Monday, March 20, 2006

Electronic Pathfinder--Critical Perspectives on Intellectual Property & Copyright: Open Source, Free Software, & Post-Capitalist Perspectives

Scope: There are not many places on the Internet that have compiled links on alternative perspective in Information Ethics with regard to copyright and intellectual property. In the field of Information Ethics, the issue of intellectual property is often presented as a moral or legal code that must be obeyed, rather than an aspect of Information Ethics that should be debated, discussed, and critically considered. As moral agents, the true ethicist will examine the foundations of the ethical and legal assumptions of societies, rather than blindly following codes. To promote discussion and debate about intellectual property and copyright, and specifically to present a dissenting voice in this debate, I have created this electronic pathfinder. This pathfinder should help all those interested in this aspect of Information Ethics to find interesting and compelling work by others in the field. Included are resources about open source software, the free software movement, and discussions of the implications for possible economic transformation that are emerging with these free technologies that challenge traditional notions of copyright and intellectual property.

Audience: Information Ethicists, students, scholars, and all those interested in the philosophy of intellectual property and copyright.




Open Source Initiative
"Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit corporation dedicated to managing and promoting the Open Source Definition for the good of the community, specifically through the OSI Certified Open Source Software certification mark and program." The Open Source Initiative began as a group of software developers who saw that free software could be used for businesses in the world of commercial software development and wanted to maintain standards for what constituted open source software and what did not as well as promote the use of open source technology.

What Is Open Source?
Basic definition of Open Source software and the Open Source Initiative's licensing and certification.

Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution
An anthology of essays about open source technology and its implications for the software industry and society as a whole. Also available in print form.


The Free Software Foundation
"The Free Software Foundation (FSF), established in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' rights to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs." The free software movement is significantly different from the open source advocates in that they believe that all software should be free and try to offer an alternative to what they believe are monopolistic attitudes of software companies who create software that is solely their property, whereas the open source community is not opposed to proprietary software as such.

GNU Project
Richard Stallman launched this project in 1984 to develop a UNIX-like operating system that is free software: copyable, alterable, and non-copyrightable. The project's website has many essays and documents regarding the ethical foundations and philosophies of the free software movement about why they believe that free software is better for a free society than proprietary software, which they view as restrictive and monopolistic.

The Free Software Definition

Why "Free Software" Is Better Than "Open Source"
An important distinction made by the advocates of free software pointing out the differences between GNU/Linux-type free software and open source software.
Richard Stallman's original Manifesto for why he was creating the GNU Project.

Philosophy of the GNU Project

Why Software Should Be Free
Another essay by Richard Stallman

Why Software Should Not Have Owners
Richard Stallman's ethical polemic against proprietary software.

The general method used by free software creators to make their software copyable and ensure that all derivative works are free software as well (that no one tries to copyright anything made from free software)
A definition of Copyleft from Wikipedia, a large open source software based encyclopedia of sorts


"In Project Oekonux different people with different opinions and different methods study the economic and political forms of Free Software. An important question is, whether the principles of the development of Free Software may be the foundation of a new economy which may be the base for a new society." Project Oekonux is a German mailing-list created after an open source conference in Berlin in 1999 in which people discuss the potential for free software to radically transform the economy and all of society. There are some good texts on the English version of the site here, although the interface is a little clumsy.

Free Software and General Public License Society (Interview)
Interview with Stefan Merten of Oekonux

GNU/Linux - Milestone on the Way to GPL Society by Stefan Merten
Overview and Introduction to Oekonux's discussions and debates

Taking Instead of Buying: Towards an Economics of Free Software by Stefan Merten
Contribution to the "Sustainable Economics Yearbook" about the economic possibilities of Free Software

Anarchism Triumphant - Free Software and the Death of Copyright by Eben Moglen

Discusses the history of the free software movement and the possibilities for the "withering away of intellectual property" in the online peer-reviewed journal of the Internet, First Monday

Copyright vs. Copyleft: A Marxist Perspective by Johan Soderberg
A comprehensive essay on the possibilities of a new economy and new society engendered by technologies like GNU/Linux and open source software from a Marxist perspective also appearing in First Monday. This article provides a great synthesis of what Marx said about production relations (private property, wage labor) eventually becoming a hindrance to the development of productive forces with what many believe is the playing out of this very reality in the world of software and discusses how free software could function as a "germ" of the communist economic form within the shell of capitalism.

Hi-Tech Gift Economy
Richard Barbrook, who has been the coordinator of Hypermedia Research Centre at the University of Westminster in the UK, presents his thesis that free software creates a new kind of "gift" economy that exists beyond the confines of commodity exchange and sees this as a direct descendent of the most radical of the ideas of the 1960's New Left about creating an economy and society based on the gift principle.

