Where do you stand on digital media ethics?

Where do you stand on digital media ethics?

Summary: Help me wrestle with some ethical questions related to digital media. We can all agree that it's easy to make perfect copies of digital media, and that there's no such thing as an unbreakable copy protection scheme. But the fact that you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should. Does it?

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I'm back from vacation, digging through a pile of e-mail and snail mail and more packages than FedEx and UPS and USPS and I care to count. Anyway, while I try to find my desk under this mountain of paper and stuff, help me wrestle with some ethical questions related to digital media. We can all agree, I think, that it's easy to make perfect copies of digital media, and that there's no such thing as an unbreakable copy protection scheme. But the fact that you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should. Does it?

I'm not asking about criminal law or civil suits or the genuine evilness of DRM or the RIAA or Apple or Microsoft. For the sake of argument, let's assume that your risk of being arrested or sued for any of the activities listed here is zero. The real question is how you feel about the rightness and wrongness of personal actions when it comes to digital media. I use the words proper and OK in these questions, although I could also have chosen moral or ethical or right. Each of those words carries some sort of philosophical baggage that means more to some people than others, so if you feel there's a better way to ask the question, go ahead and rephrase it to your heart's content.

This isn't a "gotcha" exercise. I believe there is a legitimate range of answers to any of these questions, and I'm not looking for a consensus. I'm sure that at one extreme on this issue is a minority that believes all media should be completely free. They're counterbalanced by lawyers and executives in the entertainment industry who have some fairly radical notions and a long list of activities they would like to declare illegal. Most people, I suspect, fall somewhere between these extremes, which is why I ask these questions:

Take the full poll (11 questions)

  • Do you think it's proper to buy a CD, rip it to your hard drive, and then make copies for your own personal use on multiple devices or computers? Are there any types of copies that are more or less acceptable? Vote here
  • Do you think it's proper to buy a CD, rip it to your hard drive, and then trade in the CD at your local used-media store or online? Vote here
  • Is it OK to borrow a CD from a friend and rip it to your hard drive? Is it proper to buy a CD and make a copy for a friend? If your answer to either question is "sometimes" or "it depends," what are the circumstances that make it OK? Vote here
  • If you buy a DRM-protected track from an online music or video store like iTunes, is it proper to strip the DRM and make an unprotected backup copy? Vote here
  • If you rent a DVD from Netflix or Blockbuster, is it OK to make a copy before you return it? Vote here
  • If you miss an episode of your favorite TV program from a broadcast network, is it OK to download it from BitTorrent or a file-sharing network? Does it make a difference if it's a program from a subscription-only channel like HBO? What about if the same program is available for free with ads from an "official" website or for a charge from an online service? Vote here

I have my own ideas about some of these issues, but I don't want to prejudice anyone's answers. So I'll tally your votes and read your comments for a few days before posting my thoughts as a follow-up. Have at it.

Topics: Security, Hardware, Mobility

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  • Answers

    "Do you think it?s proper to buy a CD, rip it to your hard drive, and then make copies for your own personal use on multiple devices or computers?"

    Absolutely.

    "Do you think it?s proper to buy a CD, rip it to your hard drive, and then trade in the CD at your local used-media store or online?"

    No.

    "Is it OK to borrow a CD from a friend and rip it to your hard drive? Is it proper to buy a CD and make a copy for a friend? If your answer to either question is ?sometimes? or ?it depends,? what are the circumstances that make it OK?"

    No.

    "If you buy a DRM-protected track from an online music or video store like iTunes, is it proper to strip the DRM and make an unprotected backup copy?"

    This is technically illegal, but should not be.

    "If you rent a DVD from Netflix or Blockbuster, is it OK to make a copy before you return it?"

    No.

    "If you miss an episode of your favorite TV program from a broadcast network, is it OK to download it from BitTorrent or a file-sharing network? Does it make a difference if it?s a program from a subscription-only channel like HBO? What about if the same program is available for free with ads from an ?official? website or for a charge from an online service?"

    No.
    John L. Ries
    • DRM-protected track

      I answered no on the poll for that question, but it's a moot point because I would not buy a DRM-protected track from an online music store.
      John L. Ries
      • DRM-Protected track - Bravo!

