Redefining copyrights for a digital age

A group of British academics has just published a paper similar to one I was planning to write about the need to re-evaluate the ethics of the copyright system given the drastic changes in the new digital landscape. Here’s the abstract for “Framing the consumer: Copyright regulation and the public” by Lee Edwards, Bethany Klein, David Lee, Giles Moss and Fiona Philip:

With illegal downloading at the centre of debates about the creative economy, various policy initiatives and regulatory attempts have tried (and largely failed) to control, persuade and punish users into adhering to copyright law. Rights holders, policymakers, intermediaries and users each circulate and maintain particular attitudes about appropriate uses of digital media. This article maps the failure of regulation to control user behaviour, considers various policy and academic research approaches to understanding users, and introduces an analytical framework that re-evaluates user resistance as expressions of legitimate justifications. A democratic copyright policymaking process must accommodate the modes of justification offered by users to allow copyright law to reconnect with the public interest goals at its foundation.

Exactly. We must have a public conversation about just how powerful copyright holders should be, particularly amid “legitimate justifications” of resistance. I will probably build on this paper to create a more overt ethical argument for individuals to follow as they wait for policymakers to adapt.

For instance, I think one can ethically justify downloading illegal content that has been paid for in some fashion. If I pay iTunes for the rights to watch a television show, then I should be able to watch it by hooking the computer up to my TV. However, some copyright holders digitally block that type of arrangement. (I’ve literally had iTunes tell me that my license didn’t allow for content to be displayed on a TV screen, only on a computer.) I have “resisted” this copyright over-reach by downloading the show illegally and watching on my TV via a USB port. This action, I believe, is a legitimate ethical justification.

Other specific examples of group resistance are probably equally justified — but we must be careful that we don’t justify wholesale theft of copyrighted works. I look forward to thinking about this problem further — and using this work as a welcome starting place.

By | February 22nd, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

UAE press ignores coalition statement on activists’ trial

The Washington Post and other international news outlets just published this Associated Press article detailing the condemnation of the UAE’s trial against five activists here:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A coalition of international human rights organizations on Thursday accused the United Arab Emirates of violating international legal standards by prosecuting five jailed campaigners for political reforms in the oil-rich Gulf country.

The statement by the 7-member alliance marks the highest level international pressure over the trial. The charges could carry long prison terms.

The activists, including a prominent blogger and an economics professor who has lectured at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris’ Sorbonne university, were charged with anti-state crimes after signing an Internet petition calling for constitutional changes and free elections.Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, an alliance of seven semiautonomous states, each ruled by a sheik who inherits the post. There are no official opposition groups in the country, and political parties are banned.

The UAE has not had street protests like those that erupted this year across the Middle East, including in neighboring Bahrain. Authorities moved aggressively to keep demands for political change, inspired by the Arab Spring revolts, out of the Gulf federation that includes the glitzy city-state Dubai.

The five activists were arrested in April and charged with insulting the UAE’s rulers and endangering the country’s security. If convicted on all charges, they could face decades in prison.

A verdict is expected Nov. 27. The defendants have no right to appeal.

The decision of the English-language press to ignore this story shows the type of self-censorship prevalent in this country. While journalism in the UAE has certainly improved in the last few years, it still suffers from huge ethical lapses such as the avoidance of contextual reporting on this trial. The main newspapers have run articles after each court appearance, but they have devoted no space at all to the controversy surrounding the arrests. The press has ignored important aspects of the case such as this denouncement from human rights groups and a statement from one of the activists detailing alleged abuses in jail while awaiting the trial.

This abdication of journalistic duty is important to note. As I detailed in my recent research on media literacy in the UAE, what a press outlet chooses to cover has profound impact on the knowledge of media consumers. The people of the UAE deserve to know about the context surrounding this trial, and the press does them a terrible disservice by ignoring crucial elements of the story.

