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|Jon Lebkowsky on 16 Feb 2001 11:36:32 -0000|
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|[Nettime-bold] RE: <nettime> Usenet archives sold, whay about README! ?|
Geert writes: >The Usenet archives thread is raising interesting questions and I think we >should further list these questions rather than getting into a big >capitalism debate. Yes and no (I originally wrote "yes and know")... capitalism and the concept of intellectual property do have a relationship, at least insofar as we think of intellectual property as commodity. (The concept of intellectual property also applies to control of publication or dissemination, and responsibility for the work, issues which exist regardless whether the 'property' is commodified.) This usenet discussion reminds me of an issue of 'commodification of community' that was raised at "Electric Minds," a for-profit virtual community space founded by Howard Rheingold a few years ago. Howard was a veteran of the WELL, and he saw the potential to build a business around a context for online conversation, a set of forums interspersed with articles, supported by advertising and/or corporate sponsorship which would be a source of profit. The concept failed as a business, though there is still a community which evolved from the effort. There was a bit of a thrash at eminds over the ownership of words posted there. When we create a context for conversation which captures the conversations as content, who owns that content? To what extent does it become a commodity? In fact Electric Minds, like the WELL, established a contract with its users: a user agreement that limited use of the "intellectual property" posted there to the community context. Other systems, developed later with facilities for forums and chat, were not always so generous - they would claim ownership of all words posted there. But this point is that for these platforms which were "owned," contracts could be established that defined ownership of the intellectual property posted there. Usenet is different in that no one "owns" it. Usenet is a truly distributed system, like the Internet managed and sustained cooperatively. Systems to which newsgroups are distributed can subscribe to all or part of the newsgroups, and can archive as much or as little of the content as they like. Because the volume of articles (and images, sounds, etc.) is so great, most systems retain only data posted fairly recently. There is no contract, in which case we should presume that anyone posting there retains copyright for the posted material. Deja saw that there would be value in sustaining a more permantent, searchable archive of usenet, and built a business around it. Could we argue that, at this point, deja was profiting from the usenet content? Perhaps so, but how is this more true of deja than any other internet service provider offering access to newsgroups? In fact Deja's service, its added value, was in providing storage to sustain the archive, and in creating a rich set of search features applicable to the archive. I don't think anyone argued forcefully that deja was infringing copyrights or, for that matter, violating a public trust or failing to operate within the accepted standards of the public Internet. It was, in effect, a specialized ISP. Google is a company built around a search engine. Search enginges base their business on finding and providing access to content throughout the Internet. Some search engines provide a usenet search capability within the limits of the archives they're searching. By purchasing deja's usenet archive, Google can provide extra value by extending Usenet searches to a much larger historical archive.