e-THICS (SM)

IVAN HOFFMAN, B.A., J.D.

        Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson did not tame Dodge City. Dodge City tamed Dodge City. Wyatt and Bat brought the discipline, the hardware, but it was the citizens of the town that decided collectively that the place had to be governed by the rule of law and not the rule of man.

        We individually and all of us collectively are the citizenry of today's Dodge City. We are on the frontier and we have to decide how we are going to govern ourselves.

        A short stroll around the Net enables us to visit sites on which it appears, for example that copyrighted music and recordings are being used (they are different you know. Please take a look at "The Use of Music on a Multimedia Website: The Legal Issues" under "Internet and Electronic Rights Issues"). Other sites may be using photos, writings or other protected materials. I am not suggesting that in those instances appropriate licenses have not been obtained. However, if such licenses have not been so obtained, the apparent frontier mentality that says "anything goes at least until they catch us" can only lead to commercial uncertainty. If business cannot know the nature of the rules of the game, it may be hesitant to come onto the field. Money will not flow into the Net, assuming that that's a good thing and I believe it is, if the rules aren't obeyed. And if it leads to commercial uncertainty that, beyond anything else, can spell the end or at least a slowing of the growth of the Net. Commercialism was, in part, what motivated the citizens to tame Dodge. That and the hope for a sizable movie deal.

        Not only do we have to contend with United States' laws but the laws of other nations, in and out of the Berne Convention. The rules therefor are complicated to say the least. But some rules are simple. One of the simpler rules is that we must protect the rights of others so that our own rights are protected.

       A mindset of self-enforcement so that we further our own interests seems in order here. Perhaps the old ideas of how we behave toward one another--adversarially, confrontationally--should give way to new ethics. These new ideas, which I have called e-THICS (TM), may be considered a form of self-discipline and a respect for those legal, economic and social rights that others have and that we must diligently protect. Unless we protect the rights of others, our own rights cannot help but become eroded away. For if we interfere with others' rights, they do the same and the cycles continue. And such permissiveness creates uncertainty and can lead to outright chaos necessitating the intervention of the Earps and Mastersons to impose order.

        We should perhaps make a compact, those of us creating the new territory, that we will respect each other as we respect ourselves. Throwing out legal and ethical principles in favor of short term gain demonstrates a lack of vision. The Internet offers us an unparalleled opportunity, as virtually no other time in history, to create a new approach toward how we conduct business. We are not mandated to follow the old "after all it's only business" attitudes of the Industrial Revolution that continue to remain with us even after 300 years. The whole world is changing on our monitors and we are the ones who can make up new rules to not only fit the new world but indeed to define it. We can toss out the adversarial approach and create a cooperative one. There are no rules that say that we cannot.

        After all, no law will suffice if the citizens of the town don't collectively agree to have the law enforced.

        There aren't enough Bats around to enforce every site everywhere.

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman

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This article is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. You should consult with an attorney familiar with the issues and the laws.

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No portion of this article may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of the author. e-THICS is a service mark of Ivan Hoffman.


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