Cons in the Panopticon: Anti-Globalization and Cyber-Piracy by Indhu Rajagopal with Nis Bojin
Discusses the digital divide as well as possibilities for information technologies beyond capitalism

A Hacker Manifesto by McKenzie Wark
A condensed and edited version of McKenzie Wark's Neo-Marxist look at the new Information Economy, the notion of the "hacker class", and the possibilities of another kind of economy existing beyond the limits of property. Although the language is somewhat dense and abstract, the manifesto is a magnificent example of an anti-capitalist view of how software is produced and the relationships between the workers and the value they produce and how they have the potential to radically transform productive relations with emerging technologies. McKenzie Wark teaches media and cultural studies at the New School University in New York City.

First Monday Interview with McKenzie Wark


First Monday
"First Monday is one of the first openly accessible, peer reviewed journals on the Internet, solely devoted to the Internet." Many interesting articles dealing with alternative perspectives on copyright and intellectual property can be found here.

A Brief History of the Free Software Movement's coverage of the Linux and the free software and open source movement's history

The Ethics of Free Software
Bertrand Meyer's critique of the free software movement, first published in Software Development March 2000. Bertrand Meyer, Chair of Software Engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, argues that software companies and developers have every right to copyright what they have worked hard to produce just as any other company that puts effort and money into the development of a project does and claims that Richard Stallman's idea that software should not be proprietary even though everything else an enterprise produces is proprietary is unrealistic and even absurd. This essay should provide a jumping-off point for a response to these "alternative" perspectives in the debate.



DiBona, Chris et. al., eds. Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. Beijing:
O'Reilly, Inc., 1999.
Anthology of essays regarding open source software and the open source software movement and its implications for businesses and society as a whole (also available online)

Dyer-Witheford, Nick. Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Very thorough application of Marx's theories to the technologies and economies of the Information Age, focusing on different viewpoints within Marxism and post-Marxism

Stallman, Richard. Free Software, Free Society: selected essays of Richard M. Stallman.
Boston, MA: Free Software Foundation, 2002.
Selected Essays by GNU Project founder, Richard Stallman, many of which are available on the GNU website.

Wark, McKenzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
Unabridged version of McKenzie Wark's Hacker Manifesto.


Conclusion/Invitation: It is my hope that this Electronic Pathfinder provides some interesting and challenging material on critical perspectives of intellectual property and copyright within the field of Information Ethics. Anyone interested in Information Ethics is invited to joind the discussion and debate and encouraged to consider what have sometimes been under-represented perspectives and to think critically about the foundations of our ethical notions of property and patent. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Professional Ethics, Public Policy, and the Law: The Digital Divide and Information Literacy (Blog 5)

Part I: The Role of the Professional

In trying to foster community, the librarian or information professional must try to help to build a real community where people not only have negative rights to be free from interference but also have positive rights and are enabled and empowered to do all that others are able to do. Part of this involves providing access to information tools and technology as well as training to those sections of the populace that are traditionally excluded and trying to educate these users so that they are capable of using the same resources as others. At the same time, the librarian should try to allow the user to begin to learn to figure things out for themselves--as a professional in the library this can mean setting up programs for computer instruction as well as literacy programs, in addition to offering access to computers and maybe even classes in resume writing to help disadvantaged patrons to find employment. If these programs do not exist at one's library, one could advocate for them and offer to teach some of the classes. A librarian could get involved in the city government to try to get funding allocated to helping the homeless to learn to use computers and e-mail for job opportunities, and should also remain an advocate against any policies that would exclude any sectors of the population from the library. You could also try to start an organization that advocated locally for helping the information poor and try to recruit members or volunteers from the other library patrons and employees. In any instance, it is important to remain connected with the decisions that are being made by your library and by the city, state, and federal government that will affect the gap between those who can competently and frequently use computers, e-mail, and books, and those who are not able to.
The librarian should also try to establish networks with other charity or social work groups that work with disadvantaged people to determine their information needs and to make the information poor feel welcome in the library and encourage them to use the services provided. Discussing possibilities for after-school programs or literacy programs with homeless shelters, women's shelters, or agencies that work with the unemployed would be a good place to start.

