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The Truth About Online Piracy, Essay Example

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Essay

The purpose of this paper is examining whether online piracy, which is closely related to online privacy, is free culture or stealing. Consequently, there are ethical issues to assess in this situation as both freedom and protecting privately-owned works are equally important. No one person would want someone to take something from him or her without permission or compensation, yet many feel that online pirating is different because it is only taking a small piece of a very big pie, such as downloading music from a multi-billion dollar music publisher via the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web

People of the world interact and are entertained in many ways and this has evolved over the last few decades from only though personal interaction, or through the media in some way, such as radio, television, print, and the silver screen. Prior to the 90s, there was not easy way for people in one country to speak with or interact with people in other countries, other than to travel or speak to them by phone. However, with the creation of the Internet, now people from all over the world have access to any other part of the world via the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web has become one of the most notable technological creations of all time, with cyberspace being a vast medium for information of all sorts. This includes personal information of individuals and private information of businesses. People do everything online these days, such as banking, dating, gaming, shopping, working, and socializing. Consequently, these websites that allow such activities are often not completely secure, when it comes to the protection of personal and private information. This can be due to unsecure websites or due to unscrupulous people who breach the information in some way. Or, it can be due to the practices of certain websites which can include selling personal and private information or using it for profit or personal gain. This often raises serious issues in the minds of the public about the privacy and security of their personal and private information.

Online privacy is challenging in many ways, particularly because the Internet presence has grown to be so huge. It is estimated that more than a third (34.3%) of the world’s population uses the Internet (Miniwatts Marketing Group), as of 2012. That is an astounding concept, and it means that the Internet still has room to grow even more. With all of the Internet activity going on around the clock, it is no wonder that security breaches are commonplace. Even with firewalls and security software, a person’s information that they type into cyberspace may not be safe. Not to mention when companies and places they visit online and shop do not safeguard user information. This is another avenue for private information stealing. But, what about when users take information that does not belong to them and sell or use it for themselves, such as downloading copyrighted music or movies for free? Is this not stealing? Apparently not, in the eyes of some, because this is also referred to as free culture. It is just basically using the Internet freely.

People use the Internet for almost anything such as banking, shopping, gaming, dating, and socializing. This opens up private and personal information to potentially unsecure were connections. For example, according to Solove, popular social networking site, Facebook, was the subject of public complaints about privacy when they used the names, images and posts of some Facebook users to solicit the users’ Facebook friends for advertising. These users’ information was collected when they posted something good about a movie or a product. In addition, Facebook also shared user data with various commercial websites, and when users either bought items or movie tickets at one of these sites, it showed in the users’ public profiles (Solove).

The issue with this is that Facebook did not inform users about these types of advertising programs. Many users were not happy about Facebook hocking products on their friends’ pages in their names, especially without their prior consent. They were also are outraged to find displays of their private purchases suddenly popping up on their public pages.

The question is whether this type of activity on behalf of Facebook is considered free culture or stealing of personal and private information.

Free Culture

The Internet has grown into a part of every day life for many people in the world. Even people who do not use the Internet are still affected by it in some way. The Internet has spawned a culture of an extension of free speech and creativity. This is known as free culture, and it means that people should be able to share, copy or use the creative works of others without asking for permission and without giving them compensation. In addition, many people believe that anyone should have the right to create whatever he wants without it being controlled by the government or some other entity. This type of control is not a part of free culture and people’s freedom on the Internet to enjoy it as they please.

Furthermore, the Internet is becoming more regulated, such as with the regulation of piracy and copyrights. These issues come into play when people share information such as music, pictures, information, movies, books, or any form of intellectual property that someone else has copyrights to (Lessig). Sites like YouTube are perfect examples of how free culture is used (Mattson). People can get access to copyrighted information on YouTube and watch movie clips, music videos, listen to book excerpts, get popular restaurant chain recipes, or pretty much anything else, and this information is used at will. Supporters of free culture say people should have a right to do these things, because it fosters creativity and expression. Opposers of free culture, in this regard, say it is stealing.

Stealing Privacy

According to Lessig, there is value in creative works. This means when someone uses, copies, sells, or otherwise infringes on such works without persmission or paying for it, they are taking something of value from someone else for free. This is stealing. Copyright law seems to have gone out the window as it relates to the Internet in many cases. Consequently, many believe something has to change this. However, many argue that digital technology laws governing what people can do on the Internet are over-regulated area, but this is not the only way that privacy is stolen.

It is not just individuals that use, take, or copy privately owned information, it is also something that corporations do to get a better handle on the buying habits and preferences of customers and potential customers. Corporations often track, not just consumer buying habits, but they also track where they surf on the Web, what they read, eat, or drink, Also, other things that people do online are often tracked such as their online dating information, banking information, and even their emails are tracked and can be intercepted and read. These corporations not only track the information to better target market consumers, but they often sell the information to other companies (Etzioni).

One such corporation that conducts extensive tracking of its users is Google, which has recently come under scrutiny about its vague privacy practices and policies. For instance, Google automatically shares consumers’ personal information for one Google product with all Google products, such as if someone has Google Mail, then that personal information is also shared on YouTube (acquired by Google) and other Google interfaces. Google has been accused of deceptive privacy practices and deceiving consumers, while not keeping their personal information confidential (Pociask). Some would say this is stealing their privacy.

Free Culture vs. Stealing

As mentioned, the question of whether free culture is just that, the freedom to create, participate, and express, or is it downright stealing?

