The volatile stuff

Information is the volatile stuff. One cannot grasp it. It is everywhere. And by its use it does not disappear – on the contrary. The more humans utilize it, the “more valuable” it becomes. Although it can be found everywhere, the question arises repeatedly, how to deal with it. The ownership, the application and the protection of information is hard to define due to its materiality, or better its non-materiality. For this purpose, first, a way should be found to define its tangibility.


Since time immemorial, information was passed on mainly by oral tradition. Over time, the knowledge could be recorded in stones, clay or on papyrus. Starting with the letterpress, information became accessible for a broader public. As long as data are bound to a physical media, the tangibility can be ensured with the material carrier of the information. If someone wants to get the information, he or she must buy or borrow paper, celluloid, vinyl or the like. The massive duplication began with devices for reproduction, like copy machines, cameras, cassette and video recorders. With the Internet, information (i.e. texts, images, films, music, and tones) is again detached from a physical carrier material. All over, where electricity and terminals with net access exist, the information is available. The use is latently possible for all.

By looking at the many on-line exchange services, download centers and email attachments, it becomes clear that the free flow of information cannot be inhibited. Even out of strongly secured, top-secret sources, the information finds a way to the public.

A first step to regulate the information flow is to be aware of the types of information usages.

  • The private use
    is certainly the most frequent one. We know for years the use of newspapers, videos, and music CDs that are bought one time and circulated within families and friends. At least remuneration takes place with the purchase of the physical object.
  • The commercial use
    is the best-regulated one. As soon as texts, pictures, films, and music are used for commercial purposes, royalties have to be paid. That way, for example, the organizer of a concert, who is paid for the event, honors the work of the authors.
  • The indirect commercial use
    is difficult to control. In this case, customer data that was collected in a completely different context is stored, evaluated and even sold for further exploitations.
  • The governmental use
    is mostly not regulated. Although more or less strong privacy guidelines are proclaimed, the data leakages of for example American authorities’ show, what the government is doing with information.
  • The criminal use
    is still a completely unexplored area. About virtual „money laundering facilities“, credit card fraudsters, Internet-based sex industries as well as other criminal areas that happen in the Internet, we actually know very little.

If a conclusive structure of the information usage is found, a fundamental information ethics can be developed that offers the basis for further steps. Core element should be the informational self-determination of the creators.  Purely legal frameworks do not seem to work well, since unscrupulous users always find a gap in the law, in order to side step it.

Bottom line: The use of information has to be better regulated. Originators should decide upon the use of their information. It requires an independent instance, which is free of the interests of the players. 150 years after the wiring of the world, we lose control of the most important commodity of the future – the information.

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