Of SOPA, Megaupload, free speech, and Internet ethics

I don't know if you've noticed it, but the Internet is on fire.

It started with the now-infamous SOPA and PIPA bills. The bills would grant the government unprecedented power to go after any websites accused of copyright infringement. Here's a pretty comprehensive explanation of SOPA, the House version. A huge storm of protest this week, including a 24-hour Wikipedia blackout, split various factions and parties right down the middle (the President came out against it, probably so that the public would still love him, only to find that Hollywood no longer loved him), and led to the bill's being shelved. At least for now.

But things have hardly quieted down. When the government shut down the popular content-sharing site Megaupload yesterday and charged several members of the company with online piracy, the action was widely interpreted as the beginning of government crackdowns on the Web. Angry hackers retaliated accordingly, with attacks on the Department of Justice site, the Motion Picture Association of America site, and the sites of other groups that supported SOPA.

All this raises a lot of questions, some of them fairly murky. As freedom of speech is a fundamental right, how far is it permissible to go to defend it? Since intellectual property belongs to someone, how far should the government go in enforcing that person or corporation's ownership rights? Is it okay to use a content-sharing site if you only use it for certain shows that are free and that you can't watch any other way? (Quite a few of my Christian friends believe it is.) And if you use it for that, are you going to be tempted to start using it for other things that fall into more of a gray area?

As we watch and ponder the goings-on, I think we would do well to keep in mind a passage from chapter 9 of David Kinnaman's new book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith:
"Another hallmark of the next generation is their emphasis on fairness over rightness. Teens and twentysomethings tend to determine the rightness and wrongness of their choice by what seems fair, reasonable, and accessible. Just ask the executives (and former executivse) in the music industry. One of the major forces -- along with digital tools and digitized content that undermined the conventional model of the music biz is the fact that young people came to believe (collectively) that the system of music distribution was unfair. According to their thinking, it is unfair to charge the price of an entire album when a customer only wants one song. Unfortunately for music execs, younger customers were not willing to go along with the established model. Once technology made album purchases unnecessary, young music lovers began to share digital songs -- even though doing so was (and is) illegal.

"Digital piracy isn't right, but music sharing seems fair. Many young people are redefining their ethical decisions by what seems fair, rather than by an outside standard of right and wrong. How can the church, which flies the flag of God's unchanging moral standards, deal with such a shift?"


Correction accepted
And thank you to you both. :-)
A simpler way to put that Rolley is:

Some ends justify some means
No end justifies any and all means
Some ends cannot be justified no matter what their means.
Is “Footnoting” a Euphemism for “Going Off-topic”?
If so, I’m guilty (again).

Kevin, I love you to death, but I would suggest that there is never a time when “the end JUSTIFIES the means”, though there are times when the end NECESSITATES the means.

I may sound like I’m splitting hairs and engaging in my own little brand of casuistry, and maybe I am, but here is how I differentiate the two:

1. “The end JUSTIFIES the means” says that DESPITE there being no moral necessity, the end is so desirable (to someone) that no matter how immoral, the means are deemed (by that someone) to be justifiable. That reasoning is morally bankrupt because it justifies immorality.

2. “The end NECESSITATES the means” says that BECAUSE there is a moral necessity for the end, certain means that would otherwise lack sufficient justification because of their undesirability are necessitated. That reasoning is sound because it does not necessitate immorality, only extreme measures. It is the principle that lay behind God’s sacrifice of Christ, who prayed, “if possible, let this cup pass”; the point being it was not morally possible for a God of love to leave us utterly without hope if there was a way – any lawful/moral way – to provide to us the opportunity for salvation.
The net companies essentially formed a cartel to gain political support by herding their users against their opponents. In the sense of "right" they have every right to do that. But users have the same right to their own sovereignity. If they wished to act like a daimyo asking help from his samurai they might have had my support. As they wish to act like a rancher they can know I do not intend to be one of their cattle.
Another Argument en popularum en Bellum Imperium Coiniuncta Civitates, Ben? Surely that must grow tedious.
Ben's comment
When I was studying Philosophy and we looked at systems of casuistry (used in the more technical sense), it was mentioned that, if you have even two moral laws, there will inevitably arise a situation in which they clash. How is one to know which should prevail?

Personally, I think that this is where one of the roles of the Holy Spirit comes into play, in His guidance of His sons and daughters. Yes, this lurches toward situation ethics, but I think that to some degree, it is inescapable.

As just one example: when people blithely quote "you're talking as though the ends justify the means!", they seem to be suggesting that this should never happen. But in fact, the whole notion of sacrifice-- the Cross itself!!-- is meaningless unless in at least some instance, the ends do indeed justify the means. (And the role of the Holy Spirit might be in guiding the believer in considering "so which ends are justified by what means?")
Hmm. One person's standard for "fair" is another person's standard for "right".

If we stuck by the traditional definition of "right", the US would never have existed. We're commanded to obey our civil government. Likewise, Britain had spent plenty of money, time, and lives on these 13 colonies, and breaking away took away the fruit of their work. What right did we have, to declare independence?

Hey, look at the Boston Tea Party - can you support such an act, the destruction of private property?

I'm sure someone will roll their eyes.. but if you change the words of the original post just a little, it's nearly identical to the arguments from ~250 years ago.
Volkswagens on the other hand are a funny shaped car invented by a Germany that realized that producing tanks had become uneconomical for various reasons.
I see. Thank you!
In the show Babylon 5 there were two ancient races, The Vorlons and the Shadows, that were fighting an eternal cosmic war and each trying to manipulate the other races into taking sides against their opponents.
You're going to have to help me out here, Jason. I don't know a vorlon from a Volkswagen.
I am in a bad mood at the moment because of a flame at steve jackson games. But right now taking sides seems like taking sides between shadows and vorlons.

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