Copyright ethics

Subject: Copyright ethics
From: "Larry Kunz ((919) 254-6395)" <ldkunz -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 6 Oct 1995 10:10:20 EDT

John Bryan, manager of the STC Ethics Committee, passed along his
thoughts on our recent discussion about copyright ethics. I've
attached them below. He adds a valuable insight: As we debate
what's LEGAL, we mustn't neglect our duty to do what's RIGHT.

Larry Kunz
STC Assistant to the President for Professional Development
ldkunz -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com

------------------------ Attached message --------------------------

I agree that the use as described does violate copyright,
not coming under the provisions of the fair use doctrine.
Missing in the discussion though is the ethical issue.
When we get bogged down in arguing the law, we often forget
the moral side of the issue. Natural enough in a secular
society, but it's helpful to remember the moral side. If
you think the following is appropriate, go ahead and post
it to the list.

Copyright law evolved as a social response to the need to
encourage and promote artistic and intellectual inquiry
and the dissemination of knowledge, just as patent law
evolved in response to the need to encourage and promote
technology. Even before those laws, though, the guilds of
medieval Europe recognized the concept of intellectual
property and marked their products with symbols that
identified the artisan, both notifying users that the
design belonged to the artisan and announcing that the
artisan was responsible for the quality of the product.
Western culture seems to have long recognized a moral
dimension to intellectual property, an element that tends
to get lost in the lawyer-speak we all resort to when such
questions arise. In the case cited, the company president
expropriated another person's design for his own
use--presumably because he liked the design and thought
his readers would also, but he seems oblivious to the
moral context: that some other person depends upon
selling such designs in order to make a living. Would he
be so sanguine about intellectual property theft if it
were his property being expropriated? Suppose, for
example, that his technical writing business developed a
set of distinctive, custom icons for use in on-line help
systems. And suppose that I published a book about
iconography and that in that book I reproduce--without
permission--his company's icons (along with others),
showing them as especially effective--and easy to
reproduce. The fair use doctrine may protect me,
depending upon the extent of my use of his designs, but
wouldn't he feel morally indignant that I have not only
reproduced his work (for which he probably paid employees)
but also suggested that the designs were up for grabs by
any reader?

We all stand on the shoulders of giants. None of us is
truly original in the purest sense of that word. But
beyond the vagaries of law, surely we recognize that we
cannot simply take and use without compensation or
permission that which others have labored to produce,
whether it's software, manual boilerplate, or cartoons.

John Bryan Associate Professor
Director, Computer Labs bryanjg -at- ucenglish -dot- mcm -dot- uc -dot- edu
English Department, ML069 University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio 45221-0069 (513) 556-3946

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