Part II: The Role of the Association

With regard to the digital divide, it would seem that one of the primary goals of the professional association would be to study ways of bridging this divide and share them with colleagues and also to lobby to protect the budgets set aside for literacy programs, as well as technological literacy programs and library services for the poor and marginalized. Another primary goal of the association would be to educate others about the digital divide and to point out consistently that new technologies and information sources are not really uniting the world for global communication if they are not available to people of all walks of life. I believe that part of this goal involves challenging the increasing privatization and commodification of information (in some cases I think that access must take priority over ownership, especially as concerns information monopoly by large publishing companies who make it very expensive for libraries to provide access to their materials) and understaffing/underfunding of public libraries. One association that does a great job of this is the Progressive Librarians Guild although they do many other things (they have an explicitly partisan outlook as well as they are not afraid to take sides in their advocay). All in all, I think the most important job of the association's advocacy for the information poor is educating the public and the policymakers, and encouraging debate about solutions to this problem.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

ACM's Professional Code of Ethics (Blog 4)

Of the codes of ethics we read from different professional associations, I thought that the ACM’s was perhaps the best model of creating a general framework for ethical problem solving within the discipline of computing, while still allowing the individual room to be his or her own moral agent (which John Ladd describes as one of the main shortcomings of many professional codes of ethics). This code was primarily deontological and dealt with the responsibilities and duties that the computer programmer or engineer has to society at large with specific focus on the users of the systems they develop, and members of the Association for Computing Machinery are told to specifically report someone who engages in gross violations of the code of ethics and that person could lose their membership. Article 1.7 of the code specifies that computer engineers and programmers respect the privacy of individuals in the realm of e-mail which seems to imply a certain stance on unwanted advertisements over the internet and/or reporting buying information to marketing companies or developing software that does so, and although the ACM’s code of ethics stays away from specific public policies for the most part, it does imply a respect for privacy as well as copyright and intellectual property.

If I were to update this code of ethics or modify it, I would add something about the digital divide and the responsibility of computer specialists to provide access to computers for as many people as possible and reach out to disadvantaged people. Although the code says that all should have equal access, it is basically an ideal detached from the practical guidelines that appear later in the code, even though computer professionals are supposed to address the limitations of new technology, no special attention is given to the fact that many people have no access to or control over how this technology is used to affect their daily lives.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Applying the Potter Box (Blog 3)

Taking a new job after graduation

Box 1: Empirical Definition
1. (Define the situation objectively) I have been working here for some time and am currently in school. With my degree it will be possible to get a better position, but my employer may be upset about me quitting--especially if they are paying for my schooling or if I don't notify them as soon as they would like
Box 2: Identifying Values
2. (State and compare the merits of differing values)
a. I should seek enjoyable, challenging work for a good salary.
b. If my employer has helped me to obtain my training, I should probably have some kind of loyalty to them
c. If I truly care about where the place where I work (if it is a library, for instance, and if I am a librarian with a certain set of values concerning the merit of such institutions) then I would want to help them continue to provide their service at top quality.
Box 3: Principles
3. (List Principles for the values) a. people should have interesting and enjoyable work
b. one good turn deserves another
c. libraries are valuable for the public good and must be run effectively?
4. (Consider and compare other ethical values)
It seems that, to me, the most enjoyable work environment possible is a priority, so I would definately consider another position if I found one. The situation could be tricky if the company was paying for my schooling, however. If that were the case, I might make a decision like "stick around for another 6 months" or "try to look for a new position within the company, or ask for a raise upon graduation" or something along those lines. It does seem that not alerting the company to the fact that I was considering other jobs before graduation and then immediately leaving after having obtained the education they financed would be unethical, but I might ask others about what the policy is and if my education would still be financed if they found out that I was planning on quitting.
Box 4: Loyalties
5. (Decide to whom I am being loyal) It seems that by looking for another position, I would be mostly being loyal only to myself, but if I informed the company (and potentially lost funding) I suppose that would be more loyal to the company (although it would be financially difficult for me).
6. If my company is paying for the education, I should be loyal to them (I probably wouldn't be able to use them as a reference in the future if I left after I graduated and never told them anything)
7. (Course of Action) The first thing I would do would be to try and find a person I could talk to about the situation to find out what would happen if I told management that I was thinking of taking a different position. If it seemed reasonable that I could work out a plan like "stick around for another year, etc." or "find a new spot or get a raise here," I would just do that. I'm honestly not the most "career-oriented" person in the world, and basically, once I found a job that I liked that paid well enough, I wouldn't really be looking for much else, work-wise, so I would just try to get a raise or something, if I was already in a library.
8. (Evaluate the impact of your decision) Were I to leave the position after I graduated, I could probably not use that employer as a referece, and would also leave them in a difficult position. If I told them that I had even considered leaving beforehand, however, I could lose my college funding. I think the best thing would be to find out what their policy was and then maybe stick around a little while after I graduated, or try to find a new position within the library.

