s/he pays for more time?

> 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.

True. If I post a note to FoRK and someone else takes that note
(possibly out of context), edits out parts of it, and sends it to my
boss, who I know would otherwise not read FoRK despite the fact that it
is a public forum, is that acceptable? Or is it implicitly secret that
the persona I have on this list is not my persona in real life, and that
parts of my posts taken out of context could be damaging to me?

Worse, what about embedding? If I post a public note, which someone
then forwards to someone else in private mail and Cc's me on, do I then
have the right to take that private forwarding of a public thing and
forward it back to the public list?

Which brings us to...

> > But you're saying for an EMAIL to go public, both parties need to
> > consent to this?
> Or perhaps just the author.

But who IS the author in a public-post-within-a-private-email if someone
in that private email correspondence wanted to go back and publicly post
it to illustrate how unfortunate it was that the original public-to-private
forward taken out of context was inappropriate in the first place?

Can I not publicly respond to a private response to a public statement I
made, since at the creamy liquid center is something that I myself
authored in the first place?

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

Interesting. So for a videotape, authoring is participation, whereas
for email, authoring is the primary pen. Very interesting.

> 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.

I think the latter can still be taken out of context. What Adam might
have said is, "Sometimes it's so cute when Seth is an idiot. It shows
that despite his raw intelligence and pure animal magnetism, he can be a
regular guy like you and me."

Taken out of context --- "Seth is an idiot." --- makes it sound like I
was saying something derogatory about you, when in the full context we
know I was serving you a complement.

Uh, sort of. This was a contrived example, I'm sure I could think of a
better one.

It's the same thing as when a person takes a longwinded post I have
about lots of ideas I've been pontificating and analyses of all the
technology forces running through my brain, and cuts out all that stuff
with the exception of the beginning where I count the ways that I love
alcohol and the end where I quote Homer Simpson's parody of The Sound of
Music's "Do, Re, Mi" in the key of beer, and forwards it to my boss.

Not that anyone with even the most minuscule of hearts who cared one
iota about other peoples' feelings would do such a thing.

> 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.

Exactly. I've often thought that the worst thing about email is that
it's next to impossible to ascertain the tone of what someone's saying.
This is probably why the smiley was invented in the first place.

But several times now I've had people really get upset with me for
what they perceived as my insulting them, when in reality I wasn't.

Even something as simple as "yeah, right" --- what does that mean??

Is it a positive affirmation of the idea that preceded it??
"Munchkins represent the next computer and communication revolution."
"Yeah, right."

Or is it a snide indication of multiple sarcasms??
"No one would ever take those alcohol things out of context and
send them to your boss as an indication that you weren't working,
especially since you've actually been working harder and better from
home all week than you have at school during any week of the last
five years."
"Yeah, right."

> 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
> carefully.

I think you're right.

I have a coda on the hypothetical public-post-to-private-email scenario.

We'll use letters to represent people. In order:

1. A sends post X to public list F.

2. J gets post X and snips out a bunch, making X',
which he then sends in private mail to M.
M has never read public list F,
nor has M ever shown the desire to read public list F.
J himself thinks F is a waste of time and recently unsubscribed.
Hypothetically, of course.

3. In private mail, J sends to A the email X'
(that is, a copy of J's letter forwarded to M),
with Cc's to persons D, E, G, I, J, and K.
(Does this sound like The Cat in the Hat or what?)

4. In private mail, A sends a copy of X' to R, who owns public list F.
(Note: we propose that it's not immoral for A to forward private
email to R over a private communication medium, since no one knows
about such a forwarding except for A and R.)

Now, X' includes only a small subset of X, alongside some "explanatory"
words (that happen to lack capitalization and at times use creative
spelling) written by J. Hypothetically, of course.


1. Does A have the right to post all of X' to F?

2. Does A have the right to just post the part of X' that he wrote, to F?

3. Does R have the right to post any of X' to F?

4. Are things like the identities of little cats D through M
information that is allowed to be forwarded to a public forum
by anyone involved in the above transaction, or just by J, the
original author?

5. Does privacy include the right to not be taken out of context,
even on a public forum? Or is once something's out there for all
to see, any part thereof is attributable in or out of context to
the original author?

6. Are the trust calculations of the individuals involved ---
some trust numbers go up, others go down --- inseparable from
the events themselves?

I only want to answer question 6 right now. I think the events trigger
the new trust calculations automatically. And how to do that is one of
the ideas I had this week while some were concerned about my alcohol
consumption habits............


WebTV is a dancing dog. The amazing thing is not how well it dances,
but that it dances at all.
-- George Gilder in his piece in the 8/8/97 Wall Street Journal saying
how the Apple/Microsoft merger is bunk because Microsoft's just using it
to pull away attention from the fact that it has declared a holy war on
Java and Beans and everything they represent; Gilder claims that the
whole world is ready to move to Network Computers and that Microsoft is
going into "fight or flight mode" since this Apple deal gives them a
virtual monopoly on the desktop *browser* market (say goodnight,
Netscrape), deflects the antitrust wolfpack, and embarrasses the heck
out of Larry Ellison by making him pay double the price he'd have had to
pay a week ago to buy Apple; unfortunately what Gilder really wants is
not NCs (which, let's face it, sound much classier when you call them by
the original names given them when Apple created the world's first NC:
"Apple ][s"), but munchkins: pure embeddable message/event communication
nodes where every node is a router and every event is composable,
secure, trustworthy, transactable, automatable, self-describing,
negotiable, hierarchical in scope, reflectable, authenticated,
virtualizable, sharable, archivable, and alive; yeah, right...