Information technology has presented legislators and lawyers and you with some new ethical matters regarding rights to intellectual property. Intellectual property consists of the products of the human mind, tangible or intangible. There are three methods of protecting intellectual property. They are patents (as for an invention), trade secrets (as for a formula or method of doing business), or copyrights. Of principal interest to us is copyright protection. A copyright is a buddy of law that prohibits copying of intellectual property without the permission of the copyright holder. The law protects books, articles, pamphlets, music, art, drawings, movies, and other expressions of ideas. It also protects computer software. A copyright protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself. Thus, others may copy your idea for say a new shoot-em-up video game but not your particular variant of it. Copyright protection is automatic and lasts a minimum of 50 years; you do not have to register your idea with the government (as you do with a patent) in order to receive protection.
These matters are important because the digital age has made the act of copying far easier and more convenient than in the past. Copying a book on a photocopying machine might take hours, so people felt they might as well buy the book. Copying a software program onto another diskette might take just second copyright law doesn’t specifically protect copyright material online. Copyright experts say laws haven’t kept pace with technology, especially digitization, the process of converting any data-sound, video, text-into a surge of ones and zeros that are then transmitted over computer networks. Using this technology, it’s possible to create an infinite number of copies of a book, a record, or a movie and distribute them to millions of people around the world at very little cost. Unlike photocopies of books or pirated audiotapes the digital copies are virtually identical to the original.
Three copyright-related matters deserve our attention: software and networks piracy, plagiarism, and ownership of images and sounds.
# Software and network piracy: It may be hard to think of yourself as a pirate (no sword or eye patch) when all you’ve done is make a copy of some commercial software for a friend. However, from an ethical stand point, an act of piracy is like shoplifting the product off a store shelf-even if it’s for a friend.
Piracy is theft or unauthorized distribution or use. A type of piracy is to appropriate a computer design or program. This is the piracy that apple computer claimed in a suit (since rejected) against Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, saying that items in its interface, such as icons and windows, had been copied. Software piracy is the unauthorized copying of copyrighted software. One way is to download a program from a network and make a copy of it. Network piracy is using electronic networks to distribute unauthorized copyrighted materials in digitized form. Record companies, for example, have protested the practice of computer users’ sending unauthorized copies of digital recordings over the internet.
The easy rationalization is to say that I’m just a poor student, and making this one copy isn’t going to cause any harm. But it is the single act of software piracy multiplied millions of tines that is causing the software publishers a billion-dollar problem. They point out that the loss of revenue cuts into their budget for offering customer support, upgrading products, and compensating their creative people. Piracy also means that software prices be less likely to come down; if anything, they are more likely to go up.
In tine anti-copying technology may be developed that, when coupled with laws making the disabling of such technology a crime, will reduce the piracy problem. Regardless, publishers, broadcasters, movie studios, and authors must be persuaded to take chances on developing.
Online and multimedia versions of their intellectual products, such information providers need to be able to cover their costs and make a reasonable return. If not says one writer, the information superhighway will remain ‘’empty of traffic because no one wants to put anything in the road.
#plagiarism: plagiarism is the expropriation of another writer’s text finding or interpretations and presentation of it as one’s own. Information technology puts a new face on plagiarism in two ways. On the one hand it offers plagiarists new opportunities to go far afield for unauthorized copying. On the other hand the technology offers new ways to catch people who steal other people’s material.
Electronic online journals are not limited by the number of pages and so they can publish papers that attract a small number of readers. In recent years there has been an explosion in the number if such journals and of their academic and scientific papers. This proliferation may make will know if a similar paper has been plagiarized, since few readers will known if a similar paper has been published elsewhere.
Yet information technology can also be used to identify plagiarism. Scientist have used computers to search different documents for identical passages of text. In 1990 two ‘’fraud busters’’ at the national institutes of health alleged after a computer-based analysis that a prominent historian and biographer and committed plagiarism in his books. Phrases, was later exonerated in a scholarly investigations.
# Ownership of images and sounds: scanners, digital cameras, digital samplers, and computers make it possible to alter images and sounds to be almost anything you want. What does this mean for the original copyright holders? An unauthorized sound snippet of James Brown’s famous howl can be electronically transformed by digital sampling into the background music got dozens of rap recordings. Images can be appropriated by scanning them into a computer system, then altered or placed in a new context.
The line between artistic license and infringement of copyright is not always clear-cut in 1993 a federal appeals court in New York upheld a ruling against artist Jeff Koon’s for producing ceramic art of some puppies. It turned out that the puppies were identical to those that had appeared in a postcard photograph copyrighted by a California photographer. But what would have been the judgment if Koon’s had scanned in the postcard, changed the colors and rearrange the order of the puppies? In any event, to avoid lawsuits for violating copyright growing numbers of artists who have recycled material have taken steps to protect themselves. This usually involves paying flat fees or a percentage of their royalties to the original copyright holders.