How “Fair” is Fair Use?


Copyright, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same. It also refers to a particular literary, artistic, or musical work that is covered by copyright. It is illegal to produce copies of copyrighted material. However, the introduction of Fair Use under the US copyright law allows people to use the copyrighted materials under certain circumstances and constraints.


Fair Use


Under fair use, four factors are taken into consideration:

–          the purpose and nature of the use, whether it is commercial or non-profit educational purposes

–          the nature of the copyrighted work

–          the amount and significance of the portion used as compared to the entire copyrighted work

–          the effect of use on market for or value of copyrighted work


Although these four factors may seem substantial enough to justify whether the copyrighted work could be used, the concept of fair use remains to be an ambiguous one.




A music professor cuts out different pieces of Baroque music on a CD played by a renowned symphony orchestra, pieces them together, and plays the music for her class.


Under fair use, we examine if her actions are justifiable. Firstly, the purpose of copying the music was educational. Hence, we can say that it weighs in favor of fair use.


Let us now examine the second factor. The nature of the copied work is music, hence this factor weighs against a ruling of fair use.


The third factor is the amount of copied material in comparison with the entire music. If she cuts out six out of seven songs in the CD, it is not likely to be justified as fair use. However, if the excerpts she cut are only 2 out of seven songs, it is likely that her actions can be considered as fair use.


Lastly, we realize that by cutting out the music and playing the music for her class, she does not jeopardize the commercial value of the CD on market as she is only playing and sharing it to the class for appreciation and teaching purposes. However, if she decides make copies of her edited version of music and gives them out to her students, her actions would weight against a ruling of fair use.




Using the example, we notice that the actions of the music professor may or may not be classified as fair use, depending on the amount of music copied and whether or not she burned the music into CDs and distributed them to her students. Most importantly, we realize that different people may have different perspectives about her situation and have contrasting opinions as to whether her actions should be considered as fair use or not, hence the four factors of fair use are not comprehensive enough. On one hand, the symphony orchestra might consider her actions as potentially insidious, as her students might want to edit this music and add on to it, claiming that it is used for educational purposes. However, depending on the length of the music and the arrangement of it, it is difficult for us to judge whether the professor’s actions are justified or not. Hence, we realize that the four factors under fair use are just a general guideline and may be assessed differently from different perspectives.





Music Piracy (Part Two)


The record company faces diminish of sales and a loss of jobs. There is 30% drop in global music sales from 2004 to 2009. This is bound to happen as there are lesser people buying the physical music albums. The price of the albums are usually set by the company as they think that the price will be able to maximise sales. Due to piracy, the company cannot generate enough revenues to cover the loss, thus will not be able to keep their company in operation.

The artists, songwriters and composers are not  able to get what they deserve to earn despite the amount of effort put in. It will also affect their reputations as their music are being sold and transferred in inferior quality. They will then have no incentive to produce new music.

Retailers are not able to compete with the illegal vendors and the free illegal downloads. They are not able to generate enough revenues, resulting in loss of jobs.

Music pirates may enjoy a moment of happiness from downloading but they will suffer when the music market breaks down and are not longer able to provide them with new music. By downloading music, we are in fact making our computer more vulnerable to virus and spyware as we have no idea what the files that we are downloading contains.

Consumers will also lose out as free illegal downloads may drive up the prices of the songs and albums.

Therefore, from the utilitarianism point of view, piracy affects all the parties in a negative way, resulting in total unhappiness.


The motive of an individual pirating software is to cut cost on buying music and for their own convenience’s sake. If everyone in the world has this same motive, piracy will invade into every part of the world. In order to prevent this from happening, record companies have to come up with anti-piracy measures. Doing this would be time consuming and cause the production of music to be more expensive. This makes the motive illogical and thus would be impermissible.

When we download music illegally, we are not giving the record companies anything in return. As we are not getting any permission from the company, we are merely using the company as a means to get the music. Again, this makes it impermissible.


Studies show that an individual tends to pirate mainly because of social influences. We are easily affected by our surroundings and tend to follow the trend. Experts suggest that besides explaining about the cons of piracy, anti-piracy campaigns should also cover illegal copying of software from our families and friends. Piracy policies and laws should also place emphasis on the consequences of piracy, what negative effects it will bring to the affected parties.

Record companies should also try to reduce the prices of their music as studies show that doing so will reduce the probability of a pirate from obtaining the music from other alternative sources.

Whistle-blowing is another way for us to spot piracy. If we happen to spot someone downloading illegal music in our workplace or school, we may be reluctant to report it. However, if everyone can look for piracy, it will reduce the frequency of piracy from occurring.


