Digital things with no properties
The absence of permissions on our personal data and the absence of permissions on digital copyright objects are two sides of the same coin. Economically and legally they're an absence of property rights – and an insistence on preserving the internet as a childlike, utopian world, where nobody owns anything, or ever turns a request down. But as we've seen, you can build things like libraries with permissions too – and create new markets. Without a sophisticated, machine-readable world of documents, the internet economy still looks like the giant, mewling infant it did 15 years ago.
For Bide, privacy and content markets are just technical challenges that need to be addressed intelligently.
"You can take two views," he told me. "One is that every piece of information flowing around a network is a good thing, and we should know everything about everybody, and have no constraints on access to it all." People who believe this, he added, tend to be inflexible - there is no half-way house.
"The alternative view is that we can take the technology to make privacy and intellectual property work on the network. The function of copyright is to allow creators and people who invest in creation to define how it can be used. That's the purpose of it.
"So which way do we want to do it?" he asks. "Do we want to throw up our hands and do nothing? The workings of a civilised society need both privacy and creator's rights."
But this a new way of thinking about things: it will be met with cognitive dissonance. Copyright activists who fight property rights on the internet and have never seen a copyright law they like, generally do like their privacy. They want to preserve it, and will support laws that do. But to succeed, they'll need to argue for stronger property rights.
They have yet to realise that their opponents in the copyright wars have been arguing for those too, for years. Both sides of the copyright "fight" actually need the same thing.
This is odd, I said to Bide. How can he account for this irony?
"Ah," says Bide. "Privacy and copyright are two things nobody cares about unless it's their own privacy, and their own copyright." ®