Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 5 Intellectual Property


Around the world many people make copies or download programs and files and have no qualms of conscience about doing so.  They do not appear to care about whether or not what they are doing amounts to taking something that belongs to another person-the creator of the work- and that another person may be entitled to some compensation or payment.  This is an interesting phenomena to say the least.  Is there something more to it than simply not caring or greed or lawlessness?  Some think and argue for all such information in any form being available to the whole world once it is created.  They want no limits placed on copy and use .  Others do.

To protect and encourage the process of invention and its productions the government of the USA has the following :

The Congress shall have power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
-- US Constitution, Article I Section 8

In what manner if any does this provision of the constitution apply to computer technologies?  I  Should the constitution apply to some of the developments that have come with the advance of computer technologies?   n what ways might it?  These are just some of the questions related to the intellectual property issues related to computer technologies.  Other questions following from those include: Are software programs and digit information property?  Who owns them?  Who controls them?  Is it really morally wrong to copy such property? Why?

There are those who argue against property rights and intellectual property rights in particular.  There are those who argue for them.  The development of computer technologies and their increasing the possibilities for information transfer have brought the issue of property rights and the values placed on property and ownership before the human community once again in a manner not dreamt of when the issues were first settled with various laws.

Intellectual property law cannot be patched, retrofitted, or expanded to contain digitized expression any more than real estate law might be revised to cover the allocation of broadcasting spectrum (which, in fact, rather resembles what is being attempted here). We will need to develop an entirely new set of methods as befits this entirely new set of circumstances.

Most of the people who actually create soft property - the programmers, hackers, and Net surfers - already know this. Unfortunately, neither the companies they work for nor the lawyers these companies hire have enough direct experience with nonmaterial goods to understand why they are so problematic. They are proceeding as though the old laws can somehow be made to work, either by grotesque expansion or by force. They are wrong.
-- John Perry Barlow ("The Economy of Ideas", March 1994)

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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents