Ethics and Intellectual Property


Hey folks,

A student (Andrew Mishoe) mailed me with a few links related to our discussion today.  Enjoy and/or post follow-ups below:

1) Difference between ethics and morals:
Brief discussion here:
1. Ethics relates to a society whereas morality relates to an individual person.
2. Ethics relate more in a professional life while morals are what individuals follow independently

2) Discussion on intellectual property rights in other countries:

Basically you can try to register you property in those countries, but some might not have any enforcement mechanism in place.

I think these two topics might spurn some good conversation on the blog.


22 Responses to “Ethics and Intellectual Property”

  1. Chris Mungol Says:

    Yeah, just to reiterate, Ethics can be thought to have two main connotations. Basically one being moral principles that govern a person’s or groups behavior and another being a field of study that focus on the reasoning about how we ought to act.

    Ethical frameworks can be used to provide principles or guidelines for the analysis of ethical issues. There are more but maybe you can find these three useful in any ethical analysis: (i) deontological or nonconsequentialist: duty and absolute rules, such as “do not lie” (ii) natural rights: lesser rule and to respect a set of fundamental rights such as life, liberty, and property (iii) Utilitarianism or consequentialist: to increase happiness or utility (ask yourself what satisfies personal needs and values).

  2. Andrew Mishoe Says:

    When I started at GT in 2003, the argument of music downloads was really prevalent. It was interesting to literally see classes almost overwhelmingly say that they thought it was fine. It seems like the real kicker is simply that people don’t put the same worth on a “digital copy” verses the “physical copy”.

    Also, there seems to be a consensus that if you’re not really a “pirate” if you’re not trying to sell it. I guess in this country though, you don’t really have the local store with pirated copies of Matlab or whatever like you might in some foreign markets.

    • Kevin Ziegler Says:

      It has always seem to me that one of the major distinctions between the digital copy and physical copy is that if I steal a physical CD, the owner of that CD has been deprived of something. In contrast, if I copy (pirate) a digital version I do this without depriving the holder of the original copy of anything.

      The counter to this is of course that the original holder is deprived in that they have lost a sale, but this goes down a rabbit hole about would the person have bought the item if they couldn’t have acquired it for free, but this is entirely in the realms of intellectual musing.

      • Antonio Says:

        I see how people say that making copies leads to lost sales but it is lost sales to the music companies because the singers don’t lose as much as the recording companies. I beleive that downloading music has forced artist to produce better music. Before when you had to but a cd to hear a song you liked. The whole cd was purchased and maybe it only had about 2 good songs. Now you can just get the song you like and forget about the rest. So, they aren’t being compensated for their bad music. Also, if the artist wants to make more money then the can five more concerts.

      • richde Says:

        Hmm. I don’t think this is a defensible position. What you are saying is that stealing a cake is justified because the baker charges too much for it.

      • Rohit Sinha Says:

        What Antonio is saying does not necessarily mean that they are stealing the few songs that they like. Different services like iTunes, allow you to download only the songs that you like for a fraction of the cost of what you would pay to buy the entire CD. So yes the artist are only going to be paid for the good songs that they are making now since people have the choice to pick which songs that they would like to acquire.

  3. Michael Qin Says:

    I don’t understand how not having a physical copy is any better. Why should a copy of Matlab obtained by torrent be any more morally upright than one bought on a pirated copy from a local store? Moreover, even without being a pirate, an illegal download still hurts the company making the product, and suppose all of their customers decide to download it, then there wouldn’t be anyone profiting but the maker will still lose just as much revenue as if someone sold pirated copies.

  4. Andrew Mishoe Says:

    Michael, in my previous post, I didn’t state that one was morally better than the other, just musing over why people don’t feel like it’s the same. Yes, you could argue for days about money lost, and whether if it was not possible to illegally download something if everyone would go buy it. To my previous point, I would bet that a high percentage of people who download copyright media probably wouldn’t go meet somebody in an empty parking lot and buy it out of their trunk. That’s all I was getting at in describing the two scenarios.

  5. Kelsey Francis Says:

    I think people would absolutely go meet somebody in an empty parking lot and buy pirated media out of the back of a trunk if they could do so with relative safety and without any real fear of retribution, either by government or by the copyright holder, as is the case in places like PRC.

    • Andrew Mishoe Says:

      that’s a big if…basically, if they knew they wouldn’t get in trouble for it.

      • Kelsey Francis Says:

        But it’s not a “big if” at all in PRC. It’s business as usual, which I think indicates that people are very willing to acquire copyrighted material in illegitimate ways absent any real or perceived risk of punishment.

        If some vendor set up a cart on Peachtree and offers $3 copies of all the latest movies on Blu-Ray, and law enforcement made no effort or lacked the authority to stop this little enterprise, I’m certain he would sell movies to many, many people.

        I don’t buy that cultural or societal difference accounts for similar the behavior in PRC. It’s almost entirely the all-but-complete absence of government involvement.

