Information technology has become an integral part of modern society because every activity virtually has a component of information technology. The use of information technology has given way to the emergence of legal and ethical issues that govern its use in various aspects of society. Legal and ethical issues include piracy, hacking, vandalism, spamming, plagiarism, and abuse of social sites. For people to use information technology appropriately, they must comply with various legal and ethical requirements lest they risk facing dire legal and social consequences.
According to Waring and Buchanan (2010), when an individual decides to use social networking sites, legal and ethical issues that touch personal and professional life arise in the process. Moreover, the use of pirated music or software has serious legal and ethical implications emanating from copyrighted materials. Hence, one must be extra careful when using information technology because it has serious implications in the aspects of law and ethics. This essay analyses three case studies and examines their legal and ethical implications in the use of information technology.
Ethical Aspect of IT
Information technology has become an integral component of modern society, for everybody is using it in day-to-day activities. Since information technology demands personal details, it raises the issue of privacy and confidentiality. The right to privacy is an inalienable right even in the realm of information technology, and fundamentally, everyone should enjoy it. However, information technology gadgets have unique serial numbers that identify each user. The serialization of gadgets implies that the extent of privacy and confidentially depends on Internet service providers and companies that have websites.
Without proper laws and regulations on the part of the Internet service providers and companies owning websites, privacy, and confidentiality of Internet users is not guaranteed. For instance, in the first case study, the Federal Bureau of Investigation managed to track and monitor what Ferrer was doing through his website. When searching for information on the Internet, one must be careful not to infringe on personal privacy (Waring & Buchanan 2010). Hence, if the Federal Bureau of Investigation has the capacity to track and monitor what people are doing on different websites or social sites, it means that the Internet does not provide essential privacy and confidentiality.
The use of information technology has enhanced the accessibility and use of information in society. Access to the information is a social right that every government is struggling to provide to its citizens. The right to access information has ethical implications because the source of information has copyrights. Moreover, accessibility to information depends on the nature and purpose of the information. Usually, governments collect demographic and economic data and then present it to the public for purposes of planning. Such a form of information is helpful in society; hence, people must have access to it. However, other information like criminal investigation or terrorism data is too sensitive for the public to access.
Although people have the right to access information, they have limited access to sensitive information that can trigger public uproar. In the second case study, although people can freely download music from the Internet, they risk being an accomplice of pirates. Waring and Buchanan (2010) assert that there are no trenchant lines between organizational information and private information. This means that one should exercise discretion in accessing and utilizing information from the Internet.
Copyright laws protect information or software that people use based on intellectual property laws. Copyright laws are indispensable as they enable people to earn from their intellectual property. Without copyright laws, pirates would duplicate information or software and use the pirated stuff in business to gain profit, while the owners incur immense losses. In the first case study, Ferrer pirated copyrighted software worth 20 million dollars, thus causing enormous losses to the software companies. Ethically, Ferrer was stealing from the software companies to make personal profits, which is quite unfair. Moreover, Ferrer’s website increased competition in the software markets because he sold pirated software at prices that are considerably below the retail prices. According to Jamil and Zaki (2011), the illegal distribution of pirated software has cost software companies a vast amount of money worth billions of dollars. In this case, Ferrer used the intellectual property of others as his own property to make millions of dollars.
The use of intellectual property as one also pleases unethical because it hurts the property owners. Since music, software, and other forms of information are intellectual properties, only the owners have the right to distribute the music according to market demands while aiming to sell and make a profit. However, when a third party starts distributing copyrighted materials at no cost, it reduces the market demand for the materials. In the second case study, Napster is providing copyrighted music for Internet users to download freely. If Internet users can access music freely by simply downloading, it means that copyrighted music is no longer an intellectual property. Jamil and Zaki (2011) state, violation of copyright laws involves “copying, downloading, sharing, selling, and distribution of copyrighted materials” (p.3467). Therefore, Napster has violated copyright laws by copying, downloading, and distributing copyrighted music.
Software piracy has legal and ethical implications on the pirates and users of pirated software. Software piracy involves “unauthorized usage or distribution of the software without a license or through over permitted license” (Jamil & Zaki 2011, p.3467). Violation of copyrighted software can result in a civil or criminal case. An individual is liable for a civil case if found using pirated software. The criminal case occurs when a person cracks and produces copies of the software for personal gains. In the first case study, Ferrer is guilty of a criminal offense because he pirated software worth 20 million dollars. Furthermore, Ferrer produced copies of the software, serialized, and packaged them well by including trademarks of legitimate companies to dupe users.
Software piracy has serious consequences on software companies, pirates, and end-users. Since software companies aim at making a profit and controlling their software, piracy robs software owners of billions of dollars. According to Moores and Esichaikul (2010), “global counterfeiting and piracy are estimated to cost the U.S. economy $200-$250 billion a year and subsequently cause loss of over 750,000 job opportunities” (p.1). In the case study, Ferrer made the software companies lose 20 million dollars. However, when the FBI caught him, Ferrer was guilty of piracy, and he faced serious legal consequences since the FBI confiscated his property, received a sentence of six years under community service, and compelled to pay 4.1 million dollars in restitution for massive losses that the software companies incurred.
