Advanced Interactive Media/A New Challenge: Ethics and Morality for Future Media
Copyright or Copy Wrong?
Applying copyright laws written 100 years ago to creative content produced today (or even laws created five years ago, for that matter) is futile - no one during that time period was trying to protect content on their websites. There was no "copy, paste" option on people's manual typewriters and the thought of "working around the computer system" in order to download video clips or photos did not even exist. Who knows, "Bit Torrent" could have been slang for a rambunctious, rebellious preadolescent than a term for illegal downloads.
Drawing the Line
I was sitting in a future media class and I listened to a discussion about sharing music and how long it will last. Mixed with my own opinion and personal experience I wanted to type a few ideas down. First of all P2P sharing is illegal. There is no way to argue that fact, the law forbids sharing of music without paying the artist.
Are Today's Challenges Tomorrow's Problems?
In order to go forward a person must "go backward" to fully understand where they came from. When one talks about ethics and morality it hits the very core of a human being. In a sense, these words "ethics" and "morality" almost form our existence because they help to form personal views, both culturally and as a society. While their meanings never change, to each occupation the meanings are dissected in many different parts to fit that particular industry.
Ethics and morality as it relates to the media industry seem to have taken a negative turn. Instead of forming its own ethical values, the media industry often does what is accepted within society. When I think a few years back it seems as if the media of today has evolved to something completely different to that of past generations. Before it was unusual for a movie to have obscene language the exposure of private parts for the indulgence of a sexual scene. However, nowadays this behavior seems to be common place. The media portrays this behavior as commonplace; these things are no longer a taboo but have become culturally acceptable. But this very stigma has contaminated the very fabric of our morals. Children now see this as being the norm and instead of allowing the teachings of their parents to permeate them they instead turn to the media and in turn begin to experiment with the things that they are seeing in the media. If this trend continues it has the potential to have an adverse impact on our future generations. With these changes it is now up to society and to the media industry to accept the responsibility and take a stand by restoring integrity and morale. We can take steps to preserve the future of the media industry now by reversing the negative components that are presently acceptable and raise the standard so that anything does not go.
In today's culture, it is hard to anyone to define the words ethics and morality. In fact, dictionary.com states that ethics are: a system of moral principals. It also defines morality as: conformity to the rules of right conduct. There is a reason why no one can truly say without a shadow of a doubt what these two words mean, as shown by their definitions. These words mean different things to different people. Some people may believe that cussing is not a challenge to their morals while others may believe that is a dark sin. As religion is fading out and becoming less conservative and more liberal, these words are becoming more and more vague, even to those who consider themselves Christians.
How then, with no concrete definition can we define this in terms to Media? The more advanced the media becomes, people are choosing for themselves what is moral and what is ethical according to their own "right of conduct". Those who consider themselves Christians should go back to the one source of ethics- the Bible. The Bible is the ultimate "right of conduct". It defines what is moral and what is not. We should cling to those words when dilemmas are presented to us that pull us in question of our morals.
When it comes to today’s technology and fancy software programs, people must be aware of the power that they have at their fingertips. This is not in reference to the power of the program itself – surely that is understood to some degree. Producers and editors must be careful to present the truth as it is – unedited and unchanged. There was an article in the Houston Chronicle a while ago and it was talking about photojournalists using Photoshop to “touch up” their pictures. They were not using Photoshop to just make their pictures look good, but to give a false reality to the people that read their columns or saw their work. There have been a number of documentary movies whose producers and editors have taken what a person has said, twisted it for their own end, and released it. Sure someone may have said something, but anything can be taken and used inappropriately, thus creating a lie. The future producers and editors and videographers must make sure that they present reality as it is played out. Even if changing just one thing someone says can “help further the gospel,” it’s a lie and whoever changed it will be held accountable for that in the end.
More than a decade ago MIT put all of the content for their classes online. It just didn't make sense that such an expensive product should be made available to anyone with an internet connection. Of course, content is nearly worthless without someone to explain the meaning of things - students still had to enroll in classes to make sense out of MIT's content. Then MIT made all of their CLASSES available at no cost through online courses! More and more businesses are discovering that giving away their most valuable information online can become a big moneymaker. How can copyright laws be enforceable in such an inconsistent and confusing environment? Why does MIT seem to be more successful than ever? If I published everything I know about how to become an iconic rock star, could my website evolve into a great online university like MIT's?
Why Do Wierdos Use The Cool Tools First?
Exciting new emerging media technologies can be lucrative but some of the most perverted minds seem to realize this before anyone else. How can video games and some of the most promising on-line features (streaming video, social networking, immersive/virtual experiences, etc.) be encouraged, cultivated and promoted when the industry leaders for these technologies seem to care about nothing more than profits, violence, sex, entertainment value and immediate gratification?
