Monthly Archives: August 2009

Protecting the Constitution against the DMCA and DRM

 

 

 

 

 

Protecting the Constitution against the DMCA and DRM

Jediah Logiodice

IT5160 Ethics in Information Technology

Dr. Joanne White Thunder

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Abstract

The United States Constitution grants powers to the Congress to create laws which promote the progress of science by allowing authors a time-limited exclusive right to their original works. While Copyright law has been amended in many successive movements overtime, it is important that all newly designed laws are upheld by the original intent and powers granted to the Congress by the U.S. Constitution. The creation of the Digital Millennial Copyright Act and subsequent implementations of Digital Rights Management technologies have encroached on the Constitution and have made allowances for the enforcement of unlawful limitations by copyright owners. It is thus beholden upon the American people to reject as unlawful the power of the DMCA and DRM technologies.

In 1791 the first ten amendments of the Constitution of the United States were ratified, these ten amendments were later to be known as the Bill of Rights. The fifth article of The Bill of Rights states that "[no person shall be] deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law (WikiPedia, 2009)." The Bill of Rights expands upon the foundation of law set forth in the Constitution. The Constitution and following amendments are a culmination of the attempt to create an environment built on freedom and justice, balancing the needs of the many against the needs of the individual in a way that seeks to uphold the claims put forth on July 4th, 1776 within the Declaration of Independence stating that all men (sic.) have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (WikiPedia, 2009)."

The pursuit of justice and liberty has been a reoccurring theme throughout the history of the United States, and involves issues teetering precariously on the struggle between the rights of the state and the rights of the people; commercial enterprise against consumer, one man or woman against another. If we were to peel away the details of the individual struggles of justice and liberty over the courses of time, we would find that at the core of this struggle is the question of property ownership (Ely, 2008, p. 26)."

In the past, questions of property, even questions that govern intangible ideas such as intellectual property, revolved around the physical ownership of things such as a typewritten book, a painted image, or a vinyl record, etc. As the American society continues to struggle to refine current laws around property ownership in copyright laws, civilization advances relentlessly forward and we are faced with new and intriguing challenges. Today, property rights extend to things as ephemeral as electrical impulses stored and forwarded across the central nervous system of a publically accessible super-brain referred to as the World Wide Web.

Law makers, as they have in the past, continue to focus on identifying the appropriate balance between justice and freedom; however, laws devised to protect and control the ownership of property must also be built upon and upheld by the foundation of the Constitution.

In 1998 the Congress of the United States passed into law an act referred to as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA put forth certain provisions allowing the rise of technologies that have been used to facilitate constitutional violations, have undermined the intent and use of the original U.S. Copyright laws, and have stifled technological and intellectual innovations. While the DMCA is the formal cause of this malfeasance enacted against the people of the United States, the material cause is a collection of technologies loosely coupled together and used to limit and control who and when digital content can be read and copied. These technologies are referred to as Digital Rights Management technologies or DRM.

It is the intent of this paper to outline examples of ways in which the DMCA and DRM have been used to facilitate constitutional violations, to address some of the ways in which DRM undermines the intent of the original copyright laws, and bring to the attention the controversy over the use of DRM in inhibiting the growth of intellectual innovations and humanity as a whole. To bring weight to these examples we must first examine the operational powers that have been granted to the U.S. Congress to enact laws protecting the property ownership rights of authored works.

Copyright Law in the United States

The term Copyright is used to denote a form of property protection provided to owners and artists for "original works of authorship (U.S. Copyright Office, 2009, p. 1)." While the U.S. Copyright laws consist of a significant number of amendments; to remain constitutional, all copyright laws and subsequent amendments must be built on the constitutional powers granted in Article I, section 8, clause 8, of the U.S. Constitution which allows Congress the power to "promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited tımes to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries (U.S. Constitution)."

The language of the Article I, section 8, clause 8, immediately brings to mind the desire to balance the rights of the individual over against the rights of society as a whole. Within this language, however, it can also be clearly seen that the purpose of securing to authors a time-limited exclusive right to their works was to promote the progress of science and useful arts.

When studying this power afforded by the constitution, it is paramount that we ensure that all enacted copyright laws remain constitutional in limiting the time in which authors are granted exclusive rights to their works, as well as having a primary purpose of promoting the progress of science and useful arts. If amended copyright laws act against either of these two primary constitutional objectives, they must be deemed unconstitutional and rejected by the American people.

