Copyright and Your Rights

Prior to this group of readings, I did not know much about copyright infringement, piracy, and tampering with software aside from the general consensus that it was “wrong” by some accounts. The DMCA is completely new to me and presents an interesting issue with legitimate arguments on both sides.

I’ll begin by addressing the somewhat strange fact that John Deere and GM claim to maintain ownership over their vehicles because they own the software. At the end of the day, if there is no difference in how we interact with their products, and no one is hurt on either side, then I say let them claim this ownership and move on. The more significant manifestations of the DMCA and the authority of the Librarian of Congress — a role I had never really considered, but I guess it makes sense that it exists — include issues of medical devices and the transparency pertaining to them.

As technology invades even the most mundane objects, and the internet of things permeates all aspects of our lives, I think we really need a strong foundational understanding of what is appropriate to tamper with. For example, some cars are now being hacked which presents a terrifying prospect. When the DMCA finds its grounding in ensuring the optimal benefit for society, and not merely catering to the interests of wealthy corporations, there I think we will find an act that is well-intended.

I believe that it is ethical for users to reverse engineer technology and to modify it. I think that as with literature, if the work is not being reproduced with minor modifications for sale, then it is appropriate. For example, I’ve taken movie posters off the internet and edited them in Photoshop. But I wasn’t looking to sell them or profit off them except through a laugh. I think if technology is altered through reverse engineering or any form, but is not used for commercial purposes — or malicious, or any other such exceptions — then I do not think that the DMCA should play the role that it currently does. From my understanding, it is restricting users’ abilities in ways that exceed what is truly necessary. And so I believe that is would be ethical, for example, to adjust the top speed of your Tesla by altering its software; I agree with the article that said that this is already covered in traffic laws, so leave this up to the police. I do not think that the DMCA should be the ones acting as speed enforcement.

I think about the fact that Apple prides itself on the uniformity of its brand and consistency across its phones. Android allows users far greater customization and control in designing apps and interacting with their phones. If users were allowed to alter the software of their devices, it appears to me that the uniformity that Apple seeks could deteriorate, and I do not like this as a designer. I really admire Apple’s uniform brand and the strict aesthetics/design patterns/attention to best-in-the-world UX and design, and it would bother me to see a friend’s phone with sub-standard interface because he or she edited its software. But that may just be my opinion, and I would have to relinquish a significant amount of my stance on this issue were I to try to enforce the uniformity of Apple’s brand.

In conclusion, I think it’s ethical to alter the software in your devices as long as it is not for commercial profit, and I think that the DMCA oversteps what is necessary.

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