Archive for the ‘The Law’ Category:


Rethinking Social Media : A Self-Contradictory Opinion

Stamp US 1977 2c Americana

Should the USA nationalize Facebook?  Um, no.

To be more specific, aside from it being the USA – a country which tends to believe in the market doing a better job of looking after people’s interests than the government – there are any number of reasons why you don’t want a state running a social network.  A good example would be “People from other states use it too”.

Should any other country nationalize Facebook?  Still no.  If you can explain why having a public social network is more important than good public transport, or good public healthcare, or good public education, you are a better person than me.  No wait, you are a far worse person than me, and you don’t deserve to have an opinion on anything.  Go away.

But the article makes a good point that it would be nice to have a trusted social network – one that would support people in countries where they don’t have freedom of speech.  Of course, no government would do this, because it would either involve being seen as siding with enemies of states you might want to still pretend to be friendly with, or it would involve coming up with a system which would be as useful to enemies of your own state.  The terrorists would have already won (even if all they won at was Mafia wars… which presumably some of them would be quite good at.)

However governments are not usually the protectors of free speech.  In general they tend to protect ‘the sort of speech we want, but not that other speech which tends towards the nasty and evil’.  To protect free speech, I would look instead towards various charities – the Amnestys, and EFFs and CPJs of the world.

And, in thinking of those charities, it occurs to me:

Would there not be some place in the world for a ‘free speech social network’, supported by a non-profit foundation, and presumably grants from both right on for-profit organisations and charities of the sort I’ve described before?

Here is my thinking – if I were to set up this sort of social network, it would have to have the following characteristics:

It would have to compete head to head with Facebook and Twitter and whoever else.  You want this network to be the place everyone goes to, the place everyone knows about – because you don’t just want freedom of speech for specially equipped activists, you want freedom of speech for absolutely everyone.  You want it to be easy and safe to say what you want as and when and why you want.

Because people wish to shut down free speech, and because there is no legislature that could be trusted with protecting a free speech social network, it would have to be distributed.  In saying that, I worry too much that I’m contradicting what I have previously said about social networks not needing to be distributed.  I would like, if I may, to plead a technicality:  There would be a core site for the social network (or perhaps a core site in each country).  All the sites would communicate to each other.  And all would interoperate with each other.  And, if you wanted higher levels of security still, you could run your own version of the site.  Now some of these sites may need to block particular content for legal reasons – but that wouldn’t be a problem, people could simply go to other sites (which would be well known about) hosted in other jurisdictions if they wanted that content.  So what I’m talking about here is not ‘lets build some distributed software, and try to get a network to take off based on it”, I’m talking about ‘lets build a good social networking site, and by the way, you can mirror some or all of the content, and interoperate with it in a distributed way if you want’

To achieve the goal of distribution, its going need cryptography.  Things like ‘only distribute this to my friends’ can only be done with crypto in a distributed system.  But crypto can also be used to solve other issues like ‘this proves who I am’.  The trick here would be to hide the crypto from the end user as much as possible – which is to say, they should never need to know that crypto is involved.

It should play well with TOR – some people who would want to use this network would need TOR – but the site that most people see would be hosted on the open internet, because that is the obvious place to host such things.

It would have to be free to everyone.

I’m optimistic that this could be done.  The wikimedia foundation has worked, and has managed to produce not just Wikipedia, but the software which powers it.  I see no reason why similarly generously spirited people shouldn’t get together to create the ultimate social network.  One which cares about its users, and which is free, because it is funded by people who care about freedom, not by people who care about adverts.

Will it happen?

It could.  And possibly it should. I think it might just be an idea whose time has come.

Gluten Free Kitchen

Apparently – having spoken to some bakers – there is a big demand (and lots of profit to be made) from gluten free food.  Many have said they would love to add it to their repertoire, were it not for one thing:  the EU regulations which specify exactly how non-contaminated their work-spaces have to be.

Now, I’m not knocking the EU regulations – they are there for a really good reason.

And I’m not knocking the bakers – it would be really hard to get their work-spaces quite as gluten free as they would need to be.

But lots of these bakers would only want to cook small batches of gluten free food every so often – certainly not as their main product.  So it occurs to me:  would there be a market for a gluten free kitchen that people can rent?

My guess is that, yes, there probably would.  Such a kitchen could be set up in an industrial unit, and would require a member of staff to supervise and ensure there was no contamination and that the kitchen was left in a reasonable state, and probably a cleaning staff – the costs needn’t be particularly high.  Moreover a communal centre like this would give restaurants, hotels and shops a local place to go to find gluten free food for their gluten free customers – and to let the users network with their competition, and their potential partners.

