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What is bad internet ethics?

The principles that are necessary to address the ethical issues raised by the Internet are based largely on individual and social principles. The necessary individual, social and global principles are described, based on the categorical imperative of Kant and the principles of justice of the social contract of Rawls. By virtue of these principles, the individual ethical problems related to sex on the Internet and "piracy" are discussed. The social problems of an ethical nature contemplated are the digital divide and taxes on sales made through the Internet. The ethical issues of a global nature related to the use of Internet analyzed are the freedom of expression on the Internet, the regulation of websites with a global presence and the contribution of the Internet to globalization.

In this article I talk about ethics and the Internet, more than about morality and the Internet 

I understand ethics as the principles that regulate the distribution of cooperation costs and benefits. Morality includes principles that are justified by religious or cultural beliefs that are commonly shared by certain groups whose membership is restricted. I will begin by pointing out the ethical principles that apply to individuals, I will continue with those that apply to societies, ending with global ethical principles of a social and economic nature. This ethical introduction is necessary because, in my opinion, the principles necessary to address the ethical problems related to the Internet are based largely on individual and social principles, although it is true that they present important differences.


The consideration of the principles of cooperation as foundations of ethics implies the recognition that norms that limit the self-interest of individuals usually provide superior cooperation benefits. 

 The adoption and the fulfillment of agreements constitute a fundamental part of this conception. of ethics. However, the ethical principles that allow us to obtain cooperation benefits go beyond compliance with the agreements adopted. The principle of generosity (helping those who need it) is maintained without the need for any kind of agreement. We simply assume that human beings recognize each other as such and provide their help because, in doing so, they expect to receive it when they in turn need it.

By the other hand, morality presents a strongly arbitrary element of character, since it is based on beliefs that are not shared by all, such as religious beliefs. The principle that one should kill one's own daughter if one marries an infidel can hardly be based on possible cooperative benefits. It constitutes a norm derived from belonging to a religious sect. If we do not distinguish between the ethical principles that guarantee the benefits of cooperation and the moral principles that reflect fundamentally religious or cultural arbitrary beliefs, we are opening the doors to relativism, that is, the conviction that ethical beliefs only apply to certain groups.

The three levels of ethical principles are: individual, social and global. Social principles are applied in a society, a group whose members share the costs and benefits of cooperation. Global or transnational principles apply to issues that can not be managed by dividing them among societies. Issues of an ethical nature related to the Internet affect principles belonging to the three levels. In treating the different cases, I will apply concrete ethical criteria to each of these three levels.

With regard to individual-level ethical behavior, we could point out the following criteria:

Intuitionism: there are no general criteria, but only a variety of principles that our intuition considers correct.

Utilitarianism: the best that can be done is that which produces the maximum benefit for the greatest number of people.

Universal principle: acts by virtue of principles that can always be valid as a universal law.

Intuitionism is not really a criterion. Consider that there is no good explanation of right and wrong, but still our intuition tells us what is right and what is not. For intuitionists, this intuition does not need justification. The ten commandments, in themselves considered, constitute an intuitionist theory. The main drawback of intuitionism is that when there is a conflict between different actions considered correct, we do not have concrete principles that help us solve it.

Utilitarianism can be expressed as follows: action must be taken in order to provide the maximum possible benefit to the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism is very convincing. And, how can it be wrong to do what produces the maximum benefit? How can it be right to do something that provides a smaller benefit, if there was a possibility of doing it better? Although it is a very convincing idea, utilitarianism presents two fundamental difficulties. The first is that if we consider the actions in isolation, a utilitarian will find it easy to break certain promises or breach certain contracts when it would give off a higher benefit. The problem is that, in that case, the institutions that allow the benefits of cooperation, which favor coexistence and joint work, would disappear. There are certain important assets that we can not access if we are not linked to certain non-utilitarian norms.

However, utilitarianism could access such assets if it applied to the rules, and not to individual acts. Thus, we would be linked to the social norms that govern the institutions in relation to the fulfillment of agreements and contracts even in those cases in which a greater individual benefit would be obtained in breach of the social norm. The individual performs the actions not because the individual actions produce the maximum benefit, but because the correct thing is to comply with the social norms that produce the maximum benefit. This theory is known as utilitarianism of norms.


Issues related to intellectual property rights and piracy are also ethical issues of an individual nature with important ethical dimensions of a social nature. Individuals can make digital copies at will, and anyone can access these copies through the Internet. The ethical question lies in determining if it is simply an extension of the concept of friends exchanging copies (which would be perfectly ethical) or if on the contrary it is an illegal (and, therefore, contrary to the ethical) violation of rights of intellectual property. A completely new method of exchange of copies requires a rethinking of ethical principles. I will begin by considering the ethical basis of intellectual property rights in property rights and ownership from the perspective of Rawls principles of justice. Next I will apply the pertinent results to the questions related to the realization of digital copies.

Intellectual property rights do not exist only so that the artist or the author of intellectual property can reap the fruits of their creation, but the initial purpose of these rights is to provide the artist or author with the exclusive right of reproduction of his work . Ultimately, this right also aims to stimulate creativity. Sandra Day O'Connor, judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, states (Lewis 2001, 1):

The main objective of intellectual property rights is not to reward the work of the authors, but to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts". To this end, they guarantee authors the right to their original expression, while at the same time favoring the creation of third parties based on the ideas and information conveyed by a specific work.

During the last years, the initial objective of intellectual property rights has been distorted, since the companies holding this type of rights have used their influence in Congress to extend their period of application practically indefinitely. The copyright law Digital Millennium of 1998 defines for the first time as an offense the "unauthorized access" to published and sold works. The initial period of fourteen years has become seventy years for individuals, and in no less than ninety-five years since publication and one hundred and twenty since creation for companies (Lewis 2001). The extension of these terms increases the business benefits and greatly limits the creative stimulation.

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