5.5 Legal and Ethical Concerns
The Internet gives people easy, quick, widely-distributed, and free access to a lot of other people and a lot of content. Naturally, this raises legal and ethical concerns. One of the key areas where concerns are raised is in the world of intellectual property, where content creators have to contend with challenges to their rights to own, sell and use their works.
Protecting intellectual property, at its best, helps foster innovation and guarantees that people reap the rewards of their hard work.
One of the ways intellectual property is protected is through copyright.
Copyright is the right that the creator of a work has to determine who gets to use it. It's not a new concept: copyright laws have been around since the 18th century. However, the digital age has created new challenges to copyright and demands new ways to protect it as well.
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Before you use or repost content from the internet, you have to consider what the copyright on it is. Just because a piece of art or an image can be easily found on the internet doesn't mean that it's free to use, and especially not if you're turning a profit.
Material created on a computer, be it an image, a piece of digital art, or a piece of writing, is the intellectual property of the creator who made it (or of the organization that owns the intellectual property rights.)
Using content created by someone else without permission can have consequences, such as a fine or an order to remove the copyrighted content. If you were to claim that the content you borrowed was your own, even unintentionally, you might be found guilty of plagiarism.
It's not difficult in the age of image searches and Turnitin.com
to be caught using copyrighted or plagiarized material. It can also be disheartening for content creators to see their hard work taken without permission or credit, especially if they're trying to grow their presence online.
As a good practice, you should cite any material you use that you didn't create.
So, what's an aspiring slide-show creator or aesthetic post maker to do? Fortunately, the internet offers free material for people to use.
is a public copyright license that a creator uses when they want to give others the right to use their work. Many Wikipedia images, for example, fall under a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons provides six levels of licensing that you can read about here
Open-sourcing, as briefly discussed in Big Idea 1, allows for work to be freely shared, distributed, and modified. Open source is usually mentioned in the context of software.
Open access, on the other hand, refers to research available to the general public that's free of many restrictions. For example, some academic journals are open access or have open access sections.
Websites like Unsplash and Pixabay offer free and beautiful stock images, many of which were used to help write these guides! Image source: Rubén García on Unsplash.
Other Legal and Ethical Concerns
As with anything else, the potential to hurt people that computing devices provide raises concerns. A lot of concerns, as a matter of fact. Here are just a few examples:
Streaming software allows you to watch your favorite movies and TV shows anytime, anywhere. Illegal streaming software, on the other hand, can violate copyright law and deprive creators of much-needed revenue.
Biased algorithms can misrepresent or exclude people, as seen above.
Some computing devices collect and analyze data through continuous monitoring of user activities. An example would be a step-tracker or screen-time tracker on your phone. This raises concerns about privacy and data use.
The digital divide itself also raises ethical concerns, for reasons covered above.
Computing devices also play a massive role in society and politics, and not always for the better.
The internet can be used to spread misinformation that could be harmful to people's health and well-being.
Algorithms designed to keep people scrolling on social media websites can create echo chambers, contributing to political polarization.
Recently, there's also been debate about the role that internet platforms should play in fostering free speech.
The digital age is still very new, and we'll run into more legal and ethical issues the more we navigate it.