Cis 324 Computer Ethics

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Ethics of Peer to Peer downloading
and
Sharing
Strayer University

Abstract
In the short time that computers and internet have existed in the modern era, the world has seen a complete 360 degree turn and in the various forms of electronic entertainment that people all over the world are now using. In the days before CD’s, DVD’s and the internet, not much was said if a vinyl album (remember these?), VHS cassette (or these?) or an audio cassette was loaned to a friend for their listening / viewing pleasure, but today with the availability of sending an email with three or four megabytes (mb) of information, one can enjoy a borrowed song but is assumed that it is piracy or stealing. Is this a fair assumption? This Author will not give his opinion but rather discuss both sides of the Peer to Peer (P2P) downloading and sharing issues and let the reader form their own opinions.

Peer downloading and Sharing:
Definition and History
“Peer-to-Peer” technology, what is meant when this phrase is mentioned in the world of electronic entertainment or computers? Usually in today’s environment, this phrase has a negative connotation assigned to it, but this phrase deserves a deeper investigation into all aspects of the concept. Peer-to-Peer technology is defined by the textbook of this class as “technology which permits easy transfer of files over the Internet by large numbers of strangers without a centralized system or service.” (Baase, 2008)When this definition is read, does it imply an impartial connotation or is the definition insinuating that this technology is wrong without some form of centralized system or service? Who knows? This is up to the reader to decide, but much probably depends on the readers personal opinion on the matter. With the textbook’s definition stated, what is actually meant by P2P technology? In Basic English, P2P technology is the ability share / loan / give an electronic file of any sort, be it music, software, video or documents, with anyone that is logged onto to the same server or network as the person in possession of the file.

Another important definition that needs to be stated is that of “Copyrights.” Copyrights are defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as “: the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work)” (Merriam-Webster 2011) Again in Basic English this translates to that the original owner of a product has all rights to make profits from their product or service. But, there is always a but, as this definition does not state, do these legal rights apply to the sharing of a product or service and thereby not making a profit from the product?

There seems to be two main questions that need to be answered and they are: 1) What is the legal definition of “sharing?” and 2) What is the legal definition of “making a profit?” It would seem that until someone legally defines these, this will be the never ending question that will continue plague the electronic world of entertainment. These two questions will be discussed later in this document.

As with many things in life and technology, when these ideas and concepts were initially invented or designed, apparently these people did not look to the future and what may become of these ideas or designs. When the initial copyright law was passed in 1790, computers, MP3’s and various other forms of electronic technology did not exist and this law only covered books, maps and charts and protected them for 14 years. (Baas, 2008) It wasn’t for almost 130 years that the US Congress updated the law to include photos, sound recording, and movies but again nothing is done to define profit or sharing as it relates to this topic of conversation. As time has passed, various countries, including the USA, have passed and enforced stricter laws, mostly in favor of the entertainment industry. i.e. copyright infringement, illegal sharing of...
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