Are some things in your house more "private" than other things? (Privacy debate)

Yes, this is directly inspired by a heated, long-winded (and including a lot of rambling and ranting on my part ;)) Pit thread located here. (The meat of the discussion regarding privacy in the home starts around page 8 or 9 or so.)

The argument goes all over the place and I don’t really want to rehash that all here (I’ve done enough rambling about it there). But, one interesting detail has been brought up and I think it’s interesting and might make good GD material.

The specific issue being batted around is whether or not all the stuff in someone’s house should be universally considered “private” and off-limits to others. (By “stuff,” I mean, photos, artwork, written documents, sketchbooks, journals, original artwork displayed on walls, or various other things created or soley owned by the owners of the house.) One of the participants in this thread, Mr2001, had this to say:

I disagree with that. I think that if it’s in your home and you don’t want to “share” it with other people, then no one has the right to go behind your back and “share” it anyway. (It is also presumed in this discussion that the person who desires to “share” a copy of your photos or a rap song has been legally allowed into your house—they haven’t tresspassed or broken into anything in order to get access to the stuff that they would like to “share.”)

That’s the gist of this topic. Are some things in your house deserving of “more protection” than other things?

Everything in my house is private and off limits to the public.
I would not want the cops coming into my house and skimming my emails and computer history. That is my business and no one elses. I woulnd’t want my neighbors seeing what types of books I read.

There are many things in my house that are so private that I would not want my SO or children to see. It is MINE MINE MINE.

I think everything in your house deserves respect and protection.

If an artist chooses to permit “download til you drop” – fine. If an artist chooses to sell licensed copies of their work (maybe they don’t tour the world three times a year) – fine. You acquire a copy, distribute it to the world, then you get prosecuted – fine. Every case is different. If money is involved, it’s just old fashioned stealing. One copy for your wife’s car, eh?

You have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in a lot of things from a legal standpoint. This relates to whether the state needs a warrant to search your home, et al. Your domicile and the curtilage has a very high “expectation of privacy” under law.

As a general rule in the private realm, anyone rummaging around in your things without permission to claim your photos or anything else is stealing. Yes, you do permit guests to look at the things on your walls, implicitly.

[Spinal Tap] No, don’t even look at it! [/ST]

Trespassing and conversion = “stealing” in the last paragraph.

Intellectual property can be stolen just as real property can. If you come into my house, boot my computer while “going to the bathroom,” steal my “Great American Novel” :dubious:, hypothetically – even if I invited you in for dinner – you stole my intellectual property.

If you see a painting I did on my wall, copy it, sell thousands and get rich – you owe me that money. I’ll have to sue you for it and prove that you stole my idea. Songwriters get into these court battles frequently.

Sunrise and Beagle, thanks, and interesting points!

The other Pit thread (where I rant and rave and ramble ;)) specifically talks about publishing intellectual property (especially on the Internet), but it also talks about not making a profit off of it. (The premise brought forth—and discussed ad nauseum—is that as long as the “copier” is not making a profit off of the work, no harm is done.)

So, putting that issue aside just for a moment, let’s get more intimate and explore this from another perspective. Let’s take the possibility of profit out of it, and, just for a moment, let’s assume that any “publishing” on a wide scale (like on the Internet) is also taken out of it.

Suppose a friend of yours is in your house and copies off onto a floppy disk some files you have on your computer. (Let’s say that they asked to use your computer for a second to pick up some email.) They copy off a picture you took of your adorable cuddly puppy, and they copy off a sweet little “inspirational” poem your 8th grade daughter wrote for school. Neither of these things were necessarily “hidden,” as the files were right there on the desktop of the computer, clearly labeled. Furthermore, the visitor to the house had complimented you on a print you had of the cuddly puppy displayed in your house, and had also complimented the inspirational poem (that was printed out and placed on the refrigerator).

A few weeks later, you visit the workplace of this guest (your friend) and see that several people have copies of your daughter’s poem in their offices. The insirational poem is also tacked onto the company bulliten board. Aso, several people are displaying pictures of your cute cuddly puppy in their cubicles.

When confronting your friend, she seems surprised that you would think anything unusual. She says, “Well, I didn’t think you’d mind if a few friends saw those things! The poem is so nice and the puppy is so cute!”

What is your response? Would you feel differently had she asked your permission first? Was it the actual content of the things she shared (puppy picture and poem by 8th grader) that is troubling you (you feel like these things are too “intimate” to be shared outside of the home), or was it the fact that she never bothered to ask before copying these things and sharing them with her coworkers? Or, is it a combination of the two? Are some things OK to show and share with people you know (like puppy pictures and poems written by your kids) but "weird’ if shared with strangers (especially if you are not asked about whether or not you’d like to “share” beforehand)?