In conclusion, piracy is a problem that is hard to eliminate and will most likely remain with us in the future. Instead of getting affected by it, artists should make use of the Internet as a platform to reach a wider public. e.g. Apple and Amazon allow their writers to produce their own books and sell them online by using the iBooks program. Youtube provides a platform for creative artists to present themselves globally.

In order to guard against piracy, all of us have a part to play. We need to respect and comply with the law when it comes to downloading, re-distribution of music.



Music Piracy (Part One)

Piracy is the re-distribution or duplication of other people’s original work without their consent. In early 2005, a hackware program known as PyMusique was created and is spreading wildly on the Internet. The motive of PyMusique was to strip the copyright protection off the songs on iTunes. The existence of this program leads to a rise in controversy of copy protection.

In the digital age, piracy is worsened by peer-to-peer and file sharing services like MegaUpload, BitTorrent and RapidShare. We can get whatever resources we want just by clicking the “Download” button on the screen. We are exempted from paying what we downloaded into our computer, all we need to pay is our monthly Internet bill. These convenience, hassle-free and cheap methods available makes it difficult for us to control piracy as it is rampant.

Nowsadays, we often refer to piracy as theft. Even though we are not physically depriving other people of the albums, we are claiming authorship of the intellectual property even though we are not the ones who produce it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote:

“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

Why is piracy so popular?

Piracy is especially prevalent in the music industry. Many people simply download the songs and transfer it into their mp3, without buying the original copies of the albums. The main reason is because purchasing the original copies is too costly. For example, we can buy music from iTunes, the largest distributors of music. One song costs about $0.99. If we were to buy the whole album of songs, it will burn a hole in our pocket. Many poor students who are accustomed to the Internet where almost everything is free. From viewing photos, reading articles to watching movies, there is nothing that we can’t do with the use of Internet. What is the use of paying if it is already available for free in the Internet?

People also justified their act of unauthorized download by reasons such as “listening to the music before buying to know if the music is up to their taste.”

An individual who downloaded illegal music will recommend it to another individual, leading to a common belief that “Piracy is common. Since other people are doing it, i can do it too. There is nothing wrong with it.”

One can also argue that downloading illegal music will not affect the music company as he will not be buying it anyway. However, if we are not going to buy it, we should not even download it in the first place as we do not have the rights to own that property. This is equivalent to theft.

In the next post, I will continue to talk about the ethical issues of piracy and what we can do to prevent piracy.




Is Internet Censorship Justified?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, censorship is defined as the practice of officially examining books, movies, et cetera and suppressing unacceptable parts. “Unacceptable” here refers to content which is obscene, politically unacceptable or threat to society.


Many countries around the world practice internet censorship. Online censorship is tightly linked with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, where content online is heavily tracked and monitored by the government. The top few countries which censor the Internet include Vietnam, Tunisia, China, Saudi Arabia, Burma and North Korea, where one might risk landing himself in jail if he is found to upload “inappropriate” content online. With censorship like the Great Firewall of China, Chinese netizens are deprived of access to many different “liberal” sites such as Youtube and Blogger where people express their views freely about practically any issue ranging from politics to economics to social and cultural. As such, rising dissent is observed among Chinese netizens as they are denied of the fair chances to view and express their views as compared to other netizens around the world.


Not only is internet censorship practiced on a national scale, but also on smaller scales such as schools and companies. In some schools with web filtering, sties containing sensitive words such as “Hitler” are blocked and denied of access. Racism, sex, and violence are often among the list of blocked key searches as well.


Although internet censorship impinges on the right of freedom of expression to a certain extent, it is not completely unjustified. Let us explore the pros and cons of abolishing and maintaining the practice of online censorship.



Why online censorship should be abolished


According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


By practicing online censorship, netizens are deprived of the chance to express their opinions freely on the internet, and by doing so, this directly infringes on the basic human right that we are entitled to as shown on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When we cannot voice out our opinions, we are essentially denied of the right to express our thoughts. In this case, it jeopardizes the future of our society as it prevents the exchange of ideas and thoughts which could stimulate further advancement of society. In a way, censorship impedes the learning process of human and stifles the imaginative mind. When online censorship is practiced, people from one part of the world might not be able to exchange their ideas with people from other parts of the world, and this barrier would be a hindrance to our understanding of the world on the whole. When countries do not allow their information to be revealed to other countries, other countries would have perceptions of those countries as being “illiberal” and backwards, which may or may not be true, due to the lack of communication of ideas as a result of the online barriers. As long as censorship is being practiced, we would never be able to see a truthful portrayal of one country to another.


Why online censorship should be practiced


The rationale for the introduction of online censorship was to protect information for certain groups, ensure the well-being of society, and maintain harmony. Content such as violence, gambling and pornography should be censored for children below the age of 18 as to prevent them from being overly exposed to content like this when they are still growing and going through the stage of psychological instability, where over-exposure to violence and sexual content would lead to an increase in juvenile delinquency.


