In the Privacy section I discuss a bit about what Privacy means
and how the area is evolving. Legal issues online are a bit clearer.
There are those who would argue that point. I'd say, yes, clearly
there are things about online interaction and business that still
need ironing out. However, while the Internet does change a great
many things about how people interact, it doesn't change fundamental
principles of law. In a great many ways, the Internet is simply
a distribution mechanism. And as such, the rights of individuals,
business owners, copyright holders and so on, do not simply change
because the medium is different. The well known issues with the
music industry are an example. There's little question that rampant
copyright violation is occurring. The same is true for other industries.
The widespread consumer adoption of Internet technologies does change
the landscape. And it's likely the law will have to change to encompass
it. However, the fundamental difference between the Internet as
a distribution method and the "real world" is that on
the Internet, no one released it with all the control mechanisms
that the real world has.
Control of ownership of items, payment methods and so on did not
and to a great degree still does not exist on the Internet. [Note, this page was first written around 1998] For
example, if in 1994 digital copyright technology had existed along
with easy micro payment technology at low cost per transaction, it's
likely there never would have been as much 'free' content. In the
book, Being Digital, by Nicolas Negroponte, the difference between
'atoms' and 'bits' is discussed. Of course, with digital works,
copying and transmitting is trivial as compared with physical goods.
This does not simply make right their use without proper due to
the creator. At least, not yet. To be sure, thought and law on these
topics will change. But for the foreseeable future, all of us live
in the real world with real economics. We need to purchase shelter,
food and drink with the legal currency. Those who make their living
by means where they create things of a digital nature still need
this currency to live. What will be their motivation, (or even ability),
to do so if - after making one copy - their work is worth nothing?
If they can be paid nothing for this work because it has been freely
disseminated with no one offering back any currency?
Purists might say, "Information Wants to Be Free." But
it doesn't. Information just is. And creators and business sure
don't want it to be free. At least, not unless there's a value to
them for making it so. So it may take some time, but I think we
will eventually see the technical mechanisms for digital rights
management catch up. True, most copy protection schemes are cracked
almost as soon as they're put out there. But that doesn't make it
right. Or rather, that doesn't make everything being potentially
free a long term viable solution. for everyone concerned. What it's
more likely going to do is force the control mechanisms more upstream
into the network. By it's nature, TCP/IP, this stuff of the Internet,
can allow for all kinds of different transfers. However, in the
end all of this traffic runs across a limited number of backbones.
Eventually, these folks will likely be compelled to put control
mechanisms on things. A nice, pithy 'net quote has been, "the
internet treats censorship as an error and routes around it"
has been around for a long time. But censorship and theft are two
different things. I think that it may take some time, but at some
point, owners of things will find means to control them. The alternative
is a complete cheapening of the dollar value for a variety of works.
Which will also mean a lesser supply when you go that far to the
end of the supply/demand curve. No one wants to produce things of
little to no value. The argument that putting something out there
much more cheaply, but making it available to a much larger market
than in the "real world" doesn't always hold. There's
only so many people on the planet. And each of us has the same number
of hours in our day. There's only so much each of us will consume.
Similar to Privacy issues, the evolution of legality and commerce
on the Internet should be interesting to watch.