Music is an intellectual property that copyright laws and regulations protect from piracy. Despite the fact that copyright laws and regulations prevent piracy of music through copying, sharing, distribution, and selling, individuals violate these legal requirements daily as they download and transfer music from one source to another (Jamil & Zaki, 2011). The second case study shows that Napster is providing free music to Internet users to download freely. Napster operates on the premise that searching and downloading music freely from the Internet is legal so long as the Napster members do not make any profit. Thus, it means that copyright laws allow people to upload and download music from the Internet as long as they do not use the music in profit-making deals.
Napster’s argument that downloading free music from the Internet is legal conflicts with copyright laws and is unethical altogether. Music is an intellectual property that requires protection from abuse by users for the owners to benefit from their artistic knowledge. If it is legal to download copyrighted music freely from the Internet, it means that musicians will not reap much from their talents. Piracy causes enormous losses because it deprives individuals and companies of their intellectual property (Moores and Esichaikul 2010). Thus, allowing third parties to distribute copyrighted music freely will destroy the music industry, as consumers will not have a reason to buy music when they can easily download it freely from a given website on the Internet.
Should Music be Free?
Music should not be free on the Internet as music is a profession that sustains the lives of many people. If music becomes free on the Internet, how will the musicians sustain their lives economically? Musicians who cannot earn from their profession will not perform well. Consequently, the music industry will deteriorate, as it will not be a lucrative business activity for one to venture and make meaningful profits. Thus, making music free of charge on the Internet is one way of destroying the music industry, and musicians will not foster their talents and grow professionally.
Moreover, allowing music to be free on the Internet has legal and ethical implications on intellectual property and copyright laws. Music is an intellectual property that copyright laws should protect. However, making music free on the Internet questions the essence of copyright laws. How can copyright laws protect other intellectual properties and segregate music without condoning inequity? It is impossible to apply copyright laws unfairly to copyrighted music. Hence, music should not be free on the Internet by whatever means.
Cyberbullying has far-reaching impacts on the lives of people. By using social sites on the Internet, bullies have perfected their skills in intimidating people even if they are out of reach physical. Bullies usually publish offensive comments or pictures aimed at intimidating their victims. The offensive material is usually traumatizing and can haunt the victim to the point of committing suicide. The third case study confirms that a person can commit suicide following trauma from cyberbullying.
Mostly, cyberbullying affects adolescents because they are the majority of social sites users, and are still naïve. According to Zaidieh (2012, p.18), “social networking has a vital influence on our lives” because it has psychological influence. Cases of bullying are common among youths since bullies are taking advantage of youths’ innocence and vulnerability to bullying. Bullying of young children makes them develop fears about social issues, which ultimately affects their growth and development.
Social Networking Sites
Although social networking sites have many advantages, they also have some disadvantages. One of the disadvantages of social networking sites is that one has no guarantee of privacy after joining the sites. Zaidieh (2012) argues that users of social networking sites have reservations about their privacy. To overcome the issue of privacy, many users register in these sites using fake names to protect their privacy. Although social networking sites have privacy settings, most users are unable to use them appropriately, thus displaying their private information to the public. The third case study depicts a situation where an employee failed to safeguard the privacy of her Facebook postings.
Another disadvantage of social networking sites is that socialization takes much time for the user and causes physical and psychological problems. Zaidieh (2012) states, “social networking sites have an effect on the health of individuals because spending a lot of time browsing these social networks can affect the way the genes operate within the human body, weaken the immune and hormone levels, and affect the function of arteries” (p.19). These effects lead to poor health conditions and consequently cause physical disabilities. Moreover, too much use of social networking sites leads to addiction, which is a psychological problem. Addiction affects the learning abilities of students or productivity workers because people spend much of their time on social sites.
The use of information technology has become an indispensable part of modern society. Although information technology has increased access to information and communication, it has legal and ethical implications as well. Legal and ethical implications emerge as Internet users utilize software, music, and other information, which constitute intellectual property and thus require protection by copyright laws. Moreover, social networking sites are prone to cyberbullying or professional misconduct. Hence, users of social networking sites should be cautious lest they become victims of cyberbullying or guilty of professional misconduct.
Jamil, D & Zaki, H 2011, ‘Software piracy does not hurt anyone?’, International Journal of Engineering Science and Technology, vol. 3 no 4, pp. 3467-3471.
Moores, T & Esichaikul, V 2010, ‘Socialisation and software piracy a study’, Journal of Computer Information Systems, vol. 12 no. 1, pp.1-9.
Waring, R & Buchanan, R 2010, ‘Social networking websites: The legal and ethical aspects of pre-employment screening and employee surveillance’, Journal of Human Resources Education, vol. 4 no. 2, pp. 14-23.
Zaidieh, A 2012, ‘The use of social networking in education: challenges and opportunities’, World of Computer Science and Information Technology Journal, vol. 2 no 1, pp.18-21.