The ethics of copyright violation

Picture of illegal downloading on a laptop
By Alex Burden, Student Blog

27 October 2016

What would you consider to be the morality and ethical issues of illegally downloading or streaming online? 

Ethics is an important foundation for the training and work undertaken by our CAs and ethical behaviour is at the heart of ICAS because it is trust that allows business relationships to flourish.

Downloading or illegally watching a series is not the same as physically stealing from someone, but there is muddied water when it comes to the ethics of the act, and all of our students should consider where they stand in light of this ethical copyright conundrum. When you are attending classes and accessing wi-fi at your training venues, this means that you should think carefully about your online behaviour.

How much does it cost?

The Institute for Policy Innovation cited global music piracy in 2014 as causing $12.5bn of economic losses, including 71,060 jobs in the US market. A further $422 million is lost in tax revenues.

The costs to the film industry is considered to be even higher and has marked a shift in producers signing exclusive deals with paid streaming sites such as Netflix to recoup losses and reduce piracy.

In his article for the Conversation; ‘Is downloading really stealing? The ethics of digital piracy’, Christian Barry debates the public discussion around the ethics of the topic. In one camp, the fundamentalist libertarians suggest that copyright infringement is a “victimless crime, and do not think it imposes significant costs on anyone”.

This is in direct opposition to the fundamentalist protectors who equate streaming / torrenting as common theft, who believe that “owners of intellectual property deserve just as much protection and means for redress as those who have had their handbags or televisions stolen, including civil and criminal sanction against those who have violated their intellectual property,” writes Christian.

What is currently legal?

So where does copyright infringement lie? In its current state, the law prohibits the viewing or downloading of copyrighted material, unless it is being accessed through a paid subscription such as Amazon Prime, for example.

Indeed, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) implements treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, and can be enforced under international copyright protection: internet service providers (ISPs) can be compelled to remove content, access to websites or even internet access for a temporary or extended amount of time.

As Christian points out: “Infringing intellectual property rights can also increase cost to those who pay for the goods, in the form of higher prices. Those who pay for intellectual property are effectively subsidising its use by those who do not pay for it. In most cases this seems unfair.”

You may ask yourself, does the ethics of downloading or streaming matter when I’m anonymous? That post you typed? It’s recorded. That video you made? It’s logged. There is no ‘clear cache’ for the entire internet.

Your online movements are tracked by your ISP as a matter of course, right down to an individual’s name, their company (where applicable), access times and a list of sites visited; for the most part, however, ISPs will trigger a ‘friendly warning’ rather than an immediate ‘take-down’ or ‘cease and desist’ notice, as enforcing copyright infringement on a mass scale would be a tremendous task and likely to tie up the courts for decades to come.

On a short-term basis, they’ll throttle your connection whenever a particular site is flagged (yes, they know what sites you use – all of them!), and especially if there is associated increased bandwidth usage.

As a CA Student Member you are already bound by the ICAS code of Ethics. This features a promise to maintain professional behaviour and integrity; this starts from day one of your studies, and the ethics you live by now can determine how your career is shaped or the paths it may take.

It’s maybe not so much a matter of personal ethics, as much as whether you mean to go on as you have started in your professional life.

The technical risks

Our ICAS staff and students are subject to a defined IT policy, which includes copyright restrictions set down by our external internet service provider.

The policy states that no user may IT systems in violation of license agreements, copyrights, contracts or national laws, and this includes torrenting across peer to peer networks and streaming copyrighted content.

User activity and bandwidth usage is logged by our provider and we are alerted when the policy is contravened. There are also several risks associated with downloading or streaming copyrighted materials from illegal sites, including drive-by downloads and torrent malware.

Training offices will also have their own IT policy relating to the download of illegal materials such as copyright films and music, and we ask that all students consider their usage of the ICAS wi-fi in light of this. The policy includes all use by personal devices on the network.

Users of the ICAS student wi-fi are also asked to keep anti-virus and firewall software turned on and up-to-date to insure against the spreading of Trojans and viruses. Students must not purchase, load or download any type of software or application without prior authorisation – if you are unsure, please email for confirmation of acceptable usage.


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