Skip to content

Does cyberspace exist?

 

This is an interview I gave to connected.org that I casually re-discovered. It is an old text, while still up-to-date.

The following interview of the Italian lawyer Andrea Monti
took place in Prague during the APC Europe Internet Rights Workshop.
My thanks to Karen Banks and Chris Bailey of APC for inviting me to speak at the workshop. See also the other interview carried out in Prague of the philosopher, Giancarlo Livraghi entitled “Souls writing on the Net“.

How do you justify your statement that cyberspace does not exist?

The first reason is a philosophical: William Occam’s razor. You don’t need to create something if there is no need for it. And there is no need for cyberspace. All Internet related things can be handled with existing conceptual categories. The Internet has nothing to do with technology. It is just a person talking to another person, using a different technology. Humans have known how to communicate over long distances for centuries. No one says that because we make a telephone call we are living in a different reality. The same is true of faxes. If you spam with faxes, no one thinks you are entering a separate dimension. Where is cyberspace? It is communication that begins with a computer and ends with a computer running on cables and satellites and wireless networks.

Let’s suppose you are right. How do you explain the fact that many people consider there is a virtual world in which they act and play?

When you take part in a role-playing game, you don’t claim you are in another universe. When you are playing you feel like you are doing something different, but you never loose contact with reality. You will never jump off a rock because you are playing superman and he can fly.

Those who consider that cyberspace exists, think that there are no limits. A man can become a woman for example,…

This is not exactly true. You can act “as”, but you do not become. Your physical character stays the same.

But what happens if there is a divorce between cyberspace and the real world?

Giancarlo Livraghi wrote an article on the subject called “The Soul and the Body“. The great power of the Internet is that it removes social and physical barriers. This is true. But you can’t argue from that that you are creating a new reality. I can agree with you if we are talking about a “psychological reality”, but if you talk in terms of physical effects there is no cyberspace.

All the same, there is a shared perception on the part of a large number of people that there is another world…

A lot of people “want” to think that their computer is alive. Me too, sometimes when I am in front of my machines. I have some “feelings” towards them. So there is a psychological layer. And then you have to add all the communication and marketing material with all the fancy talk about virtual reality …

You seem to discount the psychological reality despite the fact that you yourself admit that you enter into a relationship with some “world” which is “inside” the computer. And we are not alone in that world. So a lot of activities are happening somewhere between me and someone else through a system that I can’t grasp.

I could agree with you, but you have to clearly distinguish the legal needs from the psychological ones. In a psychological sense I can agree to the existence of a different perception of reality….

The whole question of the existence of cyberspace from a legal perspective arose in the Prague discussions because of the question of whether or not the Internet created circumstances that were substantially different and therefore required a new and different legal approach.

I think there is no need for a new legal approach because all the things that you do with the Internet you were able to do before.

Is it not possible that by extrapolating from existing broadcast media like television to a media with is distributed, you miss something important in the extrapolation?

No. I am not focused on technology. My approach is not to look at television regulation and try to apply it to the Internet. I just look of what happens. If, as a lawyer, I defend someone, I am totally focussed on the effect. The true problem is that of the evidence and not seeing if we need a new law to handle the new facts because there are no new facts at all.

Let me try to find an example to prove you wrong. What about the infinite multiplication of content in relationship to the notion of property?

Often people claim that the Internet killed intellectual property rights. I don’t agree. What the Internet clearly shows is that we need to redefine the idea of economic value. If so many people are using Napster to download music, maybe that means that social thinking is changing. What we can argue from this fact is not that copyright is dead but that we need a different way of handling it. For instance, we could apply the ancient idea that unused media supports be subject to an additional charge that is paid to the majors in exchange for private copies.

That is an unsatisfactory solution because you cannot map between unused recording material and the music itself.

Copying exists, so you have to find a reasonable way to protect people who have the right to be paid for the work they have done. What’s more, the fact that people copy music doesn’t imply that people don’t buy music. There are so many additional things you can have when you buy the music. For instance, discounts on music tours, a free information service about the artist, … It is just a question of changing the way copyright majors look at their products. So you see that Napster and copying have not killed copyright, they are just pushing for a new business model. The faster majors learn that, the faster they will be able to earn more money from the same phenomenon that they currently say is killing their business.

Andrea Monti, lawyer, Prague February 2001
Interview Alan McCluskey

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*