Ethics and the Internet

You will find a very interesting discussion on ethics at the recording.org website. Apparently some of the site users decided to extract content from the discussion forums with the intent to repackage and redistribute the content elsewhere. Sound familiar? I often have debates with people about the ethics of downloading pirated MP3 files of commercial recordings. More often than not I hear the following defenses:

  • “I’m not stealing… I’m just downloading”
  • “Why should I pay for the cost of an entire CD when it only contains one good song”
  • “If I like the song then I’ll go buy the CD”

Thank heavens for iTunes. At least there is a credible alternative to stealing music.

What about taking content from postings on forums? Is it theft? Does it erode the notion of a business transaction based on a revenue model? Is the poster entitled to copyright protection?

The fact that people would go to an online site and extract massive amounts of content and repackage it without permission is interesting. However, in the recording.org case there is some controversy. The site used to contain the following footer on every page:

Logos and trademarks in this site are property of their respective owner. The comments are property of their posters, all the rest © 2004 by Recording.org.

The webmaster removed the footer immediately after he had uncovered the attempts to extract massive content from his site. Given that the comments are the property of their posters was the action to extract content criminal? Was the action ethical? Do posters have any intellectual property rights?

Welcome to the Wild, Wild West of the digital age.

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