Ethics of Sharing

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* Special Issue: The Ethics of Sharing. Ed. by by Felix Stalder and Wolfgang Sützl. International Review of Information Ethics. Vol. 15, Issue No. 015 - September 2011



The Ethics of Sharing

  1. Qualities of Sharing and their Transformations in the Digital Age. Andreas Wittel.
  2. The Unethics of Sharing on Corporate-Owned Platforms. Mayo Fuster Morell.
  3. Does Sharing Personal Information Create a New Public Realm?
  4. Remix Ethics. by Vito Campanelli
  5. Hacking Genomes. The Ethics of Open and Rebel Biology. by Alessandro Delfanti
  6. Understanding Peer to Peer as a Relational Dynamics. Michel Bauwens.


by Felix Stalder and Wolfgang Sützl:

"What is the core of this publication, of a publication in itself? Etymologically the notion 'publication' goes back to the Latin 'publicus' which means 'common', 'of the people/state'. So once executed, the publication, the content, the fruits of the scientific labour needed to produce it belong to everyone, to the people? Far from it! According to applicable law and common moral standards the (intellectual) property fully remains with the originators. It is only accessible for everyone (in the case of our journal even accessible for free) and everybody can make use of it; but only according to the very defined rules of the scientific discourse, i.e. citing and referring.

Scandals about the illegal obtaining of doctoral degrees by extensive plagiarism in Germany have reminded us of this specific aspect of the rules of the scientific game. So what is 'common' with regards to this publication and what exactly is made public by the publication?

Interesting questions but yet a misleading approach for the subject of this issue. The scientific discourse and its standards of publishing and citing are not and have never been the template of what is driving the largest communication machinery ever: the world wide web. In fact, the guiding principle of the underlying technology - html and the internet protocol - was to realize an unprecedented ease of referring (i.e. linking) from one publication to another explicitly leaving out the scientific standards of citation. This informal sharing of information is fundamentally woven into what we call most appropriate: 'the net' - the loosly coupeling of communication shared by anyone with anyone.

In information ethics though 'sharing' has been discussed so far only implicitly in terms of privacy, intellectual property, secrecy, security and freedom of speech. But not only that libraries have been at least challenged by search engines but also recent developments of a second order like the encyclopedia project Wikipedia, the emergence of social networks like facebook or disclosure platforms like WikiLeaks have shown that there is a need to go beyond the scientific habits and legal standards of sharing knowledge and distributing information to understand and govern the communicative space and exchange of information made possible by the internet and its respective platforms.

So, has sharing of information a special virtue in the information society? How are choices of sharing or withholding of information justified? Is sharing subversive of the new global information regime, or an integral aspect of it?

This issue brings together contributions towards an ethics of sharing that embed the new technological potentialities linking them to their actual social impact. In our understanding, information ethics "deals with ethical questions in the field of digital production and reproduction of phenomena and processes such as the exchange, combination and use of information." So, the task of developing an ethics of sharing is both descriptive - helping us to understand the contemporary complexities of the ethics of exchanging information as it emerges from using digital technologies across a global range of social and cultural contexts - as well as normative - helping us to address blind-spots and clarifying possible ethical frameworks to address unresolved issues regarding these practices."

And what do we and should we finally do with the truly impressive contributions gathered here to provide answers to the above named questions and guidelines for the outlined task? We share them with you leaving them to your appropriate use - whatever you may make out of it." (


This article examines the social side of sharing. It is an attempt to work towards a sociological concept of sharing in the digital age. This is the hypothesis: different forms of sharing have different qualities with respect to the social. Digital technologies bring about new forms of sharing. In order to support this claim I will analyse the social qualities of sharing by focusing on the object, on what is being shared. Using an object-centred analysis it will be argued that digital forms of sharing introduce a new function of sharing. Whereas pre-digital sharing was about exchange, sharing with digital technologies is about exchange and about distribution.

In order for online communities to assemble and grow, some basic infrastructure is necessary that makes possible the aggregation of the collective action. There is a very intimate and complex relationship between the technological infrastructure and the social character of the community which uses it. Today, most infrastructure is provided by corporations and the contrast between community and corporate dynamics is becoming increasingly pronounced. But rather than address the issues, the corporations are actively obfuscating it. Wikiwashing refers to a strategy of corporate infrastructure providers where practices associated to their role of profit seeking corporations (such as abusive terms of use, privacy violation, censorship, and use of voluntary work for profit purposes, among others) that would be seen as unethical by the communities they enable are concealed by promoting a misleading image of themselves associated with the general values of wikis and Wikipedia (such as sharing and collaboration, openness and transparency). The empirical analysis is based on case studies (Facebook , Yahoo! and Google) and triangulation of several methods.

According to a libidinally charged slogan, Social Networking Services are meant to give "people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." But does the digital act of sharing personal information – invested in so many of the New Social Media – make such internet domains a public realm? What characterizes actually the public according to classical political theory, and what sort of performances become visible in digital fora under the banners of interactivity, friendship and an alleged dissolution of boundaries? Against the background of increasingly elastic borders between things considered private and spaces declared public as well as of a remarkable spectrum of modes of sharing – ranging from disclosing daily trivia to collectively expressing political dissent – our contribution will examine the ambivalence of sharing in Social Net-working Services, not least in Facebook, in terms of a paradoxical nexus of passions and risks.

Occupying the increasingly thin line that separates legitimate appropriation from plagiarism, remix practice raises significant ethical issues. The issue is rendered more complicated by the fact that this line frequently shifts, both in academic debates and in legal. If in large Western nations remix practice is widely considered legitimate, it is still considered necessary to add something personal to one’s sources, and if at all possible to enrich those sources in some way. This is usually considered sufficient to avoid misappropriating someone else’s intellectual work. In the last few years, various legal actions in the EU and the USA have revealed a significant gap between this apparently moderate position, and the position of legislators. The purpose of this paper is to take a look at some of the most controversial positions on the issue of ‘remix ethics’, attending more closely to aesthetic implications than to political consequences.

  • Hacking genomes. The ethics of open and rebel biology. by Alessandro Delfanti

A new open science culture is emerging within the current system of the life sciences. This culture mixes an ethic of sharing with features such as anti-bureaucracy rebellion, hedonism, search for profit. It is a recombination of an old culture, the Mertonian ethos of modern open science, and a new one: the hacker ethic. This new culture has an important role in the evolving relationship between science and society. And it maintains a political ambivalence. Biohackers are rebel scientists and open access advocates who challenge today’s Big Bio’s concentration of power. But at the same time they live in a new territory of accumulation that never excludes entrepreneurship and profit.

This paper is an inquiry into the nature of the emerging peer to peer relationalities that are co-evolving with the networked forms of technology and human organisation. In the first part, we will match the observations of the P2P Foundation collaborative, a network of researchers into p2p phenomena, on the emergence of peer production as a general social process. We will use the relational typology of Alan Page Fiske to system-atize these observations and some conclusions. In the second part, we will make an attempt at some more speculative philosophical and sociological conclusions. Our question will be: what if the emergent peer to peer modalities are not just emergent phenomena, but also new institutional and social and economic models that portend a substantial transformation of our political economy.