In Disney’s classic tale of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket offered the young puppet advice when having to choose between right and wrong. Always let your conscience be your guide.
This seems like sound advice, but what Jiminy could not predict was the growth and scale of the Internet which challenge the ethical compass of both children and adults. The unlimited amount of data and information provided by the Internet is outpacing the laws that are created to protect copyrights and intellectual property. What’s more, when you add in the fact that the Internet is truly global, upholding these laws is nearly impossible.
It is easier to police a physical act, such as photocopying a copyrighted book and many academic settings go to great lengths to ensure that copyrights are protected, but when this information is freely available on the Internet, many wrongly assume that the information is there for free use. Philosophically upholding copyrights and intellectual property makes sense, but it continues to get muddied in the digital space. How many people really have access to your Netflix account? Or how do you tell the originator of an idea that is crowdsourced?
Uncoupling the copyright and intellectual property rules of engagement for the Internet is like finding the Deep Web on traditional search engines. Many of the personal uses of protected content would be protected under the Fair Use doctrine, which allows the unlicensed use of copyright-protected material under certain circumstances. But wait, that sounds too simple. One author noted that you should assume all things written are copyrighted the moment they are produced. But if everyone operated under that fear, nothing would be created or shared again.
And then there are those awkward moments, because a meme is parody, right? Not always. The awkward penguin became the poster child of a meme lawsuit.
The original blog that started the meme paid $900 for the copyright infringement. Yes, apparently, National Geographic owned the image.
As Gerd Leonhard described (2014), the entire concept of digital ethics creates more questions than answers. He continued that technology has no ethics, only the people using the technology do. So, how does one ethically create content? Nearly every Web entry that provides some guidelines for Web content instructs the reader to consult the actual law.
It might be more effective to just ask Jiminy.