Retarding the growth of intellectual pursuits around the world

When weighting the pros and cons of proposed law, it is often easy to reject opposition based on a projected forecast of future negative consequences. However, it is much harder to reject the historical data collected post-ratification that speaks clearly about the unforeseen negative consequences of an enacted law.

In an article entitled Unintended Consequences: Ten Years under the DMCA, the Electronic Frontier Foundation raises a number of concerns regarding the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennial Copyright Act, referred to as section 1201 (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2008). These concerns include numerous Mafia like attempts, lawsuits and gag orders against personal, professional and University based technologists and researchers. These documented attacks on the freedom of speech, freedom of information and freedom of intellectual and academic pursuit come from such organizations as Sony-BMG, SunnComm, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and even the organization that builds the tools we use in our Capella University Courseroom – BlackBoard. The EFF continues by showing how the DMCA has lead to the violation of rights, threats and disreputable treatment of individuals being accused of violating the "anti-circumvention laws", with the primary purpose showing how DMCA supported actions have "chilled free expression and scientific research. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2008)."

This article continues to cite example after example in which the DMCA is the direct cause of inhibiting academic, scientific and artistic research, not only in the United States, but around the world. The capstone quote, calling for DMCA reform, summarizes the problem with the DMCA; in a 2002 statement from White House Cyber Security Chief Richard Clarke, Clarke is quoted as saying: "I think a lot of people didn’t realize that it [DMCA] would have this potential chilling effect on vulnerability research. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2008)."

In the end, while future forecasting may have been ignored in 1998 when the DMCA was first instituted, these historical views of the DMCA can clearly show its effect on stifling rather than "promoting the progress of science and useful arts."

If it wasn’t enough to stop there in showing the damage and the unconstitutional results of the applications of the DMCA; Digital Rights Management, one of the technical implementations whose use is being upheld by the laws enacted by the DMCA is found to be even more damaging to the academic and scientific progress of the world.

In their article titled Digital Rights Management: A failure in the developed world, a danger to the developing world the EFF once again takes aim at the problems caused by the DMCA and DRM. Here various aspects of dangerous implications of DRM are discussed in open detail. Among these dangers are concerns such as how renewable DRM can be used to cheat consumers out of products or services they have already paid for by disabling features at the whim of copyright holders.

Other dangers outline how DRM limits the abilities of developing countries that rely on second hand resale markets for dissemination of products and information for growth and maturity, how Libraries are being unable to exercise their lawful rights when moving to digital media, how DRM can allow authors to "unilaterally prevent" disabled people from exercising rights afforded by existing copyright laws, and even how DRM can inhibit the ability for schools and universities to offer distance education (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2005).

Within this article, the EFF continues by showing detailed examples in which DRM shackled technologies such as DVD have experienced very little innovation over the years since being introduced because of the lack of academic research allowed within the technologies. In summary, railing against the way in which DRM is used to withhold information, the EFF points out: "Access to information is essential in education and research and has a direct impact on literacy levels, economic growth and quality of life (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2005)."

And thus, there should be no doubt that the DMCA and DRM have been used to inhibit the "progress of science and useful arts" and therefore it should be declared unconstitutional and rejected by the American people.

However, the problems do not end there; the DMCA and use of DRM directly impacts the ability of consumers to exercise the doctrine of Fair Use, and First Sale, both consumer rights protected in the U.S. Copyright law.

The Doctrine of Not-So-Fair Use and One-time-only Sales

In the Copyright Act of 1976, two important doctrines were formed and codified in the United States Code: the doctrine of Fair Use, and the doctrine of First Sale. Fair Use as defined in U.S. Copyright Law is intentionally ambiguous as each specific situation stands to dictate what is ‘fair’ (Lohmann, 2005). Section 107 of Article 17 of the United States Code declares that various situations can be used to determine fairness, including the purpose and character of the use and the nature of the copyrighted work (U.S. Copyright Office, 2007).

When examining the doctrine of Fair Use Fred von Lohmann, a senior Intellectual Property Attorney of the EFF states that the doctrine of Fair Use helps bring sanity into the law of copyright, protecting people in actions as innocent as whistling a tune walking down the road, or cutting out and posting a comic strip on an office wall (Lohmann, 2005). However, current implementations of DRM are incapable of creating allowances for the doctrine of Fair Use, and once combined with the DMCA anti-circumvention laws DRM effectively limits and destroys the capabilities provided in the doctrine of fair use to consumers.