        If everyone would vote with their respective pocketbooks, the RIAA would have to listen or go out of business!!

        They put all these ridiculous restrictions in place only because WE let them. Dont buy their product and they will have to change their rules or find something else to do.
        chris.pace@...
        • The real question is...

          ... do you think it was right for Music companies to state that they were only going to charge double the cost of albums (about $10) for CD's (over $20) for a few years when they first became available and then keep charging those high prices after people had bought CD players?

          I have no respect for those lying theives in the Music Industry. They caused people to look for a cheap way to make copies of CD's, and now they can't live with the consequences of their own actions.

          If they want to salvage their business they had better lower their prices so that it is not worth the bother to copy media.

          The movie industry has an advantage because they can both lower their prices and offer better quality. People would sooner buy a reasonably priced (about $5) HD DVD than copy one.

          Chasing after people who copy is like trying to catch the wind. Meanwhile good customers will become anoyed. Anyone still remember Sony's root kits? Why do I want to support a company that will do that?
          Information_z
          • agreed

            I completely agree. I have zero sympathy for the music industry. The movie industry is different. My two cents... garbage should be free. If what you release is garbage then it deserves to be free for the poor saps that purchased it.
            noahjwhite@...
          • Music vs Movie vs Game Industries

            All three play the same game - "Piracy is killing us!"

            I don't see alot of singers trading in their limos because of piracy...

            I don't see alot of movie stars giving up their private jets because of piracy...

            The video game industry explodes in growth every year - and in the United States it is now, as of this year, BIGGER AND WORTH MORE THAN THE MOVIE AND MUSIC INDUSTRIES COMBINED! Considering that the video game industry is only 20-25 years old, that is AMAZING! How could beating out 2 of the oldest institutions out there be considered "getting killed by piracy"?

            It's a joke to get your money. Nowadays, these 3 devils have even gotten legislation that prevents you from returning their products to the store! On a flimsy "you coulda-woulda-shoulda copied it" mentality. If I buy a music CD, a DVD, or a video game from the store and I don't like it, for any reason, I should have the right as a consumer to take it back.
            NeuromancerLV
          • Disagree

            You shouldnt be able to take something you decided to buy back simply because you decided later that you didnt like it. And that may also depend on the product too (food - no). If the product is defective, thats a different story. Maybe, as far as digital media is concerned, there should be a rule regarding how long it can be kept for before returning it. Personally though, if you consume it and lost your appetite after doing so, you shouldnt be allowed to return it. 2 cent
            JonWayn
      • Me neither

        I'm not buying music that I can not use, the same way I use my other regularly purchased music.

        Why should I? it's stupid ! If I pay to hear certain music from my favorite artist, I like to be able to use and hear it the way I'm used to. copy some songs to my mp3 to exercise, then mix a cd with only the songs that I like, from my purchased cd's to hear in my car, or make a mix for a party and any other way that I find suitable with what I purchased. I'm not giving away copies, I'm just using what is mine because I paid for it.
        rdelaplaza
        • Living in the past!

          I am afraid that the Music industry in particular is trying to take money from customers based on the old circumstances of their 80's monopoly of digital recordings on CD's.

          The movie industry has taken a much more friendly approach to the availability of home duplication, but still holds onto their old business model.

          I expect that one of the companies in one of those two industries will find that sweet spot where the price paid by customers is more attractive than the hassle of copying or taking copies from the internet.

          The movie industry has a great opportunity to roll a next-day-delivery mail order system of purchasing legit movies on Blue Ray or High Definition DVD's for about $5 a piece. They would drive the purchase of their format selection and control almost all of the profit themselves from their product. People would get more than they could get (quality wise) by copying. People would purchase large libraries of movies due to the lack of expense.

          The Music industry would have to sell their product for less (like $2 or $3) but has far smaller production costs so their profit margin would likely be similiar. They could create an improved quality or optioned CD (with audio information, extra tracks, optional surround sound or a video) that would increase the value of their product and make compressing it a less desirable option.