Also, racist comments should be condemned as they stir up social unrest, especially in multi-racial countries. It is globally recognized that comments which contain derogatory remarks about different races are unacceptable, and should be banned. In support to this notion, Youtube has created a function which allows users to report abusive and racist comments. Other sites such as Twitter also allows users to report spam. In the Singapore context, the Media Development Authority prohibits the use of any words which contain insensitive comments about any races on the Internet. As such, our multi-racial society remains to be one that is close-knit and harmonious.




Although censorship infringes on the right of freedom of expression, it protects our interests to a certain degree. In my opinion, although I concede that censorship is not fully justified, it is beneficial to some extent. When we practice censorship which allow people to express their ideas freely and only prohibiting them from posting nasty or hurtful remarks about others, it is essentially beneficial for society as a whole. Hence, online censorship should be exercised to protect people from harm, but not taking away people’s opportunity to make their voices heard.





Internet censorship

In this post, I will be writing about internet censorship. We will be exploring these issues: Is the Internet really free? If it isn’t then there is someone that censors the Internet. If so, what are the reasons in doing so? Why should we even have internet censorship? Let’s explore deeper.


When the internet was first set up, one of the values it had was the fact that the online platform was a place where people could be free from content filtration and know and share almost anything they wanted without any sort of interference or diluting of information.

Firstly, the idea that the Internet is free is actually not entirely true. The Internet was supposed to blow open barriers and tear down walls, which initially it did. However, through the years, there have been more and more elements of online censorship coming to light. We have come across cases like China’s Great Firewall, banning of Facebook and Twitter in some countries. In severe cases, shutting down sites like WikiLeaks is also an attack on freedom of expression. Yet there are people who manage to bypass this system in some instances by checking for loopholes.


So now we know that there is censorship online, then what are the arguments for and against online censorship?


Arguments for censorship

Generally those who endorse censorship say that it is to protect minors from access to harmful and objectionable material. This would include profanity, sexual content and pornography.

Internet censorship has many benefits such as censorship of pornographic material prevents children’s minds from being corrupted. People are prevented from learning things that could harm them and others. Just as laws put in place in our society, religious conflicts can be avoided by the censorship of material deemed insulting or offensive to a particular religious community, especially in multi-religious and multi-racial societies. Censorship is necessary to preserve the secrets of a nation, such as sensitive military information which if not protected can put the nation’s security and its citizens at potential risks. It protects the privacy of people. Hence online censoring in such instances serves a useful purpose. A recently published study on Internet censorship in Thailand confirms the trend of blocking websites by citing threats to national security. Almost 74,686 of URLs have been blocked since late 2007 in Thailand, revealed the report, ‘Control and Censorship of Online Media through the Use of Laws and the Imposition of Thai State Policies’.


Ethical Arguments

Using Act Utilitarian Theory, if people would be free to do as they please such as passing insensitive comments or criticising someone, making fun of religion, online crimes will rise. There would then be a greater need for the government, police and the relevant authorities to step in. For example, people have been arrested and condemned for posting negative remarks on social networking sites or blogs. This would result in greater inconvenience for users as monitoring would increase and also government revenue would have to be spent for these problems, which would mean channelling of funds for other purposes like improving public places and providing basic welfare needs to needy citizens would be reduced, leading to a decrease in the quality of life for the people. This would result in an overall unhappiness than happiness to all. Thus, online censorship should be put in place to prevent these issues from occurring.

Using Kantian Theory, without internet censorship people may commit acts that would cause others to be treated as means to an end rather than the end itself. This would go against Kantian’s fundamentals. Using anonymously abusing others online as an example, we are treating others as means to an end. Very often, we could just be venting our anger or frustration that we face in real life on someone we may or may not know in the virtual world. This would mean we are using the person without his/her wishes, as we are using them to achieve our goal- make ourselves feel better. If we were to establish that it is alright to treat others in such a manner online and this rule that “it is alright to anonymously abuse others online” were to be universalised, then there would be no respect for each other. Wouldn’t there be a logical contradiction as we were taught to have respect for each other? Although some may argue that these are 2 different worlds- virtual and real world and rules in reality cannot be used to explain those in virtual world, with the advent of technology and the fact that we are constantly using it, it is difficult to keep the virtual and real world separate from each other.

Hence using Act Utilitarianism and Kantianism will help to explain that internet censorship is ethically right.