On top of this violation of copyright law, the doctrine of First Sale allows ownership of material that has a copyright to be transferred when the product is purchased. In other words, when a consumer purchases a book that is held in copyright, that book then becomes the property of the consumer, and they have the right to gift or resell the book without being held in violation of U.S. Copyright Laws.

However, despite the protection provided to consumer by use of the doctrine of First Sale, current implementations of DRM restrict the transfer of copy protected works to the purchaser, and allow copyright holders to retain ownership of copy protected works, even after the ownership of said works has been legally transferred through the doctrine of First Sale.

Abuses of this illegal control afforded to copyright owners can be seen in recent cases such as when Amazon on behalf of a book publisher revoked the ownership of the works of George Orwell for users of the Amazon Kindle device (McSherry, 2009). Such actions, while not unprecedented have provoked outrage among many in the digital community causing one blogger to refer to DRM as Dystopian Rights Management, in honor of the irony of Amazon stealing copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from their Kindle users (D’Andrade, 2009).

As the constitutional case against the DMCA and DRM continues to grow, there is, yet another form of constitutional abdication taking place within the confines of the DMCA and DRM.

The unlimited limits of protection

Apart from the DMCA inhibiting scientific progress, and the violation of Copyright Law afforded by DRM technologies; we find another form of Constitutional violation with the use of DRM which provides unlimited copyright terms for authors and artists (or their representatives).

As we have previously discussed, the Constitution allows for time-limited exclusive rights of original works; however, the use of DRM affords a non-expiring monopoly on the copyright owner’s published works. Thus, DRM has once again been found to circumvent the original intent and purpose of the Constitutional foundation of U.S. Copyright laws.

Additionally, the use of DRM has also been used by publishers to take unofficial ownership of works that have passed into the public domain, thereby extending the limitations afforded copyright holders to anyone willing to brand a public work with DRM limitations, thus effectively allowing a time-unlimited extension to authored works.

Despite all of the constitutional and unlawful violations wrapped up into the introduction of the DMCA and DRM, despite how the DMCA and DRM lead to the destruction of the freedom of speech, the freedom of intellectual pursuit, and the freedom of academic and scientific progress; still, one is left wondering, who actually benefits from the use of Digital Rights Management?

Under Control of the Cartels

While outright unethical uses of DRM have been discovered by some security researchers such as when Mark Russinovich discovered Sony installing a DRM rootkit devised to circumvent PC security such as AntiVirus software (Russinovich, 2005), one is really left to wonder how much benefit artists and authors actually gain from the legitimate use of DRM?

It is well known that when protecting copyright works with DRM, unless every version of of a copyright work has been protected with DRM then DRM affords little protection against copyright infringement through unlawful copying. Thus in order to gain the full benefits of protection against unlawful copying, artists and authors and publishers must subscribe to the licensing services of intermediaries that act as gatekeepers of the DRM implementations, often at a high cost (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2005).

"These licenses", state the EFF, "have the effect of turning publishers and performers and authors into customers for developed-world intermediaries to whom they become beholden (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2005)."

Conclusion

In the end, while there are many issues left untouched regarding the problems afforded by the DMCA and the use of DRM, it should remain clear that the DMCA and associated DRM technologies are involved in the subterfuge of the rights of the American people. Through blatant violations of Constitutional law, Copyright law, and the United States Code, the Digital Millennial Copyright Act and associated Digital Rights Management technologies must be branded as a defector to the common welfare of the United States, and the world at large.

It is now the responsibility of you, the reader; as writer, or artist and co-consumer to cry out in anger and demand the rights and protections, and balance of liberty and justice afforded to you and your children and your children’s children, remembering if you give up your rights to property ownership, you give up your liberty. Protect the Constitution against the DMCA and DRM.