I think the Potter Box is a pretty good format, but I do have some problem with the "just consequentialism" chapter from "Readings in CyberEthics" mostly just the idea of applying an equal standard to everyone (the blindfold of justice)--basically I think that people are already in unequal situations and expecting them to all meet equal expectations is only going to make it harder for the disadvantaged people, so I think that the background of the person DOES need to be considered. I don't really know how to do this objectively or even fairly, but I do see its absence as a flaw in the "just consequentialism" theory.

Political Aspects of Technology in Information Ethics (Blog 2)

“Do Artifacts Have Politics?” was especially interesting in its treatment of the social determinations built into technology and whether technology is entirely neutral or not. My view is that certain innovations (most in fact) can be useful in another type of society, but that the only ways they have been presented and implemented are specifically tailored to the current social organization. The internal combustion engine does not necessarily imply personal automobiles and individual transit, but the atomization and isolation of the individual from society in the world of capitalist competition make the personal automobile the most obvious use for the internal combustion engine in that society. If human beings wanted to transform their social relations in a radical way, they would eventually (in my opinion) have to transform and in many cases totally reinvent the technical world in a way more suitable to their purposes. A neo-surrealist/Marxist group by the name of the “Situationist International” in the 1960s envisioned such a change for Paris, experimenting with getting lost in the city and envisioning new uses for the buildings (or their demolition) in a society where technology was used to liberate labor and transform toil into artistic creation accessible to all (they recommend turning alienating workplaces into playgrounds, etc.). As utopian as these ideas may sound to some, they do illustrate the politico-historical specificity of technology and other infrastructures. Technologies do not instantly create new social relationships—they usually slightly modify certain behaviors within the larger social structure, but technologies sometimes emerge which have the potential for altering social relationships, and could be put to use to radically alter the social structure. Devices like the tomato picking machine mentioned in the article offer the promise of freeing the time used picking tomatoes (something few people would say is their favorite thing in the world) for more self-actualizing purposes, but so long as the economy is structured as it is, the primary effect this technology has is putting people out of a job and boosting profits for big agri-business, because of the social relations in place.

An interesting point that Capurro makes is that in Athenian society, the basis of democracy was freedom of speech, and almost everyone was capable of the act of speaking (although this democracy was actually based on a slave-system). Enlightenment democracy emphasized “freedom of the press” despite the fact that not everyone had access to printing presses. Today the unequal access is still with us in the fact that not everyone has access to or knowledge of the new telecommunications technologies. If we are to assure that everyone has an equal say, it might be a good idea to enable everyone to use the different media available for self-expression. Capurro raises some very interesting questions concerning not only the equal distribution of information technologies, but their use for the purpose of individual life-transformation and self-actualization. I do think that many of the new technologies show a potential for being used in a free-er society with more free-time and more positive liberties, but I think the “deck” of social relations is “stacked” against those possibilities, and would need some major “re-shuffling” (to continue the metaphor ad nauseum).

Information Ethics & Ethical Models (Blog 1)

Information Ethics seems to be a very tricky field to me. Attempting to balance the interests of personal privacy and copyright with access and community will be a difficult task, especially because many of these technologies are relatively new and the rules for them have not been legislated for very long, so there are not as many guidelines in Information Ethics as in other ethical issues. As far as the uniqueness of ethical issues with cyber technology, I don't think that the ethical issues are different per se, but the times are different, and I think it is only normal for our ethical expectations to change with the changes in society (indeed they usually have--many of the most "cherished" democratic values have only been understood in their present way since the beginning of the industrial revolution). The article discussed how technology is not neutral because technology is developed with certain intentions in mind that predispose the new inventions and tools to certain uses, which is a very important point. Many technologies were developed for a specific purpose (atomic energy, for instance) and are then used for other purposes or by other people who may have different intentions, and new rules (or new ways of applying ethics) are drawn up for the new context that these technologies find themselves in. One of the most interesting things to me in the readings for this week was the different ethical models presented in Ethics and Technology and the different advantages and deficiencies of each. It is helpful to begin with a descriptive approach before applying a normative method to human behavior to make sure one understands what the conditions actually are and how realistic/unrealistic one's expectations are. The contrasts of Utilitarian, Deontological, Contract-Based, and Character-based ethics was, to me, a very good example of how ethics change in different social contexts and how they must be re-examined when society changes (with new communications technology, for example).

Reading the History of Information Ethics, it became apparent that as time has gone by, the field has become more and more general and attempted to encompass more and more ethical issues related to the press, communication technology, computer ethics, property rights, and information democracy and universal access to knowledge. The ICIE seems to be very concerned with trying to spread the benefits of information technology and communications to everyone and to try to adapt information ethics to different social contexts (a recent conference involved an opening speech about non-Western approaches to ethics and philosophy), which I think is very important. If ethics is to be a useful, it must be contextual and it must recognize its own context and its own contextual limitations.