Why Humanistic Property is more valuable than Intellectual Property

Steve Mann

December 1998

Many hotel owners, restaurant owners, and various others are theives. What they steal is not your car or your wallet, but, rather, your soul. Very much like intellectual property theives, what they steal is information rather than material objects.

What they are stealing is Humanistic Property. Humanistic Property is that which we give off without conscious thought or effort, and differs from Intellectual Property (that which we consciously produce and that which we generally intend to part with).

I think it is useful to distinguish between copyright and the right to self ownership. Copyright protects the copying of work that a person has intended to give to the world; it merely protects from loss of capital. The infringer is simply not paying for work that is for sale. But I would say that representatives of the Surveillance Superhighway (SS) steal in a much more profound way. Perpetrators of the SS capture a likeness or situation that was never put forth as a commodity. Representatives of the SS have stolen something that was not for sale.

I draw upon an analogy here, between a shoplifter/softlifter (analogous to the copyright violator) and a thief who steals your family heirlooms (analogous to the perpetrators of the SS). The former has stolen from you something that you have willingly put up for sale, merely depriving you of some of your profits, while the latter has stolen from you something that you might not have been willing to sell at any price. While there are no doubt shopkeepers who value their store goods more than their family heirlooms, and similarly there are no doubt those who value their works of art, literature, etc, more than their own physical likeness, one must account for the possibility that there could be people who attach a high value to their likeness, and to the way that it is acquired, controlled, and distributed through what I would call `likeness piracy'.

Theft of Humanistic property is the greater of two evils. Those who steal commodities (e.g. property meant to be sold) are merely taking something that the owner already intended to part with. Those who steal Humanistic Property have stolen something that the owner did not intend to give away, at any price.

Video surveillance is often used as a crime deterrence tool to prevent theft of material objects. However, it is these very video surveillance cameras that are the cause of theft of a different sort --- theft of Humanistic Property.

How would you feel if a friend invited your family to stay over for a couple of days but had surveillance cameras in the guest bedrooms to make sure you didn't steal anything? Or if a friend invited you over for dinner and you found that he had installed a video surveillance camera over the dining room table to watch you because he thought you might try to steal the silverware? Would you trust someone who doesn't trust you?

Whether you're staying at a hotel or eating at a fine home--style restaurant, you are renting space to call your own. When you take clients to a restaurant you pay partly for the use of the space and a nice environment in which to wine and dine your business associates. Rented space has associated with it a reasonable expectation of ``privacy''. I prefer to call it a reasonable expectation of freedom from the theft of Humanistic Property.

Pervasive video surveillance seems to have become the hottest new trend --- hotter than stolen cars and pawnshop televisions.

Let's ignore, for a moment, the issue of privacy in the workplace.

Sure, many are aware of the famous case where Sheraton Hotel installed covert video surveillance in their employee changerooms. ["You don't have to smile", LynNell Hancock, Claudia Kalb and William Underhill, Page 52, Newsweek, July 17, 1995] And we all know how organizations often assume: ``If you work here, we own you, and we can do what we like with you.''

So I'm not even going to open up that ugly can of worms. Instead, I'm going to talk about a much clearer case: I'm going to talk about leisure time --- the time we're told we have to ourselves.

I'm not talking about an abstract concept called "privacy". After all, many officials seem to believe privacy is just a myth, and has no place in our utilitarian world. Many lawmakers seem to be more concerned with keeping the trains running on time and keeping crime low than with abstract humanistic concepts like privacy. I'm talking here about something a lot more concrete than violation of ``privacy'' --- i'm talking about THEFT!

Recently I was at a restaurant describing some of my proprietary inventions and business plans to a prospective business partner, and we eventually noticed that they had surveillance cameras throughout the restaurant, overlooking some of the tables, including ours. It appeared that our top--secret patent drawings and business plans were now available to the restaurant owner.

We got angry, and asked the clerk what right he had to take our picture without our permission. He told us ``I only work here. My Manager installed the cameras''. I could easily see through his Nuremberg nonsense, e.g. "I vaas just following orders", but, giving him the benefit of the doubt I asked if I could speak to the manager, and he told me the manager wasn't in, but gave me the name of the manager. After numerous calls, waiting on hold, and leaving messages that were never returned, I eventually got hold of the manager who told me that the surveillance directive came from head office. When I finally contacted an official at head office, I was told that the insurance companies require video surveillance.

At another restuarant (Boardwalk Cafe) I raised a similar objection, and explained that I had met with a business client and that we had reviewed proprietary patent drawings and other company confidential matters. I asked the clerk for the name of the person in charge of the restaurant, and the clerk pointed at an individual standing by the bar. I explained this situation and asked this person for a point of contact, for a business card, etc.. The individual refused to identify himself, refused to tell me his name, or any official point of contact at the restuarant. He also refused to tell me the street address number of the building we were standing in.

So the next time I complained about surveillance cameras, and the clerk asked me the usual ``why are you so paranoid'' (and suggested that only criminals are afraid of cameras), I took a different approach. I happened to be packing a pocket camera, so I gave the clerk an opportunity to define himself by his own standards.

After pulling out my 36-shooter, and emptying the remaining rounds from my film magazine, onto his face and his hand that was eagerly reaching out toward my lens, he was much more cooperative in finding me a manager to shoot instead of him.

Instead of being given a possibly fake phone number of a possibly non-existant manager, or being told to come back on Tuesday morning at 9:00am to wait for a couple of hours before having the privilege to talk to the manager, I found that a manager appeared almost instantly for me to shoot.

You see, the clerk would rather get me a manager to shoot than be shot himself. And when I shot the manager, I informed this manager that it was not I who wanted to take pictures of him, but that MY manager required me to document any and all THEFT of intellectual property (e.g. my patent drawings and business plans that had been seen by his camera).

This made the whole matter get very interesting because now we have two people (he and I) taking pictures of each other without each other's permission. Both of us claim that we don't want to shoot at each other, but that our companies require us to do so.

I found that this was a great way to make sure my complaint went up the ladder to the very top, very quickly. I no longer found that my calls were unanswered, or that my telephone messages were unreturned. I very quickly had the opportunity to shoot to the very top. It was suddenly like a ``Roger and Me'' documentary with various ``Rogers'' flushed out of the closet to be interviewed by me. So next time you're trying to crawl up the ladder to the person responsible, pack some heat, and go on a shooting spree.