          The bottom line is attract customers. Scaring customers into your business model is a plan that is destined to fail. Reduce prices, make the product better, allow an easier way to get the product and encouraging high volume sales are the path to sustainability. Change or cease to exist..
          Information_z
          • You made several great points

            [i]They could create an improved quality or optioned CD (with audio information, extra tracks, optional surround sound or a video) that would increase the value of their product and make compressing it a less desirable option.
            [/i]

            Oh man! That was about the best thing I've read all day.

            Of course, that's silly. It's sooo much easier to track your ISP, get a John Doe warrant and hire your lawyers to sue people for a quarter of a million for 24 lousy songs.

            Hooray RIAA!
            Nickasshattery
          • It's already happening

            Here in India, a company named Moser Baer(the largest CD manufacturer in India) now makes VCDs and DVDs of movies available for 30 to 50 rupees(that's around 1 dollar). That's slightly more than what the pirates were selling their stuff for(a good CD-R alone costs around Rs.10, DVD-R around Rs.15), and suddenly it's cheaper(and safer) to get original Moser Baer CDs than buy from shady pirated media dealers or even make a copy from a rented DVD.
            balaknair
        • unbelievable

          I am surprise that most voted No to the first question. If I buy the darn thing to listen to, why shouldnt I be free to listen to it on any darn device I darn well choose - even if it means making MYSELF additional copies?
          JonWayn
      • DRM Protection

        In general, I believe that if I pay to license a piece of music for personal entertainment (i.e., buy a song), I should have the right to listen to that song anytime and on any media that I choose so long as it doesn't violate distribution or public performance rights. I feel DRM protected music prevents me from using the music that I paid for and thereforefor violates my own commerce rights and I would strip it if I could. Having said that, I think it is acceptable to enforce DRM protection rights if those protections are clearly spelled out in the accepatble use policy of the download site... in which case I would NEVER buy from that site!!!!!!
        Publisher_z
    • Lovely Moral Nonsensical Analysis

      NT
      Cayble
      • More input please

        Wasn't much analysis there at all; just straightforward answers to Ed's questions (that was before he posted his poll). Now if you have issues with my answers, then by all means...
        John L. Ries
    • Some material is NOT copyrighted

      Some material is just NOT copyrighted, or a copyright is openly waived. Sometimes the creator of mateial has advantages that way. I wouldn't deny them those advantages. I would encourage them.
      Tom Bl
      • I agree

        I assumed that Ed was referring to copyrighted material that the holder has not granted me permission to copy. Public domain and other freely copyable materials are a different matter altogether.
        John L. Ries
      • Good point.

        If the copyright owner explicitly permits Samizdat distribution, then that's absolutely
        fine.

        If the creator encourages it, but they are not the copyright owner, then copying the
        material may be illegal but it depends on the circumstances whether it's unethical.
        Resuna
      • Non copyrighted material

        I record (vcr-timer) TV shows especially of the PBS educational things that I know are for scholastic or educational use, and with this I have no troubles or guilt. I play them back at later times for my own education and enjoyment.

        As for ripping DVDs, yes I do..but I make sure that I physically own them too as I consider that fair use by proxy.

        I capture streaming radio and NPR broadcasts via Audacity and keep them in my library. No problem here either.

        If I find a DVD or VHS or audio cassette that is in the library, I too may capture a copy for myself. If it's in the library, I consider it fair use in whatever media it's originally saved. These I do not pass around..not many people have the same tastes I do anyway.

        The real hate and discontent is they ham-fisted rule and authoritarian grip that the RIAA/MPAA and Micros$oft has on the throats of the public.

        I suspect the slippery slope is now well greased and with the little CIA agent living inside WMP11 and other DRMd players, I think we'll all be getting knocks at the door by knee breakers.
        joseph.vreeland@...
        • I won't

          I haven't bought a music CD in over 10 years. I like my old collection and have not seen a reason to purchase anything else. The new stuff that I listen to comes over my car radio. Unless they can find a way of retro-fitting the DRM on my current collection, they will never no what I do with it. Of course, since I don't make copies to distribute anyways, it's irrelevant what they discover.
          alaniane@...