By Kevin Kelly

Sometime in the last year or so, announcements like the one above were being attached to computer network messages. Unlike communication in the public domain, which anyone can use for whatever commercial purpose, share-right limits its benefits to those willing to share the bounty in the same way they received it. Users can take it only if they pass it on with the same promise. As Jack Powers, one of the network riders, says, "I like this idea of rights which travel together withe merchandise." Although share-right was born on the networks, I envision it taking root in other decentralized, highly replicating communications, like xerox publishing or tape duplicating. Howard Rheingold, a host on the Well, calls it "a self-reproducing word virus that eats intellectual property."

As far as I know, the share-right concept first appeared at the junction of USENET and Stargate, two network systems of different politics. USENET, one of the most libertarian networks running, distributes and redistributes messages in an ad hoc style of complete non-ownership. You don't post something on USENET without expecting it to be copied all over the country, or the world. Stargate is a privately run network which beams net news into space by hitching the messages to an unused area of information transmission in the "blink" between screens on cable TV broadcasts. It would bounce news off a satellite, down to distant pickup sites, and into local computers again. I'll let Eric Fair, a USENET engineer, tell the rest of the story:

"Stargate as originally envisioned was a cheap way to send USENET news everywhere by true broadcast. Unfortunately the communication legalities were such that they could not claim to be a common carrier (like telephone companies), and this led directly into Stargate becoming a subscriber service instead (like a publisher). Stargate has an agreement that prohibits their subscribers from redistributing the articles they get from Stargate because, of course, it would erode Stargate's subscriber base if they did.

"Naturally, this caused a bit of a stink on the net, and the result was the copyright notices which you see on some people's articles ("You can redistribute only if your recipients can."), preventing Stargate from transmitting those articles unless their subscribers can."

You, reader, are encouraged to duplicate this message, but only if your readers may also duplicate it.

Kevin Kelly (S) Share-right '87
Whole Earth Review, Winter, '87