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Digital Intellectual Property - Essay Example

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There is difficulty in defining exactly what kinds of material is “open source,” especially when other terms like “free,” “non-proprietary,” and “standards-based” are all introduced simultaneously. These kinds of terms are more or less jargon when one considers that there are tiny differences between them, and those differences exist just for the sake of licensing agreements and other legal contracts…
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Digital Intellectual Property
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Download file to see previous pages If that source code—or the idea behind the software—is not available to the public, then the software is “closed source” (Anderson, 2004). In the case of open source software, the opposite is true. The source code is available to the public and can be altered by the public without a violation of the license. Thus, software can range between having its source code completely blocked off from the public, to software where the source code is read-only to the public, to software where the source code is open to the world and alterable (Richard, 2003). This issue of making software “open source” and freely available to all to change creates some ethical problems in the era of rapid transfer of files over the internet. There are a number of avenues to use when analyzing any ethical issue. Perhaps the most common method in academic philosophy is a utilitarian perspective. Built on the concern that any action should maximize the happiness of society as a whole, utilitarianism would not be able to answer the question of whether open source software is ethical. Many of those questions, such as “is human knowledge advanced by full and free access to all information?”, are unanswered and reflect larger discussions about intellectual property protection (Ravitch, 2010). ...
With respect to rights, the matter hinges upon the existence of individuals’ rights to their intellectual property, which is a guaranteed offered under United States federal law. According to the philosophy of the GNU Operating System distributors, “‘Free software’ is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech,’ not as in ‘free beer.’” (GNU Webmasters, 2009). When compared to the right to free speech, the comparison invites further questions about whether the two are truly comparable, or even similar, in nature. Beyond the rights issue, there is also the virtue perspective, in which some have argued that open source helps people think and learn as they share useful knowledge, therefore contributing to the well-being and human flourishing of all. Sharing this knowledge is, to some, “a fundamental act of friendship” (Ravitch, 2010). However, to others, this knowledge only came about through effort and time, which therefore gives it some monetary value. Therefore, the argument could be made that open source software is encouraging the virtues of thieves, not friends. Again, another perspective on ethics raises more questions than it answers. Finally, the common good perspective on open source is optimistic about the potential for good done to the whole of humanity. According to the Catholic Church, “cyberspace ought to be a resource of comprehensive information and services available without charge to all, and in a wide range of languages” (Foley & Pastore, 2002). Although this kind of view depends on accepting some of the other ethical tenants of the Church, this perspective is valuable in ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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