What I've observed over and over is the following disconnected conversations:
H: They aren't legally obligated. S: Doesn't matter, it's just not right. H: Of course it matters, they aren't legally obligated, so why should they? S: They should because it is the right thing to do. H: So? They would lose time and money if they did it. S: They will lose trust if they don't.
Last year at the Community Roundtable discussion I held at the Web 2.0 Expo/Open, this matter came up over and over. Heather Champ, one of my favourite community managers in the whole wide world said the following:
"Well, there is legally right and then there is right."
In referring to treatment of the Flickr community members. It totally stuck with me. Say that a member is angry and wants their money back. Flickr isn't legally obligated to return it to them, but if they feel the person is justified in their anger, they will do it. (not the example Heather gave)
Too often, we fall back on the head (sounds funny, doesn't it?) and disregard the heart in matters of community.
Head = legal, economic, logical, linear arguments and solutions - mostly cut and dried Heart = ethical, social, emotional, complex arguments and solutions - fuzzy in nature
Leaning too far one way or the other can lead to real issues...and has. Usually it is the head with it's uber logical outcomes that end up making everyone feel forced upon and crappy. IMO, legal rulings in communities very rarely satisfy any of the parties. Sort of a lose-lose outcome. A zero sum game where even the 'winners' end up losing because they lose the trust and the closeness of the community. In the same vein, emotional solutions can run amok. They could potentially provide no outcome, constantly battling and escalating. Too much into 'ethics' and we get judgement casting as well. Grey areas and mobs can get very scary.
But if you combine the two, it works nicely. An airline isn't legally obligated to issue an apology and/or a voucher to their customers after being delayed by snowstorms, but they could win alot of future business by doing so. Here, the airline is driven by both the right thing to do (heart), plus an economic incentive (head). A blogger isn't legally obligated to link to the post they are quoting, but does so because it is the right thing to do (heart) AND it drives traffic from the trackbacks (head) and goodwill in the community (heart), which leads to future link returns (head). The Richter Scales weren't legally obligated to attribute all of the photographers, but it was the ethical thing to do (heart), which would have probably led to more of the photographers promoting the work themselves (head) and avoided the whole legal mess (head).
None of these are purely ethical decisions and shouldn't have to be. In the case of blogging, the blogosphere itself has made it abundantly known that linking is essential to the survival and acceptance of one's blog. There is no 'law' anywhere except for, perhaps, a community enforced one. There have been hundreds of blogs over the years that have received the community wrath and been set in place...sometimes politely, sometimes aggressively...so that they would follow the 'rules' and attribute and link content. The most cited reason? Well, I haven't empirically checked this, but my gut (heart) tells me that these bloggers are reasoned with on the level of "without attribution, you won't get any links back to you." (head)
A while back, I read Sir Ken Robinson's wonderful book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, in which he talks about how much has been lost as our world has become more and more logical and scientific. Of course, the world PRE-scientific revolution was a mess of corruption and greed, driven by the religious institutions enforcing 'ethics' in their own best interest. If only we could let the pendulum swing to the balanced middle...or somewhere around the middle. Things like Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence matter very much and are just as vital as logic and I.Q. As human beings, we are rarely, if ever, black and white. We are all sorts of shades of all colours.
I was totally honoured a while back when one of my heroes, John Coate, wrote me note saying:
"I must say that I have to marvel at your output. Always so interesting with such mind/heart balance."
I think it was the best compliment I've ever received. This balance is important to me and I really work hard to achieve it (although I think I tip to heart more often).
Capitalism needs heart and head, too. The dichotomies that exist in the current incarnation are hard on everyone. I see nothing wrong with doing something good that leads to financial income as well. And I think all companies with a concentration on the 'bottom line' should be more careful about their responsibility to the community and the environment if they really want to succeed over the long term. The balance is win-win for everyone.
Personally, I believe that we are headed for a great balancing of the world. I have real faith that it is happening and those who fail to recognize it will be left behind. Opposites DO attract. And they work very well together. :)