Going down the Rabbit Hole

Last week we spent our class looking at arguments around who owns the code. This is a very interesting argument and one that I can see both sides. There are the people who say…

“I wrote it, I built it, I spent my time, it was my idea so it is mine.”

Then there are people who say…

“If I buy it I should be able to see how it is made and go in an customise it for my own purposes”

I think that this is a question that has no real answer. One analogy that was made was that if you buy a house but the builder locks the basement and doesn’t give you the key how is that “buying a house”. I can totally see that side but when I purchase a painting, I do not have the rights to all of the sketches, drafts, and ideas that the artist has had around that painting.

But really there is no real answer to these questions because it is a cyclical argument neither side is 100% right or 100% wrong, both are right in some ways and wrong in someways or in some circumstances.


I do think that there is an answer to some of the questions about who owns some of the data that is on the internet. One of the documentaries we watched was about Aaron Swartz who had strong feelings about access to data on the internet. Data that if it were not on the internet would otherwise be free to access.

Personally, I think that these are areas that the internet has huge potential to change for the better. For as long as information has been accessible there have always been limitations. In the early days it was literacy, then came language of print being different from the language of literacy (for example Latin texts), then came access being denied because the data was locked away because it was expensive to make or at least that was the excuse (books being chained to libraries).

These days it is still about access because most ‘public’ data is stored in locations that may be difficult or expensive to get to.  If you can get access to the physical space you may then run into difficulties with permission to copy the data or costs of gaining a copy. I have myself run into this when doing family history research. All of the documents that I wanted were public access if I went to the county courthouse. But once I got there I had to pay something like $.10 a sheet for really, really crappy photocopies of books that were twice as big as the photocopier in the first place!

So the way the internet can help is if the government spends their money digitizing these records so that people can gain access from any location. This sounds like a simple solution. It is actually relatively cheap and in 2018 even simple to accomplish. This is where Aaron Swartz ran into the issue though. While the documents that are in public records are free you still have to pay for them. Yes, you read that right you still have to pay for them.

According to the documentary, the government should only be able to charge what it costs to make the documents public. The reality is that this is a big money business. Just take a look at JSTOR for example which is a non-profit which makes quite a lot of money from allowing users to access documents such as published journal articles. Most of which are free if you can get access to a library that they are housed in.

Going back my personal experience I have been doing family history and all of the documents that I am looking for are public access but only if I want to travel to the National Archives in Washington, DC. Because I cannot physically go there I have to rely on the internet. What I have found is that Ancestry.com has a contract with the National Archives, which goes something like this. Since Ancestry is a part of the Church of Latter-day Saints and one of the elements of that church is to do genealogy research, they have a vested interest in archives. So they have contracted with the Archives to scan all documents relating to family histories if they receive sole rights to the digital copies for a period of time and then in theory that data will become publicly accessible via the web.

The issue here is that Ancestry is a publically traded for-profit company that is selling access to public records. Yes, you get more than just access and they probably argue that the extras are the part you are paying for, but let’s face it they are making money off of data that should be free to access.

There are way more things to discuss around data access,  like legal documents (which are a huge breach of privacy, FYI!), government official documents, police records, etc. etc.

There is also the discussion to be had about privacy around these records which maybe I will write a post on at a later date!




Feel free to read some more about some of these ideas and more:

While not about access to data Astroturfing is a problem about the validity of data.

Analog vs Digital Rights

Who owns digital files downloaded from cloud services?

Who owns digital content?

This video is about how to control the data being transmitted by your email.

One thought on “Going down the Rabbit Hole

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