But you weren’t planning on selling the puppy photo or the inspirational poem.

Now suppose you grant a radio or TV station the right to broadcast the puppy photo and poem, and find that several people in your office have recorded them on video tape, transferred them to their computer (the analogy requires some high tech devices to be consistent) and printed out the puppy photo and a voice recognition or OCR transcript of the poem.

See what I’m saying?

I haven’t read the other thread at all but I don’t think the issue (legally) is if someone else is making a profit bu that they potentially dmaged your ability to make a profit.

As to the rest I would assume that all original work is yours and yours alone. Be it a photo (no matter how innocuous), writing, painting or whatever. If you created it then it is yours. I do not see how having a guest use your PC gives then right to steal your work.

That said, as I understand it, ideas cannot be copyrighted. If someone sees something in your house that ‘inspires’ them, and you haven’t otherwise filed a copyright, then I think they can ‘steal’ at wiil (you should probably wait for an attorney to weigh in on this one though…from past discussions copyright can be a sticky thing to get into).

Who knows. I hadn’t thought that far. It’s just one of many things I have in my home and maybe one day I’ll sell them; maybe not.

But that’s not at all what this thread is about. I made my scenario of the puppy and poem as low-key and “domestic” for a reason. I wanted to (for a moment, anyway) strip away any thought of profit or publication. I wanted to ask something simple: if it is in your house, does anyone (like an invited guest) have a right to copy something you have in your house, without your permission, and share it amongst a bunch of friends? No mention of profit here, no mention of “publication” (on a wide scale). I wanted to know whether or not this was indeed a “privacy” issue, or if not, what it was. And also, what “rights” does a home owner have over the stuff in their home.

OK, that is pretty much the answer to the question I was asking. Which was: whether or not you (the collective you) think it’s OK for someone (a guest) to copy something you have on your computer, your desk, your wall, etc., especially if they plan on “sharing” copies of this with anyone else.

But we are not discussing “ideas” here (and I agree, an abstract “idea” cannot be copyrighted). I’m just talking about the stuff in your house. You may (or may not) at some point publish it and sell it for a million dollars. It may (or may not) be most harmless, bland thing in the world. Whatever—it’s your stuff, in your house, and you haven’t published it yet. Maybe you are determined to never publish it, or maybe you are biding your time and waiting for just the right deal to come along. The fact remains, it hasn’t been published.

I wanted to focus the debate on whether these things in your house are “private,” and therefore you should have some expectation (legal or otherwise) that a visitor in the house should not copy it and distribute any of the stuff in your house to other people. Or do you think that if something is “innocuous” enough, that okay, maybe then it would be accpetable if some guest in your house copied and distributed it (without your consent or knowledge)? Because it wasn’t “private” enough, even though it was unpublished and in your house?

That’s the gist of what I’m trying to discuss.

Of course things in your house are “private”. What’s more, original creations of yours are yours regardless of where they reside. An original creation can be a photo, painting, sculture or even an e-mail (IIRC the SDMB has rules covering quoting from an e-mail has a potential copyright violation if done improperly).

Everyone enjoys automatic copyright protection instantly upon creation of a unique work by their own hands. You do not need to apply for a copyright to gain this protection in a legal sense. The reason for applying for a proper copyright is for the “proof” that you were indeed the original creator of a given piece of work. Without that you have a tougher fight ahead of you in convincing a court that whatever it is was your and yours alone to begin with. If you can manage that then you are good to go in fighting someone for stealing your work. Saying that letting someone use your computer gives them a “right” to whatever they find on there is like saying letting them into your house gives them a “right” to take your television (it doesn’t).

As mentioned before the person stealing your work does not need to profit from the theft themselves to liable for the theft. In effect they damaged your ability to make money from the work so the damage is done and you can collect on that (assuming this can all be proven in court).

I suppose I should provide the context for that quote in the OP (which is about 2/3 of the way down page 10 of the linked thread).

Imagine a world without copyright as it exists today–a world where an author is the only person allowed to profit from his work, but where anyone may copy and distribute it noncommercially. (However, it would not be legal to distribute works that were obtained illegally, e.g. by breaking and entering, fraud, hacking into someone’s computer, etc.) Should everything be free to copy, or is some material so private that it deserves special protection?

In the linked thread, I posted that if a law were passed to protect privacy, making it illegal to share medical records and such, I’d agree with extending that to works of a private nature such as diaries. yosemitebabe claimed that contradicted my beliefs on copyright, and the quote in the OP was my response.

I agree, yosemitebabe. No one has a right to take things from your home. Whether or not copying a photo is actionable is another question completely.

