Congress and the misgivings of Copyright

Rob Reid gave a comical speech in a 2012 TED Talk about the numerical side of piracy. In his speech he brings up numbers derived from many sources that quantify loses from piracy. One such statistic is the estimated $58 billion loss from piracy every year, a number which originated at a Think Tank called the “Institute for Policy Innovation” shorted to IPI for the rest of the article. From this IPI came a number of op-eds related to piracy and the potential losses accumulated over the last decade, such as 373,000 jobs lost which is debatable since the overall employment of people in the Entertainment industry is slightly less than that. An interesting point Reid makes is the value of a downloaded song. The Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 laid down a hard maximum penalty for copyright infringement of a single song at $150,000. This number designated by congress would mean that an IPod Classic full of pirated songs would have a total value of $8 million. If you however purchased the songs at the average price of $1.29 from Itunes your IPod would sadly only be worth $67,889.57, not even half the maximum fine for pirating a single song. Simple math makes it painfully obvious Congress doesn’t know how to handle digital theft, and the lobbyist for entertainment companies are equally guilty. There is so much at stake in Reid’s 5 minute video it is hard to imagine he addressed half of the problems relating to how the government handles digital crime.

Copyright: Forever Less One Day” is a video on youtube made by youtuber CGPgrey, an educator in the UK who makes educational videos for the internet in his free time. In this video GCPgrey (Grey) goes into a detailed breakdown of what copyright is and how it came to be as insane as it is today. In 1710 the Statue of Ann came into effect in the UK which gave artist and authors the right to make money from their creations for a limited period of time. When America created its constitution it gave the congress the same power. When entered into the Constitution copyright lasted 28 years, however in 1831 it increased to 32 years, in 1909 to 56 years, in 1976 to the lifetime of the author plus 50 years and finally in 1998 to the lifetime of the author plus 75 years.  This means Tarzan written in 1911 is still not open to public domain, and the first Harry Potter book won’t be in the public domain until around 2116. Grey explains this concept was pushed by companies like Disney to ensure there wouldn’t be a better version of their movies made in the distant future. The original point of Copyright law was to increase incentive for authors to write more content however limiting access to ideas over 100 years old is doing the opposite. The implications of these ridiculous copyright laws gives direction to the improper usage of copyrighted material. If copyright had stayed where it started maybe people wouldn’t go to illegal means to use those materials.

“The internet is changing the way we communicate” a powerful line from the opening paragraph of “The Internet, cyberethics and virtual morality” written by Robert Hauptman and Susan Motin. In their paper they address many concerns with how the internet is changing our lives and how we should not let it shape our actions. “They are particularly harmful if they allow us to confuse reality with a nonexistent universe where unethical actions are permitted” talking about Cyberspace and virtual reality, Hauptman and Motin take note of the duality of the internet and want to prevent us from partaking in harmful actions. Surprisingly their paper addresses many of the concerns I have about my inquiry and provides solutions to several of them. They take an insiders approach trying to lay down the laws of ethics governing the internet and offer a set of rules to abide by in order to make cyberspace a better place. This is the firs paper I found that wants to solve the problem of cyberethics instead of just noting it and moving on. They close their paper with a statement that could not speak better to my inquiry, ” We must police ourselves and act in accordance with the same ethical principles and procedures that are operative in our lives generally”. They believe that it is up to us to govern ourselves on the internet in order for it to grow as a medium we must put order above our own desires to continue into a brighter technological age.

For my last source I looked to a new side of the spectrum and found a neat article about cyber-smearing. “Rash impulsivity, vengefulness, virtual-self and amplification of ethical relativism on cyber-smearing against corporations” is an article written by Michael Workman where he talks about how cyber-smearing —  the intentional effort to damage the reputation of an individual or corporation using the Internet as the medium — affects corporations. Workman addresses an issue I am concerned about but from the perspective of large corporations, a side of the argument I had not considered. He conducted research on how people behave when commenting online about companies and found that “simply because people post anonymously or with aliases online frequently, does not mean they are cyber smearing”. This research shows that people don’t post harmful comments just because they are anonymous, instead there are people who use anonymity for privacy reasons. We should not blanket statement concerns about anonymity in cyberspace because Workman makes valid points about the need for privacy in such a large space. Instead he believes regulations should be in place in workplaces to prevent cyber-smearing by employees and using legal means to deal with traceable smearers outside the company. Workman provided me new insight on how anonymous posting can harm businesses and while he takes a stricter approach than I think necessary, he still makes good points on how cyber-smearing and potentially cyber-bullying should be handled.

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Internet Morality

Over the past few decades the internet has risen in popularity. In this modern era of constant internet availability it isn’t uncommon for young people to do things via the internet that they would never do in person. I’d like to address some issues involving internet piracy. In a study done by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers, 200 college students were asked to respond to scenarios involving shoplifting a music record or pirating the record online. A majority of the students were against shoplifting and questioned why legal means weren’t pursued, yet almost nobody had an issue with pirating the CD. This raises concerns to me about how we view internet laws. To the eyes of the music producer there isn’t a difference between stealing a physical or digital copy, but to a large amount of people digital theft isn’t even a crime. I believe this is an issue of great importance considering how prevalent the internet is in our daily lives.

Intrinsic value is a key factor in how I believe people see piracy. The value of a file of music is technically only the value of the amount of data it takes to store it, which has no set price. Many consider data space to have no intrinsic value, this would mean that the pirated file wouldn’t have any value and basically wouldn’t be stealing right? I suppose that is one argument for why we see piracy differently but the effects of piracy on the media industry are the same if not worse than shoplifting. I say worse because when it isn’t seen as a problem it will happen more frequently and have a greater impact than a socially unacceptable action like shoplifting would have. The action of piracy hurts the people who produce media, which in turn means they will produce less media which will hurt consumers who enjoy their products. A reason why I’m so interested in this is that I spend a lot of my time reading Manga online, which is a form of piracy, and my favorite manga got axed early because the piracy rate in its native country was too high for the author to continue writing it. I admit I am guilty of a form of piracy, however I do not have access to what I read since most of it isn’t in English so it gets translated online then posted for non-native speakers to read. The fact that I do not think that is wrong is proof of the seriousness of piracy in our society.

I’d like to focus my inquiry in three main directions. The first being what would it take for us as a society to see the internet as an extension of reality and not an alternate realm. Followed by why do we see piracy and shoplifting as different things altogether. And finally why we feel safe breaking laws online compared to in reality.  Another possible topic since the overall goal is to improve internet morality would be why we tolerate cyber-bullying more so than physical bullying. There are many problems with ethics on the internet that need to be addressed before it reaches its full potential and I believe these are the most visible issues.