Information Technology and Ethics/Intellectual Property Issues

Plagiarism edit

Plagiarism is the process of stealing someone else’s work, in most cases being the ideas or words of others, and presenting it as one’s own original work.[1]  This includes using someone’s work without crediting them as a source, effectively literary theft. This is an intellectual property issue because the works of others, whether in the forms of writings, spoken word, or other forms of media, is being essentially stolen and used, profited off of in the sense that it belongs to the fraud.[2] Plagiarism is especially a concern in the current world, the explosion of the internet has also brought upon an explosion in content, and an easier access to said content, allowing for easy plagiarizing and difficulty to catch it.

Plagiarism has serious ethical implications because it can be treated the same as theft.  It is intellectual property theft, and in the same way theft is unethical, plagiarism is congruently unethical.[3]  Theft is seen as unethical because it hurts others.  Thieves are taking away resources and possessions from another party, which can cause emotional damage due to perhaps sentimental items taken away from them, and physical damage in the sense that they are hurting the other party’s ability to survive and achieve their prosperity. If a student were to plagiarize a research paper created by a fellow classmate, and post it on an academic website claiming it as their own, they may be taking away buzz and the engagement surrounding the content from the original creator, who deserves all of the praise and perhaps money due to it being their creation.  In the extreme, this may cause a creator to lose out on money crucial to them living prosperously, while the plagiarizer is reaping the benefits unethically from work that isn’t theirs.[3]  Another implication this has is that, this inaccurately conveys a higher degree of credibility and knowledge for the plagiarizer.[3]  An individual that gains status and power by plagiarizing the works of others who are more knowledgeable than the individual actually is, they may find themselves in a position they are unqualified to be in, and this can have drastic consequences.  An airplane pilot who got through their education and training through cheating on assignments poses a risk of being unqualified to fly a plane and endangers the lives of the passengers.

Given the ethical consequences plagiarism may have plus its similarities to theft, it is logical to presume there are severe legal consequences to plagiarism.  Plagiarism isn’t illegal in most cases, it is usually a standard that non-federal institutions hold people accountable for, like schools or organizations people work at.[4]  These institutions will enact disciplinary action for breaches on their policy against plagiarism.  Although, in cases where plagiarism is in violation of the author’s trademark, patent or copyright, legal action can occur.[4]

Combating plagiarism is done through multiple ways, but the reason plagiarism occurs can generally be split between two reasons, and solutions are made for both.[3]  A lot of plagiarism is done by accident, lack of knowledge on how to properly give credit to the original author.  These failures largely reflect teachers or institutions as a whole failing to educate and inform individuals on how to take content from other creators and properly give them credit for the work.[5]  In this case, implementing policies that enforce education on academical citing and crediting in academic institutions (or other relevant institutions) is sufficient to deteriorate ignorance as a cause for plagiarizing.  The second reason that plagiarism happens is when it’s intentional.  Intentional plagiarism happens for a multitude of reasons, such as lack of self-confidence in student’s abilities to write a good paper, lack of time management skills which force a student to copy someone else’s work to save time, or laziness in completing the task due to attitudes on the importance of said task.[5]  This is dealt with usually with strict no-tolerance policies on plagiarism from academic and other relevant institutions. Patent, Trademark, and Copyright laws also provide a deterrent to intellectual property thefts such as plagiarism. Relatively new technologies are also allowing for the enhanced detection of plagiarism, like plagiarism detection software.[6]  Although not perfect in being able to detect plagiarism, it provides relatively reliable plagiarism checking, and these tools will only get better.