Now, if someone sees a poem or photo while a guest in your home, and subsequently is inspired to wirte his own poem, or stage a really cool photo, then that should be OK.

And yes, it makes a huge difference if the guest asks permision. In fact, I think it makes all the difference.

Well, not that I want to drag that whole Pit thread into this one (I was deliberately trying to keep it simply as a “privacy” issue), but let’s give everyone here some more in context quotes. On Page 8 of the Pit thread, I asked and Mr2001 answered thus:

We also extended this discussion to include photos developed at photo labs, paintings framed at framing shops, and stuff in people’s houses (that weren’t locked up). All these things seemed to him to be acceptable to copy, as long as no breaking in was involved, as long as no contracts were signed promising not to copy, and as long as no profit was made from the distribution of the copies.

The thread continued for about 1-2 pages more until Mr2001 conceded that yes, there should be “exceptions” for extremely private documents.

I wanted to keep this debate separate from a discussion of copyright—as I have specifically stated a few times already. I simply wanted to know if people felt that all the things in their house were “private” (regardless of the content of the things—for instance, even if they are a picture of a rock or a rap song). Or, do they think that some things are more “private” than other things? And if that were the case, would it would be “acceptable” for someone to copy off something they had in their house and share it with others, as long as it wasn’t private enough? (As in the lady copying off some of her friend’s stuff and sharing it with her coworkers.)

The thing I’ve been asking is, are all the things in a person’s house “private” and therefore should be protected, or only “certain” things?

It’s the “in a person’s house” that is the key phrase here. (And also, things like film being developed, paintings being framed, etc.)

Yes, that is the crux of the matter for me as well.

Only certain things. For example, here on my desk I have several movie tickets (not private), some notes with account numbers (private), some notes to myself about mundane topics (not private), some pay stubs (private), some business cards (not private), etc.

The fact that you keep something in your house is evidence supporting the argument that it’s private, but it’s just one piece of evidence. You must also consider the content of the item, and the care you take in deciding who gets to see it - if you routinely throw big parties at your house and show something to dozens of strangers, for example, then it can’t be very private.

That seems like a contradiction. Please explain the connection between stuff inside your house and film being developed at a photo lab, which I presume is not inside your house.

I can see how a visitor to the photo lab is analogous to a visitor in your home, but I don’t think you’d agree that the photo lab owner should be able to distribute copies of your photos.

Okay, but it should be pretty obvious that the “private” stuff we are specifically talking about are works created by the residents of the house (and usually creative in nature, such as artwork, writings, and photographs). To refresh your memory:

So, could you offer some examples of stuff created by the residents of the house that are not private? Once again, reminding you of what you wrote previously in the Pit thread:

And regarding photo labs:

The photos taken to the photo lab are still the same stuff (created by the owners of the house). The photos have been temporarily been taken to a shop for the purpose of being “worked on” or “processed.” If they were not “processed,” they’d just be a strip of film residing inside a small round lightproof metal case, and would be pretty useless to the owner. They still remain the property of the original owner, and are not generally “published” nor “put on public display” when they are being developed. They are also creative works that are the individual property of one person. They also can be (and frequently are) relatively “private” in nature. Family photos being a very common theme in photos being processed in a photo lab.

So, it still boils down to the original premise of the OP: Is some of the “stuff” in someone’s house (or temporarily out of it, being “processed”) less “private” than other “stuff”? (And bear in mind my definition of “stuff” as described in the OP and repeated above.) And if some “stuff” is not as private, would it be acceptable to have a visitor come in and copy it and then share it with others?

Also, who gets to decide what “stuff” is private enough to not be copied and shared with others?

Most of my source code isn’t private (even the code I haven’t shared), nor are any of my drawings (cartoons and icons) or animations (Flash), or most of the photos I’ve taken (construction work and kittens… a few of my vacation pics are private). And of course I have several notes to myself around here with nothing private on them, which I guess are technically copyrighted.

Then it seems to me that the house has nothing to do with it, and you’re really asking about things that a person creates and doesn’t intend to give away, because I don’t think you’d care whether they’re normally kept in a house, a car, a storage locker, a wallet, or even on someone else’s property. Surely you don’t believe your boss would be justified in copying and redistributing a photo or drawing you keep in your desk drawer at work.

Yes and yes.

The same people who decide what the difference is between “fair use” and “copyright infringement”: judges or juries working with the specific facts in a case brought before them, basing their decision on guidelines such as those I’ve described.

Mr2001, I don’t understand why you think that the film people get developed should be subject to “publication” (barring a contract) just because someone else has “access” to it. Or framing shops, or similar services.