Those who believe in free culture say people should be able to download, modify, distribute, or sell any information they find on the Internet at their will. Those for free culture say that copyright laws are too restricting and should be made more lax. They do not believe it should be necessary for anyone to have to get permission for using someone else’s work in some way, such as when downloading a movie and distributing it to friends or loading it up on a social media page. Free culture pushes freedom as the authority to do these things and feel that everything out on the Internet should be there for anyone to use and enjoy in whichever manner decided upon. Although there are plenty of things on the Internet that are free. For instance, many sites offer free software and shareware for people to download and use. However, these are promoted as a free-use items. This is what free culture says about everything available on the Internet and how it should be.

On the other hand, those who believe that free culture is stealing argue that the works of others should be protected from infringement. It is stealing because it involves taking something from someone else that has value and not paying for it, or using it in some way without permission or giving proper credit to the originator, which would require compensating them. According to CISAC, copyrights are in place to protect the originators of works and also is good for economic development. It is stated that chaos would be the result, without copyright laws. Copyright laws protects creators of works so that they can afford to create, and piracy threatens this. So, it seems that those who bootleg or pirate music and movies and sell them to masses of people for cheaper prices are effectively taking food out of the mouths of the ones who created the works in the first place. But, free culture would argue that these people are only trying to piggyback off those who are rich and getting crumbs to use so that they can make it in society, and they are also giving those who may not be able to afford to pay full price for the pirated items an opportunity to enjoy them as those with money are able to do.

Personal Opinion

Personally, I enjoy sites like YouTube and I like to do things online such as shopping, even though I know my information and habits are being tracked, I feel like free culture is a form of stealing. Yes, it is true that everything out on the Internet was put out there by someone. Many people, organizations, groups, and companies have willingly uploaded their information online. The Interest is full of everything that anybody ever wants to find or find out. This is true of information, archives, music, movies, books, any shopping item, advice, etc. People can find a mate, watch porn, attend school or church, buy a house or a car, buy other products or services, sell things, socialize, etc., all online. The Internet is a free-for-all when it comes to being active and participating in the vastness of it all. But, I do not feel that anyone should have the right to just freely take someone else’s valuable work and use, distribute, or sell it without permission or giving them compensation for it. And, yes, I am guilty of watching music videos and downloading them from YouTube or some other medium. And, yes, I have read book previews on Google Books, but that does not make it right.

On the other hand, it is also true that those who have the information out on the Internet should know that it comes with a certain level of risk of piracy or bootlegging, and they should factor that into their profit/loss assessments. But, when we really think about the magnitude of piracy and bootlegging, we will soon see that it is not just a few stray losses, but overall it is a source of major losses for those affected. This is because it is so commonplace. Which brings me to corporations who steal personal information from consumers without their consent and use or sell this information among themselves.

The Internet is just one way that “Big Brother” is watching what we all do. Just like RFID technology that tracks spending habits at the grocery store, the Internet tracks surfing and buying habits through the use of Internet cookies. Most people rarely read a website’s privacy policy and just use the site, not really knowing how their information will be used. However, this should be no excuse for a company to take the private information from their website users and share that with other companies for profit, so that the users can be target marketed by the other companies. But, people do give a level of consent when they use websites. Don’t they?

Free culture is stealing because it is the same as people entering someone’s home without permission (whether the door was locked or unlocked), rummaging through things and taking what they wanted for personal use or to sell for profit, without leaving behind any money for the things that they took.

This is a challenging problem because how could everything be policed so that copyright infringement does not happen on the Internet? It is virtually impossible. Should it be the responsibility of host sites such as YouTube, Ebay, or Google not to allow people to upload, use or sell copyrighted material, for example? This would get into violating the rights and freedom of creativity of others though, and would turn the Internet into an uninteresting void of regulated content. So, it is actually a catch-22.

Conclusion

Online privacy is something that should be taken seriously. People have been victims of crime because of information that criminals found online, people have been robbed and taken advantage of because of information online, and people and entire industries are losing money by the millions because of this issue. For these reasons, Internet privacy regulations should become more strict without choking off the culture of creativity on the Internet that we all enjoy. Part of this can be done if the individual is more careful about their own privacy and careful about what they allow on the Internet, as anyone in the world could gain access to their personal information. However, a large part of privacy security should be on website owners and how they handle their users’ information.

Works Cited

CISAC. “Copyright Protection Crucial for Creative Industries’ Future.” World Copyright Summit 22 June 2009. Web. 22 July 2013. <www.cisac.org/CisacPortal/cisacDownloadFile.do?docId=16382>.

Etzioni, A. Who is really stealing your privacy? 10 December 2010. Web. 21 July 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/12/01/etzioni.privacy/index.html>.

Lessig, L. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: The Penguin Press HC, 2004. Print. 21 July 2013.

Mattson, K. “Paying the Piper: Is Culture Ever Free?” Dissent 58.2 (2011): 69-73. Print. 21 July 2013.

Miniwatts Marketing Group. Internet Users in the World. 30 June 2012. 22 July 2013. <http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm>.

Pociask, S. Stealing your privacy — it’s Google once again. 1 March 2012. Web. 21 July 2013. <http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/03/01/stealing-your-privacy-its-google-once-again/>.

Solove, D. J. “The end of privacy?” Scientific American 299.3 (2008): 100-4, 106. Print. 21 July 2013.

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