MP3 Jail Terms?
In November 2007, a marketing vice president for one of the major television networks said "My industry paid attention to what just happened during the startling collapse of Tower Records. I predict that the music industry, as we know it, will be completely unrecognizable within the next eighteen months." Whether I agree with his forecast or not, no one can deny the middleman is almost gone. A talented musician in the right place at the right time can go platinum after recording in their living room, being discovered on YouTube, forming their own record company and distributing their albums on the net. But how can this same musician reap the rewards of success when one of her songs is duplicated 50,000 times by people using the same technology that the artist used to bypass alhil of the systems created by the music recording industry? Was it illegal, immoral and unfair for 50,000 people to rip off her hit song? Were you one of them? What would be a reasonable jail term?
Likewise, the same questions may be posed about the record industry before mp3s became widespread: how can a musician "reap the rewards of success" when s/he is only paid the slightest fraction of the actual proceeds of her song, while the record company and the music establishment take the lion's share of her profits through historically inequitable contracts? "Was it illegal, immoral and unfair for" all these executives and affiliates "to rip off her [or his or their] hit song? Were you one of them? What would be a reasonable jail term?"
In response to this I would like to quote something a rather prescient friend of mine wrote just over a year ago as his new year's prediction: 'Caving in on itself, the MPAA will inevitably file a lawsuit over the RIAA’s violation of the MPAA’s copyrighted ability to file lawsuits for misuse of copyrighted materials. Citing that the RIAA did it first, the MPAA (and the courts of America) will not care, due to the fact that the RIAA did not copyright the act properly, thus nullifying the copyright. The RIAA will file countersuit for royalties not paid on their “poor man’s copyright” of mailing the idea to themselves in a USPS metered envelope.'
The absurd lengths to which these two organisations have pursued copyright infringement is well captured by my friend's satire! The result has been a developing public perception that they are no better than the greedy moguls their products so often malign and warn us about. It's one thing to go after those who deliberately rip off stuff for their own pecuniary gain and no reasonable person should begrudge such an effort; it is entirely another when we start hearing of lawsuits against grandmothers, whose granddaughters may have used their PC's to download something or other, and not relenting even after the facts become clear. That’s not justice; it’s greed. Attacking one’s own customer base is a really dumb business move, but the entertainment industry has fallen prey to an entitlement mentality, that by God, they're going to get back every last dime they’re due. It is also completely futile, as one of the other entries so well points out, because they will never be able to keep up with the prolific growth of networks. So in their frustration, rather than take a deep breath, they have attacked the creators of the software, and so the merry-go-round continues! Additionally, when the same industry continues to pay out literally millions to its top stars, it’s cries of lost revenue are liable to fall on deaf ears when it comes to working people who can only ever imagine such riches! There is a case, as I noted above, for legitimate prosecution, but what about the new artist worried that all their potential livelihood might be sucked away by the evil cybernet black hole? Contrary to the nightmare described above, the reality has actually given cause for hope in that regard: When Death Cab for Cutie found that the record label did not want to produce the record they had just been paid $500,000 to create, since they had the rights, they posted it on their website to be downloaded for free! In just a short time, they were being inundated by email from fans wanting to pay for the product! A far cry from the stereotypical legions of lecherous downloaders that we are led to believe inhabit the internet and which the above writer clearly believes are dominant. Contrary to the paranoia of the MPAA, RIAA and myriad others who take such a dim view of their fellow man, technology has always turned out to be the friend of the entertainment industry. Particularly when their efforts are akin to the sticking of a finger in a leaking dike, the industry should be embracing further progress rather than trying to stifle and tame it, simply because some revenue is being lost. The sad fact, which they apparently are determined to not face, is that such practices will always go on by people determined enough. They could however endear themselves to their customers, and so ellict some help in that fight, rather than the current policy of alienation that treats us all as if we are just a bunch of dirty thieves! The more the media industry resists the rampant technological progress in distribution, the more it's simply going to get left behind.