Reverse Engineering edit

Merriam-Webster defines reverse engineering as “to disassemble and examine or analyze in detail (a product or device) to discover the concepts involved in manufacture usually in order to produce something similar”[7]

Regarding the legality of Reverse engineering, Section 103(f) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act states:

  • Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a)(1)(A), a person who has lawfully obtained the right to use a copy of a computer program may circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a particular portion of that program for the sole purpose of identifying and analyzing those elements of the program that are necessary to achieve interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and that have not previously been readily available to the person engaging in the circumvention, to the extent any such acts of identification and analysis do not constitute infringement under this title.
  • Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (a)(2) and (b), a person may develop and employ technological means to circumvent a technological measure, or to circumvent protection afforded by a technological measure, in order to enable the identification and analysis under paragraph (1), or for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, if such means are necessary to achieve such interoperability, to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title.
  • The information acquired through the acts permitted under paragraph (1), and the means permitted under paragraph (2), may be made available to others if the person referred to in paragraph (1) or (2), as the case may be, provides such information or means solely for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title or violate applicable law other than this section.
  • For purposes of this subsection, the term “interoperability” means the ability of computer programs to exchange information, and of such programs mutually to use the information which has been exchanged.[8]

Though Reverse Engineering is overall legal, it is not in patent law. Reverse Engineering is not legal in patent law because the owner of the patent has exclusive rights over the product.[9]

Reverse engineering has been the subject of debate over its ethicality and legality. Arguers in favor of Reverse Engineering defend the practice, stating that there are benefits to Reverse Engineering, which include fixing compatibility issues, recreating obsolete parts, performing security assessments, and recreating the product cheaper.[10]

Those who argue against the practice of Reverse Engineering state that it violates copyright laws and trade secret laws, and that it allows competitors to clone their products. For example, in the legal battle between Sega Enterprises and Accolade, Sega Enterprises accused Accolade of violating Intellectual Property law as the defendants Reverse Engineered the software of the console to create game cartridges without needing a license to do so by Sega.[11]

However, in Bowers vs Baystate Technologies Inc, the federal court ruled in favor of Harold L. Bowers and his claim that Baystate Technologies Inc. violated the shrink wrap license agreement, which did not permit them to Reverse Engineer the software from Bowers.[12]

Open Source Code edit

Open source code refers to any available source code program in the public domain that can be shared, used, or modified by anyone. It is aimed at improving software programs by adding features and fixing bugs through collaboration. It also provides better solutions for specific problems at little or no cost. Open software developers’ intent is to make profits from software services and support instead of the software itself.[13]

Open source refers to software that is released under a special type of license which grants other individuals or entities rights to use, modify or distribute the source code of the software. Open source enhances and pushes for the idea of collaboration and the aspect of ‘community development’ for projects. As a result of its extended permissions, open-source grants open use to its contents and thus does not fall under standard copyright protection and other intellectual property rights. [14]

Under standard copyright law, software technology is categorized as a literary work, therefore, rights like standard copyright and software patents apply. However, an open-source license grants rights to another individual or business known as the “licensee,” this becomes a license agreement and establishes an exclusive relationship. There are several open-source software licenses that exist but only a common few are often utilized. The most common license is “The 3-Clause BSD License” and consists of three main conditions to be met…

1. “Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.”[15]

2. “Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.”[15]

3. “Neither the name of the copyright holder nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.”[15]

The standards for the intellectual property of open source software essentially calls for the retention of the original copyright holder’s information and gives the original owner rights to the final output or outcome of the project in the end (if specified in the license agreement).

Ultimately, it is important to understand open source licensing, as it may give a user more rights to software and source code but does not always grant the same level of rights as terms vary from project to project and may require different acknowledgments to the agreements that are formed.

The major intellectual property issues that involve open source software are a result of a user failing to understand or follow licensing agreement terms or guidelines. Although programs are termed as “free” and “open,” it is important to note that the licenses that grant such permissions might also come with strict conditions and requirements in order to grant such rights. In order to prevent further misuse or failure to comply, there are recommended steps to take when using open source content. For example, “understanding and planning intellectual property strategies,” “creating guidelines,” and finally, “auditing license terms”[16]

Competitive Intelligence edit

Competitive intelligence is legally obtained information used to improve a company's performance over its competitors. It is often integrated into a company strategic plan. Effective competitive intelligence requires continual gathering, analysis, and evaluation of data to enhance the decision-making process. If it is not handled properly, it leads to industrial espionage which carries heavy penalties. The competitive intelligence analysts should avoid unethical or illegal behaviors associated with the concept of competitive intelligence such as lying, theft, bribery, misrepresentation, or eavesdropping.[17]