  6. Franklin Moore Says:

    Interesting points made here. I think an interesting consequence of the piracy debate is our forced re-evaluation of the meaning of information, property rights, and what a product really is at the end of the day. Not long ago, it was easier: we had to buy CDs from a store and they were contained in plastic cases and wrapped in cellophane and… Now, we push a button and it’s in our iTunes library. It’s less personal, intangible, and our experience with the product changes.

    We can’t forget the power of capitalism: when a product is (even illegally) available for free, there’s little incentive to buy it, particularly when it’s so convenient and impersonal. That doesn’t make it right, but the same rarely stops a motivated consumer.

    Clearly the industries affected most by copyright infringement have yet to find a viable solution to piracy. Seems to me like it’s the responsibility of the media producer to choose a medium that’s as free from piracy as possible. Am I wrong in thinking this? Maybe some of us will get jobs tackling this very problem. 🙂

    • Andrew Mishoe Says:

      Agreed there isn’t going to be some moral awakening that people will suddenly stop downloading copyright materials. MPAA/RIA and company have changed courses from going after pirates, to going after websites that make piracy possible.

      To me a lot of these issues have arisen this past decade which has been dubbed the “digital age”. Suddenly a person’s private library of music has gone from say 100 CDs to 20,000 songs. A trend of consuming massive amounts of media has made piracy more prevalent.

      In the end, it really is a money matter between consumers and producers.

  7. David Colvin Says:

    I would like to analyze some common reasons for piracy: ease of use, cost, and availability.

    I think Products such as Itunes and other sites where you can legally buy music have reduced the “ease of use” motive to pirate music. Before such services existed, but after the invention of MP3 players, if you wanted to load your player you had to go to the store, buy a CD, rip it, then load it on the player. Now people can buy one or more songs with the press of a button from anywhere.

    Personally I think music could be cheaper, especially now that there is a super cheap distribution system. That would combat piracy.

    I read about a program movie producers started in China to sell cheaper copies of it’s movies without all the DVD extras, to try and compete with pirated copies.

    The other aspect of Piracy is the “New Release” crowd. I know that producers want to delay the DVD release to sell movie tickets, but they should weigh that against money lost to early pirated DVD releases. I like to posit that the people that go to the movies are a different crowd than the people that buy DVDs.

    • Hubert Liu Says:

      Most people I’ve talked to that actually buy DVDs (like myself) are interested in the extra content. Also, it’s nice to be able to watch it on a TV without having to worry about codecs working, sound of sync, etc.

    • John Kuipers Says:

      One might argue that, even if they sold music for a penny, there would still be people that wouldn’t want to pay for it. A lower price might help to combat piracy, but it probably wouldn’t eliminate it completely.

    • Ryan Paulsen Says:

      Along the ease of use line, something that has changed just in the last year or so is the DRM free MP3 marketplaces (Amazon, Napster, and now ITunes) which probably helped.

      You may still be paying 99 cents, but at least you really own the file now (you don’t have to worry about licenses and moving it to a mp3 player or another machine). Some people that may have been driven to pirated music because of the annoyances of DRM can feel a little better purchasing the newer DRM free tracks for the same price.

  8. Abhishek Chhikara Says:

    I think that entertainment stuff like music and softwares for academic purposes like MATLAB could be differentiated in this regard. Such softwares should be distinguished on whether they are used for educational or business purposes.There is exemption in certain cases if the software is used for academic purpose and not for further distribution, but there should be more flexibility amongst those, this would help in promoting an open learning environment…

    • Michael Qin Says:

      The point about an open learning environment is certainly true, but shouldn’t the makers of the educational software be paid just as people in the entertainment industry are?

  9. Glennis Corby Says:

    Once you purchase a song or a book or a movie, do you have perpetual rights to that content, digitally shifting it from one device to another, never needing to rebuy all your stuff in order to have it in some new format?

    Take for instance the Kindle or the Sony Reader; if you wanted a new book on your device but it had just come out and is not yet offered in digital format would it be unethical to purchase the hard cover book and then go online and get a pirated version of the book, in digital format, for free? Technically you have paid for the right to own and read the book as many times as you want. When the digital version eventually comes out it won’t cost more than what you paid for the hard copy—it will cost less! So you are not taking money away from the author/publisher, you paid for the book. Is it still wrong because you may be endorsing the act of piracy by gaining something from people who illegally pirate books?

    • richde Says:

      You have to read the license agreements to know. Copyright law says you can make “fair use” of what you purchase but crossing media types probably would not be considered fair use. Why? Authors are paid differently based on the type of media so buying cheap e-version should give you rights to expensive paper version of books.

  10. Paul Beresuita Says:

    Glennis- I clearly see your point, but I also think that getting a pirated version of an ebook you are taking away money from other people(maybe Sony or Kindle get a share of that sale) that might be involved in getting you that content. I also found an article of the 10 most pirated eBooks for the year 2009 and it’s surprising to see what books are actually being downloaded.

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