To further expound on this, and to provide a brief example, the music entertainment industry has gone to great lengths within the last decade to ensure that its music is copyright protected in a process known as digital rights management (DRM). This effort at combating piracy has arguably done little to maintain the surmounting number of illegal file sharing between computers and removable data copied from the CD format which files are DRM-free. In an unprecedented move, Apple CEO Steve Jobs proposed a new initiative in early 2007 following the release of his provocative essay entitled "Thoughts on Music," conditioning for the adoption of a DRM-free system, allowing users interoperability and a greater freedom to distribute files without fear of retribution. Apple launched what became iTunes Plus in May, featuring high quality 256 kbps AAC encoding music files indistinguishable from the original recordings. Of the four major distribution companies: EMI, Universal, Sony BMG, and Time Warner, only EMI has contracted to distribute its catalog through the iTunes DRM-free store, while Universal, Sony and Time Warner have signed deals with competitors, hoping to loosen Apple's hold on the market. DRM-free music offered through such competitors as Amazon mp3 and Wal-Mart however are encoded at a variable kbps rate, falling short of iTunes consistent 256 kbps, which is unsettling to the listener and a dangerous business move for the three remaining companies who have found it still unnecessary to fully satisfy the wants of the consumer they are trying to reach.
Living in a Virtual World
In October 2007, comedy website Cracked.com published an article by David Wong and Steve Woyach called "The Next 25 Years of Video Games." The article, though humorous in tone, is a serious look at predicted technological expansions in five-year increments from 2008-2033. Citing technology currently being constructed, the article theorizes that by 2033, the cost of constructing a computer on level with the human brain will be about $1. It concludes by predicting that, in less than thirty years, computers will directly interface with the human brain without surgery, and living and interacting with a virtual world will become more commonplace than actually leaving the house to interact with the actual "real" world.
Modern computing devices have only existed since the 1940s. If civilization has existed since roughly 10,000 BC as suggested by most historical research, 60 years is .005% of the history of human civilization. To suggest that, in that five thousandths of a percent, human life could change so dramatically, is fairly audacious. However, the changes brought about in both technological advancement and social perspectives during the twentieth century are astounding. For the first time in human history, information is available freely and readily to anyone all over the planet without leaving the comforts home, the office or the schoolroom. Throughout the world, the Western Hemisphere in particular, emphasis is being placed on the individual rather than a mass group. Government criticism comes frequently and freely, and even a solitary individual with no connections or friends could have an online readership numbering in the millions. Before 1908, the first, and perhaps only, mass media device was the printing press. In 2008, mass media and instant access to new information can be acquired through devices smaller than any book.
Going back to the Wong/Woyach article, it is not particularly radical to suggest that human beings will be living in completely virtual environments by the year 2033. The technological and social changes brought about in the past 150 years have proven that complete lifestyle change can be abrupt and severe. Is it so absurd, then, to suggest that in twenty-five years human beings will shake hands with pixels instead of flesh and bone?
Assuming that the future of social interactions is a complete virtual world, does this change the way we should even govern people? Could a parent send their child into the virtual world to avoid the responsibility of raising them? Could said child construct their own ideal parents in their tiny, virtual world? If this child grows up into an angry, hostile individual with violent tendencies, who could he hurt in a world made of ones and zeros?
Could we send people to prisons for real-world crimes, but let them roam free in a virtual world? Could a person be prosecuted for stealing a virtual stereo?
Could there be a couple married forty years that have never met face-to-face? Is there anything wrong with that?
The Future of Commercials
It is becoming common to see a particular product strategically placed on TV shows, movies or online content. Computers, cell phones, foods and even the weirdest of products have made "cameo appearances" with the help of these mediums. The product’s manufacturer has usually paid a large sum of money to have their product displayed or have arranged some type of agreement with the producer of the media. The placement may be very subtle like a bag of chips on the table or as obvious as a logo cleverly integrated into the design of a website. The audience does not realize that they are subconsciously being influenced by this growing form of marketing. Although it appears to be an effective strategy for advertisers, ethical questions arise about its influence on children and others who may be easily influenced by seeing their favorite stars using or talking about a particular product. With commercial-skipping DVR technology and the rise of shows available online without ads, product placement may be the commercials of the future. Is it fair to the audience the hide advertising inside their favorite shows? How much can advertisers place in a show before the show just becomes one big ad itself? These questions remain to be answered as the future of advertising takes shape.
The New Interpersonal Interactive Ethic
One issue that arises with the advent of newer and more interactive media types is that of hospitable, interpersonal communication and action. With technologies such as the Internet, which is fast approaching a stage where it will become the source of all subsequent communications that were once relegated to other means, one can easily find themselves mistreating or misjudging the other user due to the lack of personal interaction. Just as driving on a busy highway causes many to lose their manners and treat other drivers as nuisances instead of fellow human beings, so this new highway of interactive communication can become a place of selfishness and hostility, instead of helpfulness and hospitality. The key is to discover ways to make these new emerging forms of communication more natural and interpersonal so the average user will remain in the proper composure which ethics demand. This, however, may become a natural side effect of increasing realism within the realm of Interactive Media.