Trademark Infringement edit

Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of an identical or similar trademark or service mark that leads to confusion, mistake, or deception about the source of the product or service.[18] Trademarks may include a business name, logo, domain name, or slogan. Trademark infringement can occur with both registered and unregistered trademarks because ownership of a trademark is established when an individual or business begins to use it for their goods or services. However, rights to unregistered trademarks are limited and only apply to the geographic area in which the goods or services are provided. To protect the source of goods or services from infringement nationwide, it is recommended to register a mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The Lanham Act enacted in 1946 by Congress provides legal protection for both registered and unregistered marks. A registered mark establishes prima facie evidence of a valid mark and the ownership of the mark and grants the registrant exclusive rights to use the mark in relation to goods and services.[19] For unregistered marks, which are also called common law marks, a party should demonstrate that the mark is actively used in commercial activity and is distinctive among United States consumers.[19] Usually, trade and service marks infringement cases are held in federal courts.

Trademark and service mark infringement can be willful or innocent. Willful trade or service mark infringement is an act that is done intentionally in violation of the law.[20] Innocent infringement occurs when someone engages in an infringing activity without knowing that this activity constitutes infringement or by mistake. Until 2020, the willfulness of the infringement had to be proven in order to recover financial damages for a trademark owner. On April 23, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that a trademark owner can recover monetary relief without having to prove that the infringement was willful.[21] Hence, remedies can now be awarded regardless of whether the infringement was willful or innocent. If trademark infringement has been proven by the trademark owner, he or she may be entitled to the following remedies:

  • a court injunction requiring the infringer to stop using the alleged trademark;
  • monetary relief, including the costs of the court action and the infringer’s profits;
  • a court order requiring the destruction or forfeiture of infringing items.[18]

Intellectual property is one of the most valuable assets of any business. Thus, preventing others from using the business’s trademarks should be taken seriously. One of the main steps in protecting a trademark is the active use of the mark in relation to the goods and services offered by the business. However, before using any trademark, one should do thorough research on whether other businesses are already using similar trademarks to avoid violating trademark law. Registering a trademark is another important step to protecting trademarks. Trademark registration with USPTO can preclude the use of the marks by others across the United States. Another benefit is that registration makes it easy for other entrepreneurs to find the trademark and avoid copying. It also provides protection against the importation of infringing products. Also, after registration, one has the right to use the Ⓡ symbol that can be used for marketing, which will warn infringers that intellectual property rights are taken seriously, and any violation may lead to legal consequences.

Cybersquatting edit

Cybersquatting is the act of registering domain names with the intent of profiting from selling these domains that are similar to company names or famous trademarks. It is also known as “domain squatting." Since the domain names can only be registered once, it is unethical for a person to benefit from obtaining domain names similar to the company name or trademark because it forces the company to either pay or litigate.[22] For example, an individual is cybersquatting if he/she registers a domain name called,, or, in hopes to gain profits from selling that domain to XYZ company. The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), enacted in 1999, is a law that has been endorsed by Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to defend against any illegal cybersquatting action or actions.[23]

Copyright Infringement edit

Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression[24]. Although many believe that copyright law in the United States applies only to written or spoken pieces of work such as books or songs, it actually covers a wide range of original work which include paintings, movies, and even computer software. Copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner [24]. Copyright laws in the United States are complex and often leave confusion on what is illegal and what isn’t. Current copyright legislation includes a portion called fair-use. Fair use permits a party to use a copyrighted work without the copyright owner’s permission for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. These purposes only illustrate what might be considered as fair use and are not examples of what will always be considered as fair use. In fact, there are no bright-line rules in determining fair use, since it is determined on a case-by-case basis [25]. To put copyright laws into a simpler manner isn’t easy; the fact is that copyright laws in the United States, and in other devolved countries around the world, are everything but simple.

