The digital artefact I produced as part of my class on Digital Culture is a multi-layered little thing. One aspect of my production is the notion of ownership and privacy in online culture.
With the emergence of MP3 and Napster, content that we are expected to pay for, was suddenly easily available for free, it seemed, which posed a lot of questions not only to the economic situation of artists and record labels, but also as regards the philosophical, ethical notion of ownership (see Lister 2009, p.163). As privately or corporately owned content on the web is easy to steal, people tend to steal it. This now happens with songs, films, pictures, yes any content available online.
Although most people would still today believe, that ownership not only exists but is also legitimate, and as consequently most people would judge stealing wrong, it still happens on a large scale. (The moral aspects of ownership and stealing are fundamental to most cultures, as was pointed out by Hans Küng in his work on a global ethic (Küng 1998).)
Already in ancient Greece the question was raised, if people tend to act immorally if they believe they will get away with it – and yes, they do, as Daniel Batson was able to prove (Gendler 2012). If we feel anonymous, if we believe our immoral actions will not have a negative effect on us, we tend to act immorally for our own benefit. This might explain why we do steal things online, although we know it is a bad thing to do.
I produced my digital artefact and uploaded it to my Youtube channel. I did however not make it publically visible. Only those who knew the exact location, i.e. URL of the video, were able to see it.(Youtube allows different privacy settings.) I announced on Twitter that my artefact was ready and people could apply to see it.
If people applied to see it, I mailed them the address. In one case however, I did deliberately not send the address privately, but gave it away in a tweet.
I did however write, that the link was private and not to be shared, thus of course tempting everyone to do just this. I also pretended that I would send the link in a tweet, because certain algorithms did not work. Of course there were no algorithms checking on Eli. I was merely mirroring common online procedures and pretending to break the rules set up by and for machines. Still: I made clear that the link was meant for Eli and Eli only.
And of course it happened. The link to the artefact was nicked and can now be found on the official course webpage, posted there by course tutors Jeremy Knox and James Lamb, two people who never contacted me to ask for the link, yet took my link from a private conversation with someone else and made it publicly available for everyone, without ever getting in touch with me.
And I am happy to admit: Point proven.
I expected exactly this to happen and it puts a smile on my face, because it raises a lot of interesting questions, like:
– Did Knox and Lamb steal?
– Is content I post on Twitter legally still mine?
– Is it ethically still mine?
– What where Lamb and Knox thinking? Or were they at all?
– What was Eli thinking, when I told her not to share the link?
– Is another aspect to consider next to moral maybe respect?
– If I were making a living of producing digital content, would I be able to do it?
– On IDEL I constructed a house in Minecraft and someone else on the course made alterations to it. Is this the same question?
All in all I believe this is a fascinating learning about digital culture. And to make one think absolutely clear: Lamb and Knox (and whoever) did whatever they did and I am absolutely ok with this. Actually I even feel a little guilty, having used them as (please insert here an appropriate alternative for “laboratory rats”). I hope they don’t mind.
The issues raised by only this detail of my artefact concern ownership, privacy, moral, respect – all in an online context. One question we might ask is: Do these aspects change when experienced online? And if so: Why?
What do I make of all this? Well, maybe ask me in a year or two or fifty.
Gendler, Tamar. 2012. The Ring of Gyges: Morality and Hypocrisy. iTunesU: Yale University.
Küng, Hans. 1998. Projekt Weltethos. 4 ed. Munich: Piper.
Lister, Martin. 2009. New media : a critical introduction. 2nd ed. ed. London: Routledge. Table of contents only http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0821/2008026918.html