Copyright & the net: more thoughts

Subject: Copyright & the net: more thoughts
From: Chuck Martin <techwriter -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 14 Apr 1994 10:18:37 PDT

This discussion is interesting, and seems to have polarized into two camps:
the free-spirit thinkers who suggest that information posted is free for
all, and the word-as-property thinkers who adhere to strict interpretations
of copyright laws. (But how do such laws apply to electronic media?)

There is merit on both sides, and I am struck by the tone of an article
in the April issue of CompuServe magazine, which describes a case of how
one person helped another on CompuServe. It seems one person wanted some
advice on how to trim a fruit tree. Another person gave that advice, using
her time and professional knowledge, and giving both for free. (The method
used is fascinating detail, but not relevant here.)

This is not an isolated incident. Thousands of people are giving advice,
counselling, direction, and more on bulletin boards, online services, and
the Internet. If these same services were offered face to face, they would
cost the receiver, usually by the hour. Why are people willing to give
freely of themselves here?

I'm a writer. I expect to get paid for what I write. I've also done
technical support, and been paid for that. Yet I offer solutions over
networks, and don't ask for anything in return. Am I stupid? Or, as the
CompuServe article suggests, is this electronic society somehow different
from the regular workaday society. Is this a society where somehow more
civility, tolerance, and freedom are expressed without being taken advantage

As a writer, I can be--and have been--quite possessive of my work. One
other contributor has objected strenuously to the use of contributions,
at least without explicit permission. Is such a rigid adherence to the
rules of that outside workaday society contrary to the openness and
freedom of this one? The answer probably is: it depends on who you ask.
But this society has set up few rules, and the few rules there are seems
to be based on tolerance, respect, and freedom. If we impose the rigid
rules here of that outside world, will we stifle the desire to freely
give of ourselves, poisoning the so-far carefree atmosphere that exists here?

I think these questions have no good answers, or at least no answers that
will satisfy everyone. But it seems that this dichotomy of two separate
worlds is real, and perhaps to function well in this one, we may have to
re-think how we deal with a number of issues, including that of copyright.

Chuck Martin
Information Developer, IBM
techwriter -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
techwriter -at- aol -dot- com
74170,2462 -at- compuserve -dot- com

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