September 26, 2022

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Does New Technology Encourage Unethical Behavior?

Does New Technology Encourage Unethical Behavior?

It seems like only yesterday that the furor over Napster, Metallica and the recording industry was in full flight.
When Napster was shut down, Kazaa launched into the fray and continued the fight on behalf of those who believe that music should be more freely available.
Many eventually found Kazaa too full of back door spyware and its popularity subsequently and dramatically declined. But that hasn’t halted the popularity of other peer-to-peer networks and technologies such as BitTorrent, LimeWire, and a host of others.
It didn’t stop the founders of Kazaa from believing in the power of “free.” They went on to found Skype, the market-leading VOIP company. Just about every communicator I know has Skype on their computer.
But in spite of the death of Kazaa in legal quagmires, the peer-to-peer sharing of digital media, from music to movies, continues unabated. File sharing in the digital domain isn’t going away, despite the hopes and pronouncements of some record companies.
And it’s not just geeks and teenage boys who are engaging in this activity. One highly qualified doctor in my acquaintance regularly shares the movies he downloads from the internet, often long before they are released in the cinemas. It turns out that Hollywood studios store their movies in a data warehouse, sometimes for up to two years, before they determine that the ‘time is right’ to release them.
Music industry employees have been found to be as equally culpable in the illegal distribution of copyrighted material; as Adrienne Day reported in a recent edition of New York, “with CD sales dropping, record labels are discovering that despite watermarking advance copies, label employees are often responsible for the record leaks.”
There is a European political party, founded in Sweden and now spreading its influence across to Austria, Germany and Spain, that makes copyright reform a major part of its platform. Founded in 2006 by a former Microsoft employee, Piratpartiet (Pirate Party) received 35,000 votes in Sweden’s 2006 election. Not enough for a seat but enough to force the major parties to make copyright reform a part of their agenda.
But is all this illegal and, in some eyes, unethical behavior a natural consequence of unprecedented access to the tools of digital distribution, or do phenomena like Napster, Kazaa and BitTorrent reflect an inherent “naughtiness” within us?
Dawn Poole at California State University surveyed students at junior high, high school and college levels.
She found that high school students were most likely to carry out unethical behavior, be it online or offline. Similarly, males were more likely to behave unethically than females. There was no difference between white, Hispanic and other racial groups over their likelihood to participate, and it turns out that the amount of access someone has to computer technology bears no relation to their likelihood or not to participate in unethical behavior.
Poole also found that college students were far more conservative in their beliefs and actions than the two other groups.
Overall, technology-facilitated unethical behaviors were more likely to be engaged in than non-technological behaviors, but–and this is an important ‘but’–all of the students surveyed were not very accepting of unethical behaviors and were unlikely to engage in them.
It seems that there has always been and will always be people willing to engage in unethical behavior; technology just seems to give them new ways to do it.
*Lee Hopkins is a business communications consultant specializing in internal communications. He blogs regularly at [](, and is a regular contributor to the [For Immediate Release]( podcast.*

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    Amanda Chapel

    I’d only been screaming this for over two years now.
    That said, the key sentence above is this: “But is all this illegal and, in some eyes, unethical behavior a natural consequence of unprecedented access to the tools of digital distribution, or do phenomena like Napster, Kazaa and BitTorrent reflect an inherent “naughtiness” within us?”
    Read that 5 times. It captures the problem definitively. It used to be that stealing was generally accepted as unethical. Now it’s only “in some eyes.” Sad.
    – Amanda

    Sarah Wurrey

    Good point Amanda. I think you’ve hit on the crux of the debate–there are many who don’t think file-sharing ought to be illegal, so therefore don’t view it as unethical. It will be interesting to see where this leads us, especially considering the idea that some in the recording industry would like to make copying a CD in any way illegal. How do we go about prosecuting those people?
    I think the digital music industry will be a very different place 10 years from now, right now the struggle is adjusting to the ways technology has changed the business.

    Amanda Chapel

    It’s digital looting; that’s all. Indeed, there are many people during a riot that think that’s okay. Not the rightful property owners however… nor the law. Bottom line: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is meaningless without protections… under the law.
    – Amanda

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