Note: I should mention at the offset that this post is from an Australian perspective and may not relate to (the laws of) your region.
The internet seems to have its own ethical code that contrasts fairly dramatically with the legal system in a number of areas. By “the internet” I clearly don’t mean the millions of machines connected by cables; I mean the people who comprise the internet. Predominantly those that run websites and participate actively in forums and social networks.
Here are a number of key areas in which I think that internet culture deviates significantly from the law. I feel the internet community generally regards that:
- Looking at porn is fairly normal (or at least very common)
- Downloading shows that have been broadcast on television is alright
- Downloading roms to play on emulators is alright
- Hotlinking is theft. Copy and link to the source.
Porn is incredibly big business on the internet and most people associate the internet with porn to a large degree. If porn is in such high demand and downloading porn is so strongly associated with internet use, why can it only legally be sold (at retailers) in the ACT? All other states and territories in Australia absolutely prohibit the sale of porn (even to adults).
Although this is soon to change, it is illegal in Australia to record television shows or rip your audio CDs to your MP3 player. I think that the general consensus from the internet community is that it’s alright to share videos of shows that have been publically broadcast. I think that the argument is that public broadcast puts the show in the public domain. Legally, this isn’t the case.
Emulators and ROMs
The internet community tends to regard very old games or software as abandonware. This seems to include video game ROMs for old arcade machines and superceded consoles. ROMs and emulators are very popular downloads, but using an emulator to play a ROM is generally illegal (even if you have the original game). Legally, games companies still hold copyright on these games and they cannot be copied or downloaded.
Hotlinking is probably the most contrasting example here. Giving credit to an author doesn’t give you a legal right to copy their image. It’s still a copyright violation unless you have explicit permission to use their image. Now, linking to a website is not copyright infringement (because you do not make or host a local copy). So arguably hotlinking is the most appropriate thing to do legally. However, it is widely frowned upon online. The general feeling seems to be that you should create a local copy (which is illegal without permission), but always provide a reference link to the site where the content was originally found.
Mainstream media tends to pander to viewer insecurities and associates very negative attributes to “internet geeks”. I want to be clear that one shouldn’t extrapolate too much from the views I mentioned above. I feel that those that believe the above will (like most people) still assert that:
- Downloading complete DVD rips is pretty dodgy
- Selling burnt copies of games downloaded from the internet is wrong
- Using fake credit card details is very wrong
- Child porn is absolutely reprehensible
Reconciling our legal system
Do these internet views reflect wider social mores? If so, it seems that many of our laws are out of sync with current social values, and I believe they should be brought into line.