ELL: Re: Fwd: Re: ROSETTA: FYI: Report on Ethics Wkshp

Lev Michael lmichael at MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU
Thu May 31 08:34:48 UTC 2001

Hi All,

Doug Whalen's concise summary appears to have led to a little confusion about
the ways in which the participants at the SALSA colloquium concluded that web-
publishing is different from paper-publishing.  I think I might be able to
clarify things by adding a little detail.

Web-publishing is different from paper-based publishing in at least three
significant ways:

1. Paper-based publications are typically distributed in a substantially more
restricted manner than web-based ones.  In principle, a web-based publication
can be accessed from anywhere with phone-service, and can be 'distributed' much
more rapidly than the time it takes for a paper-based publication.  E.g. I am
writing this email from Pucallpa, a jungle town in Peru, where I can readily
access any web-based publication I want (at 128 kbps!).  I cannot, however,
access *any* paper-based publications in anthropology or linguistics.

Ethically, this kind of availablility effects a 'phase transition' in the way
information can circulate.  Web-based publications of an anthropological or
linguistic nature cannot achieve the rapid oblivion and effective secretiveness
of a tome lodged on a musty library shelf.  In the organization and execution
of the AILLA project (www.ailla.org), for example, we are acutely aware that
the web-based nature of the archive means that we can be held accountable by
indigenous peoples for materials we archive with an ease that would have been
unimaginable prior to the advent of the web.  Similarly, the representations of
languages or societies that we archive are much more readily available to
consumers of information, meaning that, for example, negative representations
(and positive ones also!) can circulate with considerably greater ease.

2.  Paper-based publication allows for reproduction of text and still-images
(although this tends to be expensive).  Web-based publication allows for the
publication of audio, video, and the substantially easier publication of images.

The ethical considerations of audio, images, and video are quite different from
that of text alone.  The human voice frequently invokes a sense of
proprietariness on the part of the speaker that a textualized version
frequently does not.  This even more the case with video.

Moreover, anonymity can be easily preserved in a text, but becomes increasingly
difficult for audio and video.

Similarly, textual representations allow for kinds of 'editing' that can be
important in making representations more acceptable for circulation.
The 'representational faithfulness' of audio and video can raise problems by
making the editing of embarrassing or even incriminating material more

3. Related to the above two points, but somewhat distinct, is the ease with
which one can make perfect copies of digital files which can then be easily
distributed on a large scale. Similarly, digital files can be altered and
reworked in ways that produce files of quality equal to the original.

This raises serious ethical issues with respect to the intellectual property
rights of the people whose voices and images are recorded.

I think these properties of web-based publication will always distinguish it
quite markedly from paper-based publication.

I hope this helps.

-Lev Michael
Department of Anthropology and
The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America www.ailla.org

> >* "Publishing" on the web is different from publishing on paper.  It
> >has different consequences for the authors of the texts and should
> >be treated differently.
> This is true today, but by the end of the decade or sooner it
> wouldn't be true. Building an ethical system upon this first and
> prime point is setting it up for collapse. All publishing is not
> equal, but the grand distinction between web and paper will erode
> quickly.
> --
> --kk

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