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Inverse Copyright: Transmitient/Recipient Equiveillance

posted by:Steve Mann // 08:48 PM // November 22, 2005 // ID TRAIL MIX

"By exposing me to content you agree to the following Terms and Conditions"

Previously I have written about equiveillance (the equilibrium between surveillance and sousveillance) and there has been much criticism of some related ethnomethodological action research/art performances/interventions but not of the actual underlying philosophical or theoretical framework (i.e. the concept of Existential Technology in general, rather than the possibly flawed ethnomethodological action-research that goes along with it) (i.e. the often-asked question "why photograph the clerk and not the CEO").

Equiveillance, the subject of the opening keynote for the ACM2005 CFP conference, pertains to a balance-in-equilibrium of the information flow about ourselves with the information flow about others who are wishing to know more about us.

Privacy/solitude: definition

The two different but similar concepts of privacy and solitude often get lumped together under a "right to be le(f)t alone".

So let me disambiguate the often conflated concepts of privacy and solitude. I define privacy as the control of outgoing information, and solitude as the control of incoming information.

Loosely speaking, privacy is that which is violated by cameras, microphones, and other measurement instruments, whereas solitude is that which is violated by loudspakers, billboards, and junk mail. Thus fighting against spam and junk mail is, according to the definition of privacy that I choose to use, not privacy activism, and in fact, such a fight actually threatens privacy.

Inverse copyright: Doing for solitude what equiveillance does for privacy

The sur/sousveillance equilibrium pertains to outgoing information (that which we produce), whereas, in this paper I present a reciprocal concept regarding balance for information flow towards us.

In our day-to-day lives we are bombarded by large quantities of unsolicited informatic content, both virtually, and in the real world. On computer networks this results in consumption of computational resources and is thus often considered theft of these resources, yet in the real-world, since it usually just consumes brain cycles rather than computer cycles, it's been regarded as less offensive. Previously I have argued that such a preference for the protection of computers over and above natural biological computational resources, may be unbalanced, at best.

However, let us say that, at a minumum, spammers, whether in cyberspace, or in the real-world, deserve no copyright protections.

I will defer the question of the elimination of spam to other articles, and, instead, focus here on simply stripping spammers of copyright protection.

The right to "rip+mix+burn" spam

As victims of bombardment with unsolicited informatic content, we may find ourselves, whether conciously, or subconsciously, remembering some of the material that we are bombarded with.

Spam hits us in many ways in both cyberspace and the real world. For example, maybe your neighbours are playing loud music until you ask them to turn down the music or you call the police to have them come out and tell them to turn it down.

Some spam is like a virus, and, for example, "there's a song in my head going round-and-round, and I don't want to hear it no more no more" I didn't ask to be bombarded with the song, but now that I've been exposed to it against my will, I might happen to remember it, and maybe even sing it, heaven forbid!

Maybe the song I didn't want to hear somehow influenced my fingers pressing down keys on a piano or flute. Should I be held liable for copyright infringement if I play my flute in a public place, even if I play more than a few bars of that song going around in my head?

The one-sided nature of intellectual propertarianism

Concepts like intellectual property and copyright fail to adequately protect the recipients of informatic content. In this sense, they are one-sided, i.e. they are "transmitient-centric".

Obviously in the scenario I outlined regarding musical memories, perhaps copyright did get infringed. And perhaps somebody should pay. But if anyone should pay, perhaps it should be the neighbours who were playing the loud music that I did not want to hear.

As a second example, consider a cyborglogger who streams his or her personal experience over the 'net. Some 'gloggers like Joi Ito have a huge following and thus anything they 'glog will be seen or heard by many. A truly dedicated 'glogger will not always filter what is streamed, and in fact, the medium of 'glogging is most profound when it is free-running. Thus the 'glogger is simply a pipe or conduit through cyberspace. What happens when spam, such as the loud unsolicited music or noise from next door, gets thrust into a 'glogger's pipe, and echoes out across cyberspace? Who should pay the piper for the tune that was not named?

A balance of absurdity

In my opinion, copyright, and for that matter, intellectual property in general, is a one-sided concept that has failed to consider the rights of a recipient. The audacity of copyright holders is all to evident in the absurd, and legally baseless "shrink wrap" and "click wrap" agreements that state something like "by opening this package you agree to the following..." or "by entering this website you agree to the following...".

In the existence of such absurdities, is it any more absurd to write "by exposing me to informatic content you agree to the following... if you do not agree to these Terms and Conditions, do not expose me to any of your informatic content"?

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