Technology fuels public domain debate


Anyone who reads the 10 Commandments understands them quite clear: Thou shall not steal. And nowadays that can also mean: Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s computer files and text messages.

But one recent news story suggests it’s not quite that simple. New technology has hyped the debate over what should be in the public domain, but done nothing to clarify the answers.

One of the principal reasons is that the audience is participating and opposing, in real time, as journalists decide what subjects are fair game.

Many websites obtain information, verify its authenticity, and ask the right questions about what is of valid public interest.

One example is a website called TechCrunch, that did this through Twitter.

The site posted, instead, information that cut more to the nature of Twitter’s business: financial projections, product plans and notes from executive strategy meetings and “talked about the Facebook threat and when and how they might sell the company,” adding “that is immensely interesting from a news perspective.”

The TechCrunch crew correctly noted that the public seemed much less exercised about previous instances in which media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, published internal company documents from Yahoo and other firms.

In many other instances over the decades, as important as the Pentagon Papers, journalists have depended on internal documents to tell the real story.

In many of those cases, the documents were effectively “stolen,” pushed by employees who ignored confidentiality rules to put information into the public domain.

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