If a Cricket Figured it out, Why can’t the Rest of Us?

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. penguin

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.


9 thoughts on “If a Cricket Figured it out, Why can’t the Rest of Us?

  1. I was immediately drawn to your post as Jiminy is my favorite Disney character  followed closely by Tigger – and yes, we are commonly asked our favorite Disney character here at work. I always found Jiminy to be a calculated risk taker. He took chances, but as you remind us, he let conscience be his guide. Fun and clever way to open your post. And Disney is a company who is very concerned about your topic of IP and copyright. For example http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/disney-sues-edible-cake-frosting-820032 You’d find it interesting that at work we cannot embed a clip (from Disney or anyone) into a PPT or classroom presentation even for internal audiences, even if available on a public site like YouTube. We have to go through a series of request procedures … Super job hitting the highlights in a lively and entertaining way. It is incredibly complicated and as I also suggest in my blog re: privacy of the internet and IoT – we have to use our own knowledge, common sense and as you add conscience to guide us. Thanks ~ Tricia


    • Tricia:
      In order to get the YouTube clip, I had to embed it from a non-Disney source. Businesses are well versed in not only protecting their own IP, but also ensuring that their employees are not infringing on others. However, the Internet still seems to have a way of working around these protocols. It is a gray area that takes and tests the ethics of the person creating the content. Thanks-Krista


  2. Nice post…an interesting remark by Tricia. Larry Lessig noted that in a digital age, copyright can “choke creativeity.” See his TED Talk from 2007 – https://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity?language=en

    Lessig developed Creative Commons as a means for individuals to take control of their licensing. I have used Creative Commons on my blog and in Slideshare for 8 years now – anyone can freely copy and use my words so long as they (1) share their own work in a like manner, (2) give me attribution for my work, and (3) do not profit from my words. Lots of people have taken me up on that.



    • Dr. Watwood and Krista,
      A am a fan of figuring out the ethical workaround – remember my appreciation of Jiminy as the calculated risk taker 🙂 And in external presentations I have absolutely used some publicly available Disney content and absolutely material on creative commons. I just always find it funny that most people would likely think we could show Disney movies in our break rooms or use clips from films our own company produced in an internal classroom and yet we cannot. Yet I have been in schools, other businesses and public libraries (for example) where the same items we are prohibited from using are being used. Copyright and IT are definitely interesting areas to watch these days. Thanks ~ Tricia

      Liked by 1 person

    • Creative commons seems a great opportunity to honor one’s ownership while also making information more widely available. Achieving this balance might mitigate infringement concerns while also (or at least potentially) combatting the digital divide…which itself might be viewed as an ethical issue deserving our attention. I was not aware of Creative Commons but am interested to explore it. Thank you for sharing!


    • Dr. Watwood:
      Thank you for sharing these additional resources. I was very interested in the announcement from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the release of digital images into the public domain. It almost feels like the reciprocal nature of sharing will have a strong place in connection and collaboration on the Internet!


  3. Krista,
    I had no idea about the awkward penguin lawsuit but it is a fascinating case study on this topic. It raises an issue that I didn’t consider when researching and discussing intellectual property rights: memes going viral. When awkward penguin became internet famous and immensely popular, it’s spread caused hundreds of thousands of copyright violations. To complicate this issue is that, like most memes, it got its start anonymously and then was rehosted and adapted by others. I’m almost positive that not a single person posting or hosting an awkward penguin meme considered the possibility that it was copyrighted. Content going viral is one of the hallmarks of internet creativity and I don’t see that going away anytime soon, so how do we reconcile a seemingly intrinsic property of the internet while still protecting content creators?



    • Chris:
      You raised a great question, which I think might be more rhetorical than solvable! I’m sure as you found that the copyright laws online also express the intention for gain from using the works. I’m not sure that having a meme generator creates any vast income for the creator. I did find that Zillow was just found guilty of using photos without gaining permission of houses listed on its site. The verdict was an $8,2 million dollar payment from Zillow to a photography company. http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-zillow-vht-photo-lawsuit-0214-biz-20170213-story.html I thought this citation best summarized the confusion on the Internet- “Copyright infringement cases have become more common with the proliferation of the internet into nearly every sector, and most people understand they can’t just “go to a website and rip off an image,” said Phil Nicolosi, a Rockford-based attorney who focuses on business and e-commerce law.
      Could it be that if the original owner of the photo feels left out of some monetary gain that the stakes become higher? (Another rhetorical question).


  4. Good afternoon. I have enjoyed following the comments and discussion on your blog this week. I appreciated the focus on copyright laws and infringements. There are clear challenges to balancing ethics, laws, and the sharing of ideas. Dr. Watwood offered the solution of networks that offer creativity and the open sharing of ideas. Are there ways that networks such as the one Dr. Watwood suggested can be encouraged? It seems to me the almighty dollar makes this a challenge.



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