Digital Rights Management and Ethics

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A prevalent issue in our society that often makes me question my own moral standards is the topic of intellectual property rights, as it relates to music downloads via the internet. In recalling my youth, I remember when this issue was of no concern to major record labels that produce and distribute musical compositions. Originally, there was not a convenient or cost effective way for the consumer to make copies of vinyl records. When the magnetic cassette tape became the industry standard, the technology was now available for the masses to produce copies of their purchased music for distribution.

Established copyright laws that protect the recording industry's intellectual property from infringement have been in place for many decades. However, these corporations did not initially enforce them when new technology, that was easily accessible to public, became widely available. I suspect that this decision was based on cost benefit analysis of legally enforcing their rights. Moreover, the duplication process, by today's digital standards, was rudimentary. The process of duplicating a magnetic tape can be correlated to making a photo static copy of document – the copy is never quite a good as the original, and subsequent generations of copies will have lesser quality still.

Initially, it was not beneficial to the record companies' profitability to legally enforce their rights by seeking legal damages against those individuals who copied, distributed, or used for pleasure or profit, musical compositions without compensating the record companies. However, digital technology has advanced to the point that music duplication has no deteriorating effect on multiple generations of copies, and it has adversely affected the long term profitability of these corporations. The distribution, or sharing, of music is completely digital via the internet, which has made it easier for record companies to gather information on the illegal dissemination of their...
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