Purpose – The paper suggests overcoming the polarization of today's debate on peer‐to‐peer (P2P) systems by defining a fair balance between the principle of precaution and the principle of openness. Threats arising from these file sharing applications‐systems should not be a pretext to limit freedom of research, speech or the right “freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”, as granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. The paper aims to take sides in today's debate. Design/methodology/approach – The paper adopts an interdisciplinary approach, including network theory, law and ethics. The method draws on both theoretical and empirical material so as to stress the paradox of the principle of precaution applied to P2P systems and why the burden of proof should fall on the party proposing that one refrain from action. Findings – Censors and opponents of P2P systems who propose to apply the principle of precaution to this case deny the premise upon which that principle rests. “Levels of evidence” required by the precautionary principle show that – in many cases in which the outcomes of technology are ignored – another principle is needed for orienting action, namely, the principle of openness. Social implications – Alarm about how P2P systems undermine crucial elements of the societies often led to the ban of this technology. The paper illustrates why it should not be the case: rather than shutting these networks down, they should be further developed. Originality/value – The paper provides the comprehensive picture of a far too often fragmented debate.
Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society – Emerald Publishing
Published: May 4, 2010
Keywords: Copyright law; Data security; Ethics; Privacy; Internet; Human rights