 

References

D’Andrade, H. (2009, July 07). Orwell in 2009 : Dystopian Rights Management. Retrieved August 08, 2009, from Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/07/orwell-2009-dystopia

Electronic Frontier Foundation. (2005, March). Digital Rights Management: A failure in the developed world, a danger to the developing world. Retrieved August 08, 2009, from Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org/wp/digital-rights-management-failure-developed-world-danger-developing-world

Electronic Frontier Foundation. (2008, October). Unintended Consequences: Ten Years under the DMCA. Retrieved August 08, 2009, from Eletronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org/files/DMCAUnintended10.pdf

Ely, J. W. (2008). The guardian of every other right: a constitutional history of property rights. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lohmann, F. V. (2005, March). Fair Use and Digital Rights Management. Retrieved August 08, 2009, from Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org/wp/fair-use-and-digital-rights-management-preliminary-thoughts-irreconcilable-tension-between-them

McSherry, C. (2009, August 5). The Kindle Lawsuit: Protecting Readers from Future Abuses. Retrieved August 08, 2009, from Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/08/kindle-lawsuit-protecting-readers-future-abuses

Russinovich, M. (2005, October 31). Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far. Retrieved August 08, 2009, from Mark’s Block: http://blogs.technet.com/markrussinovich/archive/2005/10/31/sony-rootkits-and-digital-rights-management-gone-too-far.aspx

U.S. Constitution. (n.d.). Art I, S. 8, cl. 8.

U.S. Copyright Office. (2007, October). Complete version of the U.S. Copyright Law. Retrieved August 08, 2009, from Copyright Law of the United States: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/circ92.pdf

U.S. Copyright Office. (2009, August 05). Copyright Basics. Retrieved August 08, 2009, from U.S. Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf

WikiPedia. (2009, August 21). United States Bill of Rights. Retrieved August 24, 2009, from WikiPedia, the free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Bill_of_Rights

WikiPedia. (2009, August 24). United States Declaration of Independence. Retrieved August 24, 2009, from WikiPedia, the free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence

Adoption…

Sometimes it seems (more often than not) it seems like all the time & money & energy is for nothing… We have consistently gone over and beyond getting every single piece of the process done that we had control over as soon as possible; finding the best lawyer there was to offer, making trip after trip out of state, for single pieces of paper, throwing every resource that God has given to us into the battle for our children’s lives & safety…

When I sit back and think about it, I’m really depressed thinking about how I haven’t spent more than a day or so with my family here in Maine on vacation since we started our adoption… every time I take vacation it’s to run to another state to do paperwork, or fly to Haiti… I keep telling myself (because I know it’s true) that when the children come home, it’ll all be worth it.

But we’re going on 9 months into the process… and we’ve been done what we needed to get done (except a couple small papers) since month 3…  and I just found out today that there is a possibility that my upcoming trip to Haiti has a high probability of accomplishing nothing (even though it is taking my final full week of vacation I have available, and going to cost a large sum of money, I don’t technically have).

Sometimes it seems like the harder we try the more that gets put in our way… I can say that so far God has overcome all of our obstacles… and the simple little faith that I have tells me He will continue to do so; for His glory… but why am I still having such a hard time letting go and giving it to Him.

Today i stepped in a tar-pit and I’m sinking fast…

I did it…

I’ve been procrastinating… I finally did it… I purchased my ticket’s to Haiti… a whole week all by myself in a country far, far from home.  And who says I’m not adventurous… and nervous…

Who is to blame anyway?

SocNets has been in the news a lot over the last year, especially when detailing how easy it is to violate an individual’s privacy through the use of published profile information. Take for example the 2008 BlackHat presentation provided by Nathan Hamiel and Shawn Moyer called “Satan is on my Friends List (Hamiel & Moyer, 2008).“ In this presentation Hamiel and Moyer, discuss, among other things, how easy it is to mine, either manually or in an automated fashion, individual’s personal information posted to their profile.

Interestingly, in the news yesterday a lawsuit was announced against SocNet giant FaceBook. The lawsuit accuses Facebook of multiple counts of violations of privacy (Stafford, 2009). While I am left wondering about the ethical and legal nature of what SocNet giants like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn do with people’s personal information; and feel that there needs to be accountability to consumers, there is another side of me altogether that asks if it is not the fault of the users for being so trusting and foolish with their own private information.

As an example: Daily on Facebook I am flooded by hundreds of imbecilic “apps” that want me to guess this or try this or do that. Each and every one of these apps, when run, is granted access to the personal information that you have within your social networking account. And yet, people continue to run these ridiculous foolish apps, over and over, day in and day out, without a single thought as to what these applications are actually doing with their data.

In examining this issue, I would say that I certainly think that SocNets need to be held accountable for using the data provided to them in appropriate ways; however, I think users must become more informed, and aware of what these organizations are doing with their data. I find it ironic that it is often the same users that are bemoaning the loss of privacy that are providing a minute by minute play of what they are doing in the privacy of their own home.

