Copyright in a networked world: ethics and infringement

Publication Date01 Mar 2004
Pages106-110
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/07378830410524620
AuthorMichael Seadle
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
Copyright in a
networked world: ethics
and infringement
Michael Seadle
Property is theft.
(Proudhon, 1994)
The property which every man has in his own
labour ... is the most sacred and inviolable.
(Smith, 1976)
The categorical imperative ...is this: act according
to a maxim that can at the same time be valid as a
universal law.
(Kant, 1965)
Introduction
What are the ethical rules for intellectual
property? Is claiming exclusive ownership in
creative works a sacred and inviolable right, or
is it the theft of property that ought to be freely
available? Should the privileges of copyright
holders have the force of a universal law, or
should that law give precedence to the rights of
those using works for educational and scholarly
purposes?
The statutes themselves are not the only basis
for deciding whether an intellectual property
rights infringement has occurred. Ethical
judgments can influence judicial rulings about
whether or not an infringement was sufficiently
``willful'' to add extra penalties. Ethical
judgments about intellectual property can also
influence jobs, grades, and the respect that one
professional has for another.
Plagiarism, for example, is a universally
condemned form of intellectual property theft
within academic society. Its rules allow no fair
use exclusion for short passages like those
quoted (and footnoted) above, and its duration
has no limit. Authors like Proudhon, Smith,
and Kant retain their rights to attribution well
beyond the statutory life-plus-70 rule. Faculty
members can lose jobs because of plagiarism,
and plagiarism is an unexceptional reason for
failing a student.
Ethical rules are socially constructed norms
that can vary from segment to segment of
contemporary society. Presumably the students
who shared music using Napster and now
KaZaA do not share the sentiments of Jack
Valenti, president of the Motion Picture
Association of America, who argued that:
The author
Michael Seadle is Editor of
Library Hi Tech
and Copyright
Librarian and Assistant Director for Systems and Digital
Services, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan,
USA.
Keywords
Intellectual property, Copyright law, Statute law, Ethics
Abstract
The statutes themselves are not the only basis for deciding
whether an intellectual property rights infringement has
occurred. Ethical judgments can also influence judicial
rulings. This column looks at three issues of intellectual
property ethics: the nature of the property, written
guidelines for behavior, and enforcement mechanisms. For
most active infringers digital property seems unreal, the
rules ambiguous, and the enforcement statistically unlikely.
Electronic access
The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is
available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/0737-8831.htm
On copyright
Received 21 November 2003
Revised 26 November 2003
Accepted 5 December 2003
106
Library Hi Tech
Volume 22 .Number 1 .2004 .pp. 106-110
#Emerald Group Publishing Limited .ISSN 0737-8831
DOI 10.1108/07378830410524620

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