Jon Lebkowsky on 16 Feb 2001 12:46:03 -0000

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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.

>From my perspective, what Google purchased was not so much content as
context, and perhaps method. The actual ownership or copyright for any
specific usenet content would still defer to the originator of that content.
Google's product is not the content, not the archive, but the ability to
search it.

I hope I haven't rambled too much here (it's the middle of the night and I'm
practicing insomnia). My real point here is that we're talking about
platform and functionality, not content. It's similar to the statement that
the map is not the territory.  And I've tried to make the distinction
between usenet and the communities-for-profit, where ownership of IP is
defined by contract.

Drazen writes:

> Not wanting that kind of destiny to Nettime, I think we shell all
> think carefully about how nettime relates to its authors, their copy
> rights (if any) and the incredible number of well intended individuals
> and (sometimes) great texts that appear here.

In the context of my longer post above, how do we view nettime? Do we feel
that the nettime archives should be transferred to some university? If
someone created and charged money for an ability to search the nettime
archives, would that violate our trust?

Jon L.

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