References

Hamiel, N., & Moyer, S. (2008, April). BlackHat-Japan-08-Moyer-Hamiel-Satan-Friends-List.pdf. Retrieved August 19, 2009, from BlackHat: http://www.blackhat.com/presentations/bh-jp-08/bh-jp-08-Moyer-Hamiel/BlackHat-Japan-08-Moyer-Hamiel-Satan-Friends-List.pdf
Stafford, P. (2009, August 19). Facebook sued over privacy violations. Retrieved August 19, 2009, from SmartCompany: http://www.smartcompany.com.au/web-20/20090819-facebook-sued-over-privacy-violations.html

Why do we really care about Privacy?

Why do we desire privacy? I’ve never really thought of that question honestly. The idea of privacy has always been a rote noun tumbling from my lips as an information security professional. I say: “We must protect people’s privacy” or “We must ensure privacy”, all said in an Orwellian sheepish sort of way.

And to top it off, because I have worked so long in the field of information security, I have almost all but given up on the idea that any of my personal information is private, and take the approach that if I am to tell something to someone other than my spouse and a few close personal friends, that information has now become the sphere of public domain.

And yet, there is still something about my life, and my home, and my family that I want to remain private, and personal… but why? In the article Privacy and the Computer written by Lucas D. Introna, Introna brings up a very interesting reason to the question of “Why Privacy (Introna, 2000)”.

To answer the question of why we need privacy as human beings, Introna states that living without privacy is like living in a world where everything is transparent. He continues by stating that in a transparent world, there can be no such thing as the statement an ownership of ideas, or personal relationships, or even the idea of personhood or intimate relationships.

Introna’s idea is that privacy is the means in which we as humans make distinctions between ourselves and others; the facilitator of levels of relationships from friends to intimacy. As someone once said: “Man is a social creature”, and to Introna’s point, if you take away our ability to relate to people in a social context, you take away what it is that makes us human.

The idea of the importance of retaining individuality in a transparent world, reminds me a lot of a writer that I am very fond of: C.S. Lewis.

In his masterpiece, The Great Divorce, Lewis writes of the divorce between Heaven and Hell; an analogical view of Heaven and Hell where people choose their place of existence.

In Hell, phantoms, at their own will, can hop on a bus and ride it to Heaven. Here, they are confronted with their own nakedness and exposure standing alone in their existence. They find that their ghost like appearance offers very little substance compared to things as mundane as grass and sunlight and rain in the context of a society of “solid people”.

One scene particular reminds me of Introna’s writings. Lewis describes a scene in which a well-dressed woman, suffering from the ghostly visage of those who have recently come from Hell, tries to run and hide among bushes to get out of view of the solid people who have since, or who are in the process of, transitioning into Heaven. Lewis writes the following (Lewis, 2009):

    ‘Go away!’ squealed the Ghost. ‘Go away! Can’t you see I want to be alone?’

    ‘But you need help,’ said the Solid One.

‘If you have the least trace of decent feeling left,’ said the Ghost, ‘you’ll keep away. I don’t want help. I want to be left alone. Do go away. You know I can’t walk fast enough on those horrible spikes [grass] to get away from you. It’s abominable of you to take advantage.’

‘Oh, that!’ said the Spirit, ‘That’ll soon come right. But you’re going in the wrong direction. It’s back there – to the mountains – you need to go. You can lean on me all the way. I can’t absolutely carry you, but you need have almost no weight on your own feet: and it will hurt less at every step.’

    ‘I’m not afraid of being hurt. You know that.’

    ‘Then what is the matter?’

‘Can’t you understand anything? Do you really suppose I’m going out there among all those people, like this?’

    ‘But why not?’

    ‘I’d never have come at all if I’d known you were all going to be dressed like that.’

    ‘Friend, you see I’m not dressed at all.’

    ‘I didn’t mean that. Do go away.’

    ‘But can’t you even tell me?’

‘If you can’t understand, there’d be no good trying to explain it. How can I go out like this among a lot of people with real solid bodies? It’s far worse than going out with nothing on would have been on Earth. Have everyone staring through me.’

‘Oh, I see. But we were all a bit ghostly when we first arrived, you know. That’ll wear off. Just come out and try.’

    ‘But they’ll see me.’