When copyright law was first introduced in the United States in the late 1700’s, it only applied to written or spoken work that could be seen or heard by humans. As technology expanded into more modern and complex forms, the law did too. Technology has only expanded copyright issues in many industries including music and movies. These industries rely on individual sales of their products, but with new technology comes ways that people copy and distribute copyrighted work with no revenue being sent to the original artists. Although copyright laws now include protection for computer programs, there still remains questions on what classifies as copyright infringement. In 2010, Oracle filed a lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement for the use of an application programming interface (API) that Oracle held the copyright for. Google argued that its use was legal under fair-use and that they didn’t violate any copyright laws by their use of the API. The case went on for over a decade and for many different phases. Initially, Oracle successfully petitioned the court that API’s were copyrightable, but that was only the beginning to a lengthy battle that saw its way through several different courts. The end result was the Supreme court's ruling that Google did not violate any copyright infringement laws under the fair-use portions[26]. Fair-use portions of the law require courts to consider factors when determining a case. The factors include the purpose and nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and the effect of the use[27]. The court determined that Google’s use of Oracle’s API was not significant enough in the Android operating system to violate copyright laws. Because copyright laws are never up-to-date with technology, individual court cases and precedents in the judicial system have become one of the only ways to update the laws.

Many steps have been taken to combat copyright infringement in technology. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was one of the biggest changes to copyright law in United States history. One major portion of the DMCA is requiring network service providers to take action against users of their networks who have violated copyright legislation. Service providers must (1) adopt a policy of terminating the accounts of repeat infringers, and (2) accommodate and not interfere with "standard technical measures" (defined as standardized measures used by copyright owners to identify or protect copyrighted works) [28]. Most colleges and universities are considered to be service providers due to their complex computer network that they operate to all of the students and faculty members. Colleges and universities must ensure that their networks aren’t being used for illegal downloading and distribution of copyrighted material. Older methods at combating digital copyright infringement includes technology companies posting virus-filled files on sites that promote copyright infringement in hopes of deterring users from using the sharing platforms. Although laws and court rulings have begun to expand to include that digital content is copyrightable, thus protecting the creators, the laws still leave gray areas that make it hard to determine cases of copyright infringement.

  1. What is Plagiarism, Turnitin. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  2. Intellectual Property Law, Georgetown Law. Retrieved 22 April 2022
  3. a b c d What is Plagiarism, UNSW Sydney. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  4. a b Plagiarism, Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  5. a b Causes of Plagiarism, Kent State University. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  6. The Detection is in the Details, Turnitin. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  7. Definition of Reverse Engineering Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  8. Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  9. Reverse Engineering Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  10. What is Reverse-Engineering? Tech Target. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  11. Coders’ Rights Project Reverse Engineering FAQ Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  12. BOWERS HLB v. BAYSTATE TECHNOLOGIES INC FindLaw for Legal Professionals | Law & Legal Profession. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  13. George W. Reynolds : ETHICS IN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, Third Edition, 2010.
  14. "What is open source?". Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  15. a b c "The 3-Clause BSD License". Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  16. Patel, Mitesh. "Understanding and Complying with Open Source Software Licenses - An Intellectual Property Perspective". Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  17. George W. Reynolds : ETHICS IN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, Third Edition, 2010.
  18. a b About Trademark Infringement United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  19. a b LANHAM (TRADEMARK) ACT (15 U.S.C.) Bitlaw. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  20. United States v. Wise Casetext. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  21. ROMAG FASTENERS, INC. v. FOSSIL GROUP, INC. Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  22. Justin Graham, Ashley Johnson, Emilio Mena, Neil Wolitzer : CYBERSQUATTING: THE LATEST CHALLENGE IN FEDERAL TRADEMARK PROTECTION, 2001
  23. George W. Reynolds : ETHICS IN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, Third Edition, 2010.
  24. a b What is Copyright? U.S. Copyright Office. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  25. What is Fair Use? Copyright Alliance. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  26. Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  27. Fair Use Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved 24 April 2022
  28. What Colleges and Universities Need to Know about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act Cause/Effect. Retrieved 24 April 2022