Of course, everyone in the United Arab Emirates expects no less. The rules about “red lines” coverage are well documented in the UAE and throughout the Arab world. Still, journalists in the UAE should limit their self-congratulations for progress in the country, while collectively agreeing to ignore such an important topic.

By | November 4th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Virtue and capitalism

Published this two years ago, but it seems appropriate to revisit.

In an interview with the Times of London, the Archbishop of Westminster makes some interesting observations about our particular brand of capitalism:

… the economic downturn could be the very thing that brings us to our senses. “It’s the end of a certain kind of selfish capitalism,” Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said. “This particular recession is a moment – a kairos – when we have to reflect as a country on what are the things that nourish the values, the virtues, we want to have … Capitalism needs to be underpinned with regulation and a moral purpose.”

He will stand down soon as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, which he has been for nine years, but before he goes he wants to make one final plea to Britons to change their ways. He told The Times that he had advised Gordon Brown to complement his National Economic Council with a moral one, to “rediscover the things that make for a healthy society”.

He said: “One feels very sorry for those losing their jobs but in times of recession people have to rely on friends and neighbours and families and things that really matter to them. That may be a good thing. I think people did lose their way a bit. It has been difficult to bring up children with the kind of values we want. Let’s face it, we now have a ‘me, me’ society, a more consumerist society, a utilitarian society, and our values and virtues have become diminished.

Great points. I don’t support regulating capitalism via laws, though. You can’t legislate virtue — it’s got to come from within.

By | October 7th, 2011|virtue|0 Comments

Islamic women in America

Interesting profile in NY Times shows the public strides Muslim women are making in the United States:

“Muslims coming to North America are often seeking an egalitarian version of Islam,” said Ebrahim Moosa, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke University. “That forces women onto the agenda and makes them much more visible than, say, in Western Europe.”

Besides her speakers’ bureau, which advertises itself as “a bridge between Islam and Americans of other faiths,” Ms. Khalifa heads a consultancy working with students, executives, soldiers and even the F.B.I. to overcome stereotypes. Some people she addresses have never met a Muslim. Some look askance at head scarves.

Ms. Khalifa, who has degrees in chemistry and human resources, began wearing a head scarf in her mid-30s, about 15 years ago. At first, she said, people looked at her “like I was different, Muslim, un-American, stupid.”

But she is quietly persistent. When a small-town newspaper refused to run Ms. Khalifa’s ad listing the hours of a nearby mosque, she organized a successful boycott by local churchmen.

Love that last line — in fact, that’s why I love America. Some idiot didn’t want to let a mosque advertise its service times. So, who helped correct this injustice? Christian leaders — what a wonderful statement of tolerance.

Sometimes we focus so much on what America gets wrong that we forget to see how much we get right.

By | January 2nd, 2011|virtue|0 Comments

3 cheers for MEPRA

The Middle East Public Relations Agency took the unprecedented step of fining one of its members for an ethical violation. As detailed in The National:

The fine … comes just weeks after the firm won four accolades at MEPRA’s industry awards, including Agency of the Year.

The agency, d’pr, was fined after it sent out an image of its staff, taken at the MEPRA event and in which it had airbrushed out the names of the event sponsors and inserted its own logo. The photograph was sent to local newspapers and websites, several of which published it.

This is a monumental move on the part of MEPRA and for ethical standards in general. Truth-telling should be a fundamental value in any field, but particularly in the communication business. PR agencies should never engage in lying or deception — even if it benefits themselves or their clients.

More broadly, this region is replete with tales of shoddy professional standards for both public relations practitioners and journalists. And this move directly confronts the cultural taboos against public embarrassment. Those taboos often dampen any calls publicly right ethical lapses or other derelictions of duty.

The fine will benefit the PR business in the Mideast, leading other firms to pause before they flippantly engage in deception or other unethical practices. And having a debate about the underlying cultural values should help as well. What should we value more — ethical principles or public standing? Perhaps that’s a conversation we should start.

By | December 21st, 2010|Uncategorized|0 Comments