Computer Ethics, Summer 2017
Corboy 302, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Week 1 Readings
Read the first three sections of Baase chapter 1 and at least the first
section of chapter 4, especially:
Video sharing in §1.2.1
Cellphone case-study in §1.2.2
What is intellectual property?: §4.1.1
Before class 2, finish reading chapter 1 and read the first three sections
of chapter 4.
The main course notes are in the Notes Organized by Topic
section on the main web page. Reading assignments, comments on the class
discussion and occasional special notices are in these week-by-week notes.
The Supreme Court patent case TC Heartland v Kraft Foods wasn't even on my
radar. But the decision announced Monday, May 22 has the potential to have a
huge impact on software-patent cases. The court decided that a
patent-infringement case must be brought "in the judicial district where the
defendant resides". For companies, that means the district where they are
In 1948, Congress decided that general lawsuits against
corporations can be brought anywhere the company is "doing business". But in
1956 the Supreme Court ruled that, in patent cases, a different law applied,
and lawsuits must be brought "where the defendant has committed acts of
infringement and has a regular and established place of
business." Congress changed the general rules again in 1988, and
so the patent-suit question came up soon after. But this time the case was
heard by the patent-plaintiff-friendly Federal Circuit (created in 1982
which basically ruled "yeah, sue 'em anywhere".
In the intervening years, the Eastern District of Texas has become a popular
location for infringement lawsuits, because it is perceived as "plaintiff
friendly". One reason for that is while Texans often talk about
conservative values, actual juror comments suggest that they are strong
believers in big-government handholding, protectionism, and world socialism.
To give an idea of the scope of East Texas' popularity, one judge there
heard, for the last couple years, a quarter of all patent infringement cases
filed in the United States. There are entire hotels that have been built in
Marshall TX specifically for the patent-lawsuit trade.
Kraft sued TC Heartland in Delaware, and Heartland argued that it should be
sued in Indiana. The Supreme Court ruled that the 1956 standard was still
good law for patent cases, despite changes to the venue rules for other
types of cases, and that patent cases must be brought "in the judicial
district where the defendant resides".
There will be three papers. For the first paper, you will be given an
opportunity to rewrite it.
Plagiarism rules: be sure ALL
quotations are marked as such, and also cited.
When you write, be sure you organize your points clearly and address the
question. Grammar and style count for MUCH less!
You will each participate in one "debate". I will publish a list of topics
soon, and create a sign-up site. Topics will be in the form of declarative
sentences; topics based on the examples above might be
At the start of class on the designated day, you'll present either the for
position or the against position. Your presentation should
take 3 to 5 minutes. Someone else will then take the opposing position.
- We need a strong DMCA takedown process to protect copyright holders
- Mass communications monitoring should be abolished; no government
agency should be able to access even communications metadata without a
finding of probable cause.
The catch is that you won't know which position you'll have until the actual
start, so you'll have to think about both sides.
You may use notes.
We will not have exams.
Example: is file-sharing stealing, if
nobody lost anything?
- understanding traditional ethical theories in the context of computing
- understanding legal theories of computing & information
- understanding some of the social consequences of computing technology
- Should we still use the word "stealing"
- Is it as bad as physical theft?
Overview of some of the issues we will discuss this semester:
- copyright (ch 4)
- whether there is such a thing as "intellectual property"
- DMCA: Digital Millennium Copyright Act
- privacy (ch 2)
- matching / fraud prevention
- personal profiles
- web tracking
- from employers
- from copyright holders (RIAA lawsuits, ISP actions)
- per-use content management
- software patents (ch
- what is the purpose of
software patents? To enforce ownership rights, or to improve
- computer crime
- software licensing
- legal issues regarding "click" contracts
- trust and the web
- security: phishing, certificates, etc
- antitrust issues
- professional issues
- responsibilities and liabilities
- talking to your supervisor
Michael Eisner's June
2000 statement to Congress (edited, from Halbert & Ingulli 2004).