Of Rights And Laws

There is a problem with some laws: they gradually make you think that your legal rights are in some sense moral rights, deriving not from the law book but rather something in nature. One set of laws I see people be living are moral rights over and over again are intellectual property, specifically

Copyright – the right of a creator to prevent the copying of his work, and the creation of derived works

Patents – the right of an innovator to hold a monopoly over a particularly innovative idea’s use (there are those who claim patent law is payment for adding to the sum of human knowledge, but if this is true, patents would have to be expressed in a far clearer way than the law presently requires – and there would be no need to penalize independent inventors who wish to add their own take on the idea.)

To consider copyright to be a moral right would seem to fly in the face of human behavior – both now when many people feel they can share media they enjoy and create both mash ups and fanfic based upon it, and in the past when riffing off preexisting works led to the output of Shakespeare and Marlowe, not to mention the Bible.

Patent law as a moral right is less defensible, as it suggests that should I have an idea – a really clever innovative idea – I may not act on that idea in the privacy of my own home if someone else happened to have that idea first.  Even if I am completely unaware of the fact someone else had the idea.  No, that is not moral, indeed it seems to be bordering on thought crime.

So if these laws are not derived from moral rights, why were they enacted, and why are they tolerated? The answer would seem to be that they provide a benefit.  Most often I hear that the benefit they provide is that copyright encourages people to create, while patents encourage innovation.  But these arguments are too simplistic – I know many creative people, and in general, creativity is something they have in abundance.  They cannot help but create. And generally they enjoy sharing their creations with others.  The same is true of innovators- those with innovative minds cannot stop innovating, and generally would love to see the world improved by their ideas. Copyright and Patent law do nothing to help such people.

What copyright and patent law do is protect the next stage of development of creative or innovative work, the boring or expensive parts -the things no one would do were it not for the potential of financial compensation.  So when we consider patent and copyright law, we should not worry about the value of the idea, but rather the cost of the idea’s implementation.

Consider, for instance, the process of writing a book.  The first draft is a hard slog.  Each rewrite more and more painful.  Copy editing and proof reading something akin to inserting nails through your eyeballs.  Thus a finished book is something that costs money to produce.  Consider on top of this the cost of printing, distributing and marketing the book.  These also cost money – though with the rise of electronic media, the printing and distribution costs are falling, and authors are increasingly responsible for their own publicity.  Moreover, they do not add value to the work – they add value to the work of the bookseller (the guy who makes it as easy as possible to find the book you will enjoy the most).  I would therefore argue that these costs do not need to be protected – or paid for – by copyright (as a bookseller would prefer to perform any marketing on the version of the book he can profit most from selling – without caring if the author gets a cut)

So the authors ideas – all of them – without the slog of putting words to paper, then endlessly fixing them, have no value.  Does the slog add to the value of the ideas?  My initial thought was yes – since one can perform all sorts of boring tasks which do not produce value.  The value comes from the fact the slog of writing encapsulates the ideas.  However, there are also many other kinds of slog which take skill, but do not require ideas in order to make an idea containing work more valuable.  Proofreading is an example.  Ultimately, creatives generate ideas for fun, and might even pay for the opportunity to generate ideas were ideation somehow restricted, in exactly the same way that you and I pay to watch TV.  The entire amount of work an author does is the slog involved in putting the ideas to paper.  That is what they need to be rewarded for.

The same is true for the inventor.  And the programmer.

The authors only argument against this is that they hold a monopoly over their ideas, and may charge what the like for them.  I am inclined to agree that this is true before they have distributed their work – but afterwords, the ideas have been transmitted  the author no longer has a monopoly on them – anyone could now take those ideas, and, given time and effort produce the same work.  If we ban people from thinking those thoughts the author has transmitted, we seem to have banned the reading of the book.

So an author could request a bounty before releasing his ideas, but cannot control their spread once he has done so.

As such, it seems once the ideas are released, we need only pay the author for their work in writing the book (and those who assist).  If I wish to distribute the book, I simply need to pay the author for his time in producing it.  And once I have done this, I would have the same level of rights to the work as the original author – it would be as if he were retrospectively my employee.  Judging this cost would  be, in theory, up to the author… but we could make assumptions based on a maximum fee per hour to determine a fair upper price (and even allow court cases where this could be challenged).  Once one person has paid off the author, they could then sell rights for the same price (Or lesser rights for less)

The same concept could base software reproduction rights on the cost of development (there would be no room for software patents), and mean patent law becomes replaced by the cost of development based on the patents (which would suit the pharmaceutical industry).  It would become much harder to lock up good ideas and prevent them from being used.  It would also kill business process patents – which seems the best thing to do with them.

This does create a new right – the right to be compensated for hard work.  I currently fail to see a way to encourage hard work without this right.  And also still gives you the right to not share an idea without compensation (but not to control the idea thereafter), which does seem, to me, to be a natural right.  But it takes away many of the non-natural rights and is my proposal for movement to a fairer system of idea creation and exchange.

© Ben.Cha.lmers.co.uk
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