A justification for software rights

Acm Sigcas Computers and Society 36 (3):11-20 (2006)


It has been debated whether unauthorized copying of computer software is morally justified and whether developers or software companies can own software and require users to pay for its use. Four views in favour of unauthorized copying of software can be distinguished: 'free software', the landlord analogy, the 'non-exclusiveness argument' and 'it is justified to copy a program that we would never buy'. Considerations regarding these issues can be retraced to the three foundations of rights: inherited rights that are already in place, agreed rights, and no rights. From the viewpoint of agreed rights, rights are based on agreement and negotiation, and, referring to the universalizability theses by Rawls and Hare, I argue that it is justified that developers or software companies 'own' their software. I discuss the economic and social effects of free SW, understood as the abolition of financial acknowledgements, suggested by Stallman. I conclude that such free software would give rise to socio-political changes toward systems that are something other than liberal-based. Again, I argue that we have a reason to object to Stallman's program in the light of the universalizability theses. Nevertheless, even if one were to perceive this as a convincing goal, it is questionable whether one should make unauthorized copies on these grounds in a society that does not function on such lines: one should first seek to change the norms and practices of one's society. This is further argued to be advisable, since it is not obvious that adhering to software copyright in the general sense is unfair or irrelevant. For these reasons, we should take violation of the laws governing software copying seriously. Finally, I criticize the non-exclusiveness argument, the landlord analogy and the view that 'is it justified to copy a program that we would never buy'.

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Mikko Siponen
University of Jyväskylä

References found in this work

What is Computer Ethics?James H. Moor - 1985 - Metaphilosophy 16 (4):266-275.
Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundation of Computer Ethics.Luciano Floridi - 1999 - Ethics and Information Technology 1 (1):33–52.
Justifying Intellectual Property.Edwin C. Hettinger - 1989 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 18 (1):31-52.
Ethics and the Computer World: A New Challenge for Philosophers.John Ladd - 1997 - Acm Sigcas Computers and Society 27 (3):8-13.

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