Tag Archives: web ethics

Open Letter to Online Swipers


To Whom it May Concern (Which is probably most of you),

So, maybe you’ve wondered about using those easy to cut-and-paste photos you’ve seen online–EVERYWHERE. Is it “common law” to take what you find? Finders-Keepers, Losers-Weepers?

Well, copyright law, and creative/intellectual property law is a subject of widespread ignorance. I’ve checked with some people “in the know” to make us aware of the basics.

Simply put: Any content you happen to find online is not, by default, yours to use. It’s. Not. Yours.

By what if I’m not making money from what I swipe, er…um… borrow, like with my blog, for instance; what then, huh?

When in doubt, ask yourself this simple question: “Is it really mine?”

Did you make it? If not, it’s not yours.

If you know the person who made it? Still. not. yours.

That sounds so cut and dry. Perhaps even harsh. It hurts me to have to tell you.

What if I got the content idea somewhere, but change a few words so I can be the author?

Then, ask yourself this question: “Is it really an original twist, created by me, with my unique flavor, not just a bit rehashed?”

A parody is fine, but when your idea is not a true takeoff from the original–Buzzz. Infringement.

What about “fair use”? If something is out there for the taking, why can’t I use it?

Here’s the deal with that:

Creative Common (CC) status is one for fair use, but if an image or video is not explicitly cited this way (“CC”), for instance, one can find these types of images on Flikr), it remains “all rights reserved”. Just because swiping is commonand easy (what some mistakenly may call “common law”) does not mean it is ethical or legal to use it. And try to always cite the source of the piece, no matter what.

Take this example to heart: With FBI warnings we’ve all seen before the feature on our DVDs, it works the same way. Those materials are for private use. One is not allowed to copy, distribute, sell, or publicly use the material. There was an area school, in these parts, that was showing videos to students in the typical way. A School, mind you. A learning institution. A disgruntled student reported them, and FBI agents came and took all their things (videos taped from tv, DVDs that were not purely listed as for educational use, etc) and told them that even as a school, they could use show these things for educational purposes, but only temporarily-30 days. This school, like many people do, infringed on copyright laws. Notice: They weren’t making money doing it either. The same thing goes for music. If you make a DVD copy of songs for a friend, it’s stealing the songs, because they are not paid for. It’s called pirating, whether it’s for images, music, or movies. Do people do it all the time? Oh, yes. But they ought not to.

After 75 years, unless otherwise noted, the copyright goes in the public domain. Dover Publications specializes in items of this nature (art, books, crafts, etc.)

I mention all this, not because I expect people will do the right thing. I’m not the police, and I won’t be making my list, and turning you in. This letter serves as a warning that those who swipe are liable for theft. They could be sued for damages by the creator, production company, and corporation, etc. They could even fined by a governing authority. It’s something to remember if ones chooses to play fast and loose with copyright law.

It’s actually in our best interest as writers, creators, and even as regular citizens, to respect property rights and engage in the highest ethical practice in every case possible.

In a case like youtube, and other webscites like failblog, one uploads the video or photos for sharing and distribution. But if you’ve ever submitted to those websites, you will be asked to agree that you have the rights to upload it. The legal info is all there to read (usually in the terms and conditions section).

Why does it matter?

Especially is Everyone does it!

I don’t, and can’t agree with that sort of  premise for doing what we ought to do what we do (in this case: take or not take). The reasoning that swiping is okay because it does no harm is a purely pragmatic rationale. It is a consequence driven ethic. This is secular and baseless, and because of this, a rather inferior worldview and rationale for our actions. It is a flawed position because we never know the full repercussions of our consequence-based choices. (We cannot know the true consequences.) The ill-effects, or unethical fallout is not comprehensible; therefore, it, in itself, makes a poor foundation for our choices.

A Note to Ethical Folks, Christians (ethical or not), and Idealists:

Secular/Godless reasons for behavior are so mingled in our cultural fabric and common mentality, that we often don’t realize that pragmatics are an illegitimate reason for decision making. (I cover this more in a previous post called “How do we decide things”. To read it click here.) In case you are still confused, I should mention that I wrote it. It’s original writing, so that means I own the copyright and all rights are reserved (by me, the author), just *in case* you feel like doing a quick cut and paste for your purposes…even if you won’t be making $.  : )

Our standard for what we think, say, and do is founded on a perfect and holy God, whose nature and character is the basis for all goodness. We use a vantage point outside our weak, selfish, or flawed one, to order our world. Yes, it is the realm of Ideals that we must aim, though thorough perfection remains out of grasp.

Without this, all we our left with is fickle consensus, or individual and unanchored preference.

-yours truly,


(comments? go for it!)