Digital Ethics

The internet provides various information from anything under the sun, whether you’re looking for details about computer programming or copywriting, to checking out pictures of a particular beach resort. Although videos, pictures and articles are within your reach with just a click of a web search, the digital era still follow ethics. This article will teach you the basic digital etiquette, such as copyright, fair use, spamming, and spotting scams, misinformation and hoaxes.


Some people believe that since a photo, video, book or other types of content are available online… it is now public property and they may use it anyway they like. Although this may hold true in some cases, you must understand that copyright also applies to the Internet. So what is copyright exactly?

Copyright is the term used to describe exclusive rights to use a particular information, or idea, such as journals, stories, articles, graphics, recordings, pictures, paintings and computer programs, among others. Be aware that ideas cannot be copyrighted, but the result itself derived from the idea. Copyright protects the author of creator or author of these ideas or information. Contrary to popular belief, copyright doesn’t require filing of documents – once you create something without copying another person’s idea, your work is protected throughout your life, plus an extra 70 years. However, if you die in the year 2025, your work will become public domain in 2095 and anyone who wishes to use your work or idea has the right to do so.

If you wish to translate a program or article into another language, you still need to ask permission from the original author. This saves you from a lot of trouble or from future lawsuits.

Fair Use: A Copyright Exemption

Sometimes, you are allowed to use copyrighted material through the “fair use” policy. This doctrine is part of U.S. copyright law and based on the free speech rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution. The “Fair Use” doctrine allows a person limited use of a copyrighted work even without asking permission from the original author. You can use work of other people legally if the work will be used in news reporting, criticism or commentary, parody, research, scholarship and teaching. If a photograph, book, article or other copyrighted work is used this way, it is not considered an infringement of copyright.

“Fair Use” can be tricky and often misunderstood. Even if you use a copyright work with the reasons posted above, there are still four factors to be considered to determine whether the use of a work is a fair use.

1) Character and purpose of use – If a work is used for commercial use, entertainment or for profit, this won’t be considered fair use, but if was used for nonprofit educational purposes, the ‘fair use’ doctrine may apply. The court usually favors anyone who used a copyrighted material if used for non-profit, educational and personal reasons.

2) Nature of Copyrighted Work – The second factor of fair use checks the creativity of a particular work. In general, creative works are given more protection than scientific, technical, scholarly or other work that are factual in nature, such as workbooks or standard tests. In books, fair use favors factual books than fictional ones. Although fair use can be applied to both published and unpublished works, the doctrine tends to favor published works since an author’s rights of first publication can factor in.

3) Amount and Substantiality Used – How much of the copyrighted work will you use? How directly significant is the copyrighted work from your occupation? These two factors weigh in if fair use can be a possibility or not. The fair use doctrine favors a person who uses only a small amount of copyrighted work and if the details used is not the main part of the copyrighted work. Many universities suggest that this factor is not recommended because there is no “acceptable amount” provided in this law.

4) Effect on the Potential Market – The last factor weighs in the market impact to the copyrighted work. If you intend to use a copyrighted work, as long as you provide restrictions to the work, licensing unavailability and have no major impact for the market of the original work, then fair use may be implemented.

Be aware of the copyright guidelines and fair use doctrine to ensure you legally and ethically use someone’s work. Ignorance of the law does not excuse anyone from the compliance of copyright laws and fair use guidelines. If unsure, always ask for permission from the original author.


Electronic spamming is a practice wherein unsolicited messages (usually identical or similar messages) are sent to instant messaging, forums, e-mails, blogs, classified ads, and social networking websites, among others, usually to promote a product or service. Anyone who creates electronic spam is called a “spammer.”

The most common form of spam is e-mail spam, which everyone who has an e-mail address receives daily. It is also known as the oldest type of spam, since it became a problem when the Internet went public around mid-90s. The estimate for e-mail spam messages in 2011 is in the trillions. Spam in instant messaging systems work similarly to e-mail spam, since the receiver has no choice but to receive spam messages.

Forum spam and blog spam is the creation of messages that advertise a product, service or another website. It usually consists of links to other websites. Online games also fall victim to spamming since most online games provide users a way to communicate with each other (such as chat rooms, or private messaging).

Scams, Misinformation and Hoaxes

The availability of information online is so abundant that hoaxes, scams and misinformation are inevitable. Hoaxes occur when someone intentionally invents a story, picture, video and other web content with the goal of fooling people into believing that it is true. This is often used by websites that wishes to garner attention, attract visitors and increase website traffic. Some hoaxes are done to lure people into registering with a service or product. The most popular online hoax is the e-mail that announce you’re a lotto winner, but in reality, that same e-mail has been sent to millions in hopes of people paying to play the lottery.

Scams are a completely different issue with hoaxes, since scams usually involve money, stealing of personal information and viruses. The top 5 scams online include phishing scams (tricking someone into clicking a link to a fake banking or eCommerce site in order to obtain a person’s personal details and bank information), Nigerian 419 Scams (or also known as the Advanced Fee Fraud), Greeting Card scams, Fraudulent re-shipping or payment processing, and shopper-needed scams.

Netiquette: Online Manners

Derived from the words “internet” and “etiquette,” Netiquette includes a set of guidelines on how to respect other people online, deal with an online community, and display common courtesy when chatting, posting messages as blog comments and forum posts, using social networking websites and other mediums.

Basic netiquette includes avoiding the use of all caps and too many emoticons, refraining personal abuse, avoiding spam, writing clearly, staying on topic and following a website’s rules, among others. Almost all websites provide an introductory page that allows new members to read a set of “house rules.” Be sure to read this page and follow all guidelines. This way, not only can you avoid scams, hoaxes and other online hassle, you also get to keep a credible name online.

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