    ‘What does it matter if they do?’

    ‘I’d rather die. (p. 607)’

And I would echo, that to live in a world where I am an open book to be read, with no personal ideas, no personal values, no intimacy between me and others, and no social concept of relationships would, I too, would also rather die.

References

Introna, L. (2000). Privacy and the Computer. In R. Baird, R. Ramsower, & S. Rosenbaum, Cyberethics (pp. 188-199). Amherst: Prometheus.

Lewis, C. (2009). The Great Divorce (Kindle Edition). New York: HarperCollins-eBooks.

 

Is bribery unethical? Well that Depends…

We were presented with the following circumstances in our Ethics & IT Course this week; strangely, so far, I am on the only one who felt that the company would not be wrong to offer this ‘bribe’.  Does this mean that my moral compass has been destroyed by years of working in the dark-side of information security; or does it mean that I have a more critical higher level of thinking than all my other classmates.

Here is the situation:

Company wants to expand into China; The area the company is moving into is controlled by local officials.  Research suggests that providing a ‘payoff’ to the official will all but guarantee the approval for permits, the lack of a ‘payoff’ all but guarantees that the company will be denied necessary permits.  Research shows that all other companies are proceeding by hiring a consultant to “get the job done in anyway possible”; so as to be able to sign disclosure stating they didn’t provide any ‘bribes’; the CEO of the company is concerned that this is unethical, and is concerned they will violate their company principle of integrity and honesty.

 

Here are my thoughts:

 

According to WikiPedia, Bribery, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient (WikiPedia, 2009). And while I am sure that much greater minds have wrestled with this thought; and an answer much more deserving of applaud has been provided; I will take a humble approach at explaining my views on this question of the morality of bribery.

This evening, I took my wife out to a restaurant we frequent a lot; I tipped the waitress well; as I know tipping well and being friendly affords some future luxury when it comes to making reservations and getting seats that we like. I do the same thing when I get a haircut; I give out Christmas bonuses to my Mail-person and to the sanitary workers that collect my trash. All because I know it’s a good feeling to be appreciated, and this small act of kindness will go a long way. In fact, my company does the same thing for me; they give me bonuses when I do good, and they shower benefits (like paid vacation, time off, retirement plans, 401k matches, etc) to encourage me to stay at the company and to work harder.

After a second trip to a third world country, I learned that the customs officers know and trust certain people that work in the airport; I’ve made friends with one of the guys and I tip him well; as a result; he helps move me right through customs without having to wait in a long line or have my stuff dug through. I have also had a friend who once experienced sitting in an Ethiopian airport for almost a week waiting to be released; because she was with a group of people whose leader refused to pay the official to let them go (apparently this unofficial payment was an expectation).

I know in some countries where I have done business it is standard procedures for officials to take payments for their services, above and beyond what the official payments are to the governmental office in which they work.

Apart from all of these anecdotal views of the question of bribery; we were also asked to comment on another organizations way of dealing with this same type of situation. Whenever the idea of bribery comes up, the first organization I think of is the United States Government. I always find it a bit ironic that while our country of the United States makes bribery illegal, our entire governmental legal process is built on bribery – except; it is given a more politically correct name: lobbying. And by changing the name, we can continue to condemn the act in other governments and other parts of the world that we so readily take part in ourselves. Strange, isn’t it?

So what really is a bribe? What are the moral restraints of bribery? When is bribery acceptable and when is it not. What makes a ‘bribe’ immoral or unethical?
I would offer the following simple guideline to determine when bribes (payments) are immoral or unethical:

  • Are the bribes being used to facilitate an action that is itself morally questionable or illegal
    • For example; bribing someone to look the other way while a law is broken

In the case presented in our course room for discussion; given the little bit of information provided; that is, this organization will be approved for their expansion if they lobby the zoning official, and they will likely be denied if they do not; the question of morality comes from, not the act of lobbying itself; but what is the purpose and reason for lobbying (I guess you could say it’s a teleological argument).

Does the organization have to lobby because the law states that they can’t expand for the protection of the people (pollution, environmental, etc), or is the lobbying merely an expedient way to get someone who is on good terms with the government to put in a good word for them to all but guarantee their approval.
From what I have read about this situation, this “payoff” as described sounds nothing more than a zoning fee exacted by local officials on top of any government fees already being subscribed to. There is nothing in the reading that provides a reasonable belief that the act of this “payoff” will lead to a violation of a moral or ethical principle; additionally, there is nothing in the values of the organization that stands against the question of paying fees to government officials to get work done in a fast and efficient manner.

