Essay on Ethical Aspect of Unauthorized File-sharing

Digital technologies progress with every day and thus change people use electronic goods and entertainment. The development of this sphere has caused tension between copyright holders and consumers of digital goods or services. The perfection of digital technology has shifted the importance of time and location for the digital entertainment. This is why the industry of entertainment has lost its ability to fully control the distribution of digital goods.

In the US digital copyright is protected by law. Congress enacted the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 as a restriction to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties.  The law described rules and regulations of legal operating in digital environment. Unauthorized file sharing is illegal according to DMCA. From the other side Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act enacted by Bush in 2001 allows unauthorized file sharing to nonprofit educational institutions.

Pressure from the side of digital companies and number of court cases made educational and entertaining organizations develop new technological opportunities, which let to use unauthorized digital material through peer-to-peer file sharing system. This system enables legally copy music and many other digital content through internet. From the other side, according to law fair use of copyright protected materials doesn’t require the permission of the producer. This way anybody, who has legally obtained any copyrighted material, can share it with his friends or other persons he wants.  So, unauthorized sharing can’t be prohibited unless it’s used with commercial aim. So, there is nothing ethically wrong with unauthorized file sharing unless they are used for commercial purposes.

High Internet speed let share digital content directly through Internet. Entertainment companies began fierce resistance because the ability to control the way digital goods get to the consumers is the basic source of income for music, video, television and publishing companies. As soon as the consumer is able to get the goods without their assistance, they lose their profits. All the business of the last century was based on the ability to control distribution of goods, usually situated in some physical place, i.e. shop or market.  An old business model became not appropriate for the changing surrounding. Looking for the new means to control the situation, digital companies started talking about ethical issues of unauthorized sharing of digital files. Being not able to perceive the changes and their inability to control the distribution of goods, they turn to different means to save the status quo and not let the changes occur.  At the same time there are companies, which adapt to changing situation and perceive the new opportunities. New popular services, which provide digital goods in Internet and ask money for loading files get much profit from innovations in digital market. In addition, Internet gives cheaper and more mobile opportunities for advertising and this can become the source of additional profit for digital industry.  From the other side, survey made in the US showed that most of the people, who copy files form internet don’t consider their actions to be illegal. They do believe that non-commercial use of entertaining files placed in the Internet shouldn’t be treated like illegal actions.  


1. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, U.S. Copyright Office Summary, December 1998,
2. U.S. Copyright Office, Online Service Providers: Designation by Service Provider of Agent for Notification of Claims of Infringement, 
3. EDUCAUSE Resource Center, 
4. Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities Technology Task Force, 
5. “Technological Requirements of the TEACH Act,” ACM, ARL, and EDUCAUSE white paper, 
6. University of Texas Crash Course on Copyright, 

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