I don’t understand why you would want to change privacy laws so that stuff in someone’s private residence could legally be copied and published, against the owner’s wishes. If the owner and creator of the thing wanted it published and shared, they’d have done it themselves. Each person has their own idea of what is “private” enough. Some people’s lives are an open book. Others don’t mind sharing to family and friends, but wouldn’t want the whole world to see. Others may want to bide their time and publish something they’ve been working on, but only after many edits–and having an earlier version published against their wishes would spoil things for them, and also, possibly, for their potential future audience.

But I assume that you’d want this to be the law of the land someday, if copyright laws were changed? That anyone who had “access” to someone else’s creative work (unfinished, semi-autobiographical, whatever), well, copy away? And if the author or creator of the work was unhappy that the work was shared, well, let the courts sort it out, after the damage was done. Because the default assumption would be that it’s legal to copy and publish stuff found in someone else’s house.

I daresay that most everyoone would find it all quite ludicrous–to have the concept of “privacy” warped so much, (and privacy laws changed so much) just to accomodate some people who want to “share” someone else’s work against their will.

Well, you already know my views on copyright. This fits in pretty well with the rest of them, so I don’t see what there is not to understand.

To me, the fact that a work is found in someone’s private residence is beside the point, except as one piece of evidence that a work is private. (It looks like it’s beside the point to you too, since you didn’t object to that part of my last post.)

Yes, and that’s the problem with letting people hoard their works simply by calling them private - some people will call everything private.

Well, it’s a nice goal. Copyright reform won’t happen until enough people support it… so please, visit your local music store and donate a few bucks to the RIAA Foundation to Convince People Copyright Holders are Thugs. :wink:

Is the default assumption today that any use of a copyrighted work is “fair use”? I think not. There’s no strict definition of fair use, but there are fairly clear guidelines, so you can guess pretty well whether a certain use is fair use.

Do you mean copyright laws? I wasn’t aware there was already a law against sharing people’s works based on “privacy”.

Yosemite, After reading this thread, I am struck by the question:

What exactly do you mean by protection? Are you talking about things that should be protected by law, or are you suggesting other forms of protection?

Well, all I have to say to this is that I suspect to most of us, the fact that it is in the home, and is unpublished and not released to the public means that it is not “beside the point.”

“Hoarde”? Why can’t people have different standards of privacy? Why can’t people create things (even things that don’t meet your definition of “private”) and still desire them to be private? Should not the individual’s choice take precedence over outsiders, when it comes to stuff that they make and that is in their home? Or is all “privacy” up for debate, and not up to the individual to decide? Do you want someone else to always decide what is “private enough” for each individual? You mean that they aren’t entitled decide for themselves?

When people publish something, they understand that their work may be subject to “fair use.” What you seem to want is that when someone creates anything, it will be subject to publication, against their will. I think that’s a very harsh and unacceptable standard to expect people to tolerate, and I daresay you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who will tolerate it.

There’s been no need for that, since unpublished items found in the home are, by default, “private.” I don’t see why you want to change that, or feel that strangers are better equipped to decide for an individual what is or is not private enough for them.

Because you think people are “hoarding” stuff? Why do they owe the rest of the world their stuff? Where do we draw the line? I mean, if you want to go down that road, why aren’t everyone’s lives an open book, then? Why are we allowed any form of “privacy” at all? We all “hoarde” parts of our lives. The nerve!

Yes, I mean things that should (and currently are) protected by law should remain protected.

Mr2001 and at least one other Doper appear to prefer that these protections (that we currently take for granted) be removed from us. They apparently think that if someone can get access to our creative works, then they should legally be allowed to publish the work, without our permission and against our will.

So how about actually addressing my point? If you create a work (say, a photograph) and you keep it in your desk drawer at work, is your boss entitled to make and distribute copies of it? Is it no longer “private”?

Because then “privacy”, in this sense, would be just another word for copyright.

I think we should define “privacy” here. Clearly we aren’t talking about the same kind of “privacy” that’s violated by someone eavesdropping outside your bedroom window.

I’m interested in protecting works that contain sensitive financial and medical information, and works that would result in public humiliation or legal problems if they were distributed. (I’m sure there’s more to add to that list that I haven’t thought of.) I’ll even take into account the effort the creator put into hiding her work from other people, as evidence that she considered it private enough to warrant protection.

But I’m not interested in protecting a work simply because someone wants to define her own terms for letting other people use it. That’s copyright.

Yes, and when they create something, they’ll understand that it may be subject to distribution unless it’s private. Fair use doesn’t only apply to published works, although whether a work is published is an important factor in deciding whether a use is fair use.

Do you happen to have a cite for that? What law makes it illegal to copy things you find in someone else’s home?

They don’t. They can keep their work someplace where other people won’t see it.