<Some part of conversation omitted>

References
WikiPedia. (2009, August 06). Bribery. Retrieved August 13, 2009, from WikiPedia, the free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bribe

I’ve been a bit sad…

Ok: I’m not much of a sappy tell the world about my problems kind of blogger… but hey, every once in a while might not be that bad…

Sadness crept in unexpected and somewhat overwhelming when I realized yesterday that this coming week is the family visit as H.I.S. Home for Children.

 

So far this year, we have gone on every visit (Feb. and May) – but it just wasn’t financially feasible to make the international trip again in August.  I’m going to have to go back down sometime soon for paperwork; the plane trip is usually only about 400-500$ a person; but then there is the cost of staying in a hotel for a week and a half – and eating out for a week and a half… overall our trips have been averaging about $3500.

You’d think that hotels and food in a third world country would be cheaper – but they aren’t… that’s wicked sad when you think about it – because the average income for the small percentage of people (and we’re talking like %50) that actually have jobs is like $5 a day, and for us to eat in Haiti at it’s cheapest was probably $25 dollars a day per person, of course, we were eating like American’s not like Haitians.

The sadness comes from the realization of how long it’s been since we have held our children; and the sadness is mixed with loving jealousy of the other families that are going to get to spend a week and a half with their children.

So far this year; the time has flown by so fast; it’s hard to believe that it’s been over 8 months since we’ve started our adoption process; but it’s been over three months since we have gotten to see our children in person; and it’s heartbreaking.

 

🙁

Plagiarize this!

Plagiarism is bad.

Do you know how many people I just plagiarized, by writing “Plagiarism is bad”?

I understand the idea behind plagiarism, and I agree that the intentional misrepresentation of the authorship of work is disreputable; however, I have to ask, in a day and age of digital communications, when has my exact thoughts not been thought of before, when have my exact words not been used?

As a poet, I think it may be easier (perhaps?) to pen a unique vision of the sublimity for any particular subject given the flourishing ability within language to use it in new and unique ways; however, when discussing in academia a common subject from a pragmatic perspective such as “breathing”, or “sailing”, or “bicycles”; it is hard to envision that after almost 6,000 years of spoken and written language, someone, somewhere hasn’t thought the same thing in the same way. So where do we stop?

In saying this, I can’t help but think that the increased use of tools such as online plagiarism scanners will cower creativity creating individuals scared to say single lines of prose without cross-referencing, annotating and indexing every single word.

Could you imagine the illegibility and annoyance of reading a paragraph such as this:

Stones are round (author, 1756). Stones can be used for shaping tools (another author, 1845). Stones can come in many different colors (third_author, 1935). Purple stones are often a type of stone called amethyst (scientist, 1878). Some stones are made up of compressed earth (again_another_author, 1967).

And yet, universities and academia have spread so much fear of reprisals around charges of plagiarism, that we, as students are almost afraid to open our mouths and speak, knowing that the very breath we expulse will exude, even unwittingly, plagiaristic tendencies.

Apart from all these concerns around the stifling of creativity and the fear of unknown and unexpected plagiarism accusations when the entirety of the world-wide-web becomes the standard in which plagiarism is judged; there is also the concern of privacy. Id Est: just what are these sites doing with my papers that I’m submitting? Are they keeping them, are they indexing them, are they annotating them, giving me credit for my combination of sentences that have never yet been seen? And if not, who is protecting my original cerebral outpouring from being plagiarized?

It was once said that “great minds assimilate” (and no, I couldn’t find any Google references to someone actually saying this, so please note, that this idea is mine now, make sure you reference me when using it in the future!). So in this future of watchers, great minds – I urge you to keep a notepad and pen handy and anytime and anywhere you hear an idea that sounds striking to you, do not hastily absorb it into your own thinking, for in fact, if at some point in the future, you find that you cannot remember where this novel idea came from in your own mind, to present it to anyone as an idea of your own will damn you to the hells of literary purgatory.

As for the idea of bettering the approach of checking all written documents against all world-wide-digital-media for any iota of a hint of possible plagiarism; my response is: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here (Alighieri, 1892).”

References

Alighieri, D. (1892). The Vision of Hell. London: Cassell & Company.