Computer Ethics PHI3626 Chapter 6

Computer Ethics 3rd Edition by Deborah G. Johnson

These are the questions from the book with my answers, which are what I understood from studying the information in this book.

Chapter 6 Questions

  1. Describe the differences between hardware and software?

    My Answer: Hardware: refers to the machine, a malleable machine with practically infinite possible configurations.

    Software: refers to a set of instructions for the machine. Software controls and configures the machine. When software is put into a computer, it causes switches to be set and determines what the computer can and cannot do. The software sets up the computer so that it responds in determinate ways when users press keys or input programs.

  2. What are the differences among object programs, source programs, and algorithms?

    My Answer: Algorithms: The solution to a problem set in a precise way as a series of steps to be carried out, each step being itself clearly defined.

    Source programs: The source code consists of the programming statements that are created by a programmer with a text editor or a visual programming tool and then saved in a file. When the algorithm is “coded” in a high level computer language, it is called the source program.

    Object programs: The program expressed in machine language is called an object program. It is the object program which actuates the settings of switches which enables the computer to perform the underlying algorithms and solve the problems.

  3. Explain the kind of protection offered by copyright, trade secrecy and patents. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each for developers of computer software?

    My Answer: Copyright: In the United States, when a software developer creates an original piece of software, the developer can use copyright law to obtain a form of ownership that will exclude others from directly copying the software with out permission. In 1998, copyright law was amended to extend the term of coverage to the life of the author plus 70 years.
    Problem: Copyright does not give software developers a monopoly on their software and does not protect the valuable part of the program, its functionality. Moreover, copyright law does not provide a stable environment for software developers in that it leaves a good deal of uncertainty about what one owns when one has a copyright on a computer software

    Trade secrecy: The laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but in general what they do is give companies the right to keep certain kinds of information secrets. The laws are aimed specifically at protecting companies from losing their competitive edge. Thus, for example, a company can keep secret the precise recipe of foods that it sells or the formula of chemicals it uses in certain processes. Some software companies try to keep their software secret by using nondisclosure clauses in contracts of employment and by means of licensing agreements with those who use their software.
    Problem: Hard to enforce for business in many jurisdictions. Enforcing employment agreements and licensing agreements is a tricky business. Often the secrets must be shared to sell the software.

    Patents: In principle, patent protection offers the strongest form of protection for software because a patent gives the inventor a monopoly on the use of the invention. A patent gives the patent holder both the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention, and the right to license others to make, use, or sell it. There are 3 types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and patents on plant forms.
    Problem: The problem with patent protection is not in the kind of protection it provides, but rather the apparent inappropriateness of patents on software.

  4. What is meant by improper appropriation in copyright laws?

    My Answer: While improper appropriation is not a precise notion, it is meant to define the line between taking another’s work and building on another’s work. Hence, a copyright holder can stop an infringer if the copyright holder can show that the accused relied heavily on the copyright holder’s program and did not add anything significant to it. This shows improper appropriation.

  5. Why is it sometimes difficult for employees to keep company information secret?

    My Answer: Often a company must reveal the secrets in order to sell the software.

  6. What is Locke’s labor theory of property? Why doesn't it necessarily apply to ownership of computer software?

    My Answer: According to Locke, a person acquires a right to ownership in something by mixing his or her labor with it.

    Software is intelligible as a not tangible entity. The software developer can describe how the software works and what it does. Another person can comprehend the idea of the software, even its functionality, and then use this understanding to write original software (source code) that does what was described. Moreover, once a piece of software is developed, many others can make identical copies of the software and yet not deprive the developer of the software.

    Because of the reproducibility of computer software, the labor theory of property cannot be used to justify the assignment of property rights to software developers

  7. What natural rights arguments can be made for and against ownership of software?

    My Answer: For: What software developer want is not just a right to own (in the sense of possess and use) the products for their labor. They want a right that give them the capacity to sell and, if successful at selling, make a profit from their creation. This is a claim to an economic right, that is a right within an economic system.

    Against: In the language of natural rights, a person has a natural right to freedom of thought. Ownership of software could seriously interfere with freedom of thought. So, ownership of software should not be allowed.

  8. What are the consequentiality arguments for and against ownership of software?

    My Answer: For: It has 2 parts:

    bad consequences result from no ownership: Individuals and companies will not invest their time, energy, and resources to develop and market software. Innovation and development will be impeded, even brought to a standstill.

    and good consequences result from ownership: Property rights will encourage invention, innovation, new products, and creative expression.

    Against: An idea was to make software free of charge and focus the market on hardware. Computers are useless without software, so hardware companies would be compelled to create good software in order to make their computer marketable.

  9. What would happen to software development if software were declared unownable?

    My Answer: Software development will not stop if it can’t be owned… Freeware, shareware are examples.

  10. What would happen to software development if software copying is immoral? What arguments support the claim that software copying is not immoral?

    My Answer: Arguments that it is wrong: In a society with legal rights to computer software, the act of copying software without permission of the copyright or patent holder, is illegal and harms the owner of the software by depriving the owner of his or her legal right to control use of that software. It deprives the software owner of the right to require payment in exchange for the use of the software.

    Arguments that it is not wrong: There is nothing intrinsically wrong with copying, and it does no harm.

  11. The author argues that software copying is immoral because it is illegal. How does she arrive at this conclusion? Are there limits to the applicability of this argument?

    My Answer: The immorality of software copying derives from its illegality. Once a system of property laws has been created, individuals who live under those laws have certain rights, and those who break the laws violate the rights of property holders.

    You might be resistant to this line of thinking because you think the laws protecting software ownership are bad laws.

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Deborah G Johnson’s Conclusion:

Our ideas about property are tied to deeply ingrained notions of rights, fairness, and economic justice. Law and public policy on the ownership of various aspects of computer software structure the environment for software development, so it is important to evaluate these laws to insure the future development of computer and information technology.

The issue of the permissibility of making personal copies of proprietary software is also fascination and important but for different reasons. Here we are forced to clarify what makes and action right or wrong. We are forced to come to grips with our moral intuitions and to extend these to entities with unique characteristics.

The thrust of this chapter has been to move discussion of property rights in computer software away from the idea that property rights are given in nature, and towards the idea that we can and should develop property rights that serve us well in the long run.

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Disclaimer

These questions and the chapter conclusion come from the book "Computer Ethics" 3rd edition by Deborah G. Johnson. The conclusion and questions come from this book, but the answers are what m3cats found in the text of that book. The purpose of this duplication is for a study guide for PHI3626a at UCF during the spring of 2003.

Computer Ethics PHI3626 Chapter 7

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