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Whoever pays for your information, owns it

Walking into a bookseller and handing over cash for a book would, to most, make me the owner of that book. I can do what I like with that book ... within certain boundaries. The "intellectual rights" contained within that book are not mine, they are still the authors.

This is well understood by most.

However, the very fact that, at some point, someone other than the author is going to own the book has a very large effect on that book. The cover is designed to stimulate certain potential book owners, the price is set at a level that potential book owners can afford and the books are placed in surroundings that potential book owners frequent are in the frame of mind to purchase (we call them "book shops").

Another more subtle effect is upon the author.

The author can, of course write whatever they like, however they like and some indeed do.

The majority of authors maintain a very focussed eye upon the potential book owner and are writing for them. They will tailor the language used, the structure applied and even the themes and subject matter discussed. And fair enough, because they want potential book owners to become actual book owners.

So what has this to do with "online collaboration"?

When you write a blog article, edit a wiki page, comment on a forum are you thinking of the person that is paying for that information? Are you considering the future owner of your thoughts?

"Hang on Mike, no-one pays for information on the Web, it's all free - just look at your own blog!?!" True, very few services expect a monetary transaction before you can get at the information. However, there is always a cost involved. You have paid for this blog article with:
  • your time
  • your attention
  • your thinking
  • your "not being able to do other stuff"
You/we have paid and we will always pay for information.
And having paid for the information, it is yours. This is your article. The "intellectual rights" remain mine but it behaves just like a book from a book shop.

So next time you put pen to paper/tap on a keyboard think about the future owners of your creation as I suspect we have a much larger percentage of online James Joyce's than should be allowed.

Think of the reader!