Arguments against censorship 

By censoring the internet, it becomes more difficult to teach and educate children and teenagers about the potential dangers, which they could have possibly known about when correctly taught.  This may result in long term risks. If you hide something from people they will become extra curious about it and want to find out even more. Withholding of information will lead to ignorance in the society. We wouldn’t want our future generation to be ignorant, would we? Freedom of speech is compromised and may intrude on the privacy of a person. It prevents the free flow of ideas. We have seen cases of censorship being misused in the past. Without proper tools for online censorship, we may end up blocking legitimate criticism, which would only do more harm than good. Finally, people have a right to know what is going on and know about the full picture.


Ethical Arguments
Using Social Contract and Rights Theory, since we have the right to freedom of opinion and expression and many of those who oppose to online censorship also state this as it is a universally declared human right, hence there should not be censorship online.

Throughout the world, these values are codified into the laws of many countries and are included in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Hence this explains that internet censorship is ethically wrong.


Using internet censorship as a tool

From the above arguments put forth, internet censorship is a double-edged sword. Just like it has its benefits, there are disadvantages to it. If not used correctly, online censorship could bring about even more disastrous scenarios.

In just two examples of internet censorship gone wrong, 92,000 innocent websites lost business and possibly also their good reputation. Internet censorship if not carried out properly is a bad thing and can affect innocent websites and cause loss of business to their owners.

Example 1:

On 17th February 2011, RT reported that US had mistakenly shut down 84,000 websites, wrongfully accused of having links to child pornography during a child porn raid. Unfortunately, in the process, they also mistakenly seized a large DNS service provider. However, this provider had no domains connected to child pornography. It took approximately 3 days to get the problem rectified. They not only lost revenue, but also risk losing their reputations as legitimate websites.

Example 2:

On 2 March 2012, RT reported on a similar situation in Denmark – also connected with child pornography. Danish visitors to Facebook and Google received notifications that the websites were banned, among many others. With a few misguided mouse clicks, police were able to blacklist 8,000 websites instantly. This shows how harmful this powerful tool can be if misused.


To summarise, since we cannot entirely agree whether internet should or should not be censored, then we can evaluate to what extent internet should be censored. As mentioned earlier, we could decide on what types of objectionable material should be blocked. No matter how we argue for or against online censorship we must all understand that there has to be a certain common understanding and possibly a brief code of conduct for netizens so that there can be mutual respect for all. Of course, if the internet is censored too much, there are ways to get around the censorship for people who know well enough.

I hope by now we have a better understanding of the issue at hand and how to deal with it. Till the next post, remember that when censorship protects people from harm, it can be good and one needs to use it wisely. We can decide what the internet will be like. In fact as per the online community response to a poll about ‘Does the Internet need censorship?’ 89% of the members replied no. 

So what is your choice? To censor the internet or not to censor?





IT Professionalism

In the second post, I will be talking about ethical issues individuals working in the IT sector or IT professionals face in their careers. Although many of these jobs involve ethical issues, they are unaware of it at times. Many of the ethical issues that IT professionals face involve privacy. For example:

  • Should you read the private e-mail of your network users just “because you can?”
  • Is it okay to read employees’ e-mail as a security measure?
  • Is it okay to monitor the Web sites visited by your network users and keep logs of visited sites?
  • If employees are being watched, should they be informed that they are being tracked in this way?
  • If you find out that employees are indeed engaging in ‘objectionable’ acts, then who and how do you report it?

Although this issue may sound insignificant to some, it actually isn’t. We are faced with this dilemma every single day- as children, teenagers or parents we are unsure whether it is alright to check our family or friends’ hand phones, emails or social networking pages that we do not have access to.

Doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals whose job duties affect others’ lives usually have to receive prior education and certification, as part of their formal training and hands-on job experience. IT security personnel often have access to a lot of confidential data and know about individuals’ and companies’ networks and systems. This power can be abused or made good use of.

The case of the Google engineer who stalked underage teens and spied on chats raised concern about the responsibilities of IT professionals. As IT professionals, are we allowed to misuse our position and power just because we have the ability and knowledge to do so?  Is it ethical for IT professionals to act in such a manner?

Let’s look at the case of David Barksdale, a Site Reliability Engineer. It was reported that “What motivated Barksdale to snoop on these teens is not entirely clear. Our source said Barksdale’s harassment did not appear to be sexual in nature, although his online communication with the minors (such as inviting underage kids to go to the movies with him) demonstrated extraordinarily questionable judgment on Barksdale’s part. “My gut read on the situation was that there wasn’t any strong sexual predatory behavior, just a lot of violating people’s personal privacy,” our source explained”.


ETHICAL THEORY ANALYSIS – as David’s actions violated people’s personal privacy



  1. David Barksdale
  2. Everyone whose privacy was violated
  3. Google – since David is an employee of the company and any action taken by him would ultimately affect the company too. This was evident as after David’s actions, people were wary of Google and reports stated “We entrust Google with our most private communications because we assume the company takes every precaution to safeguard our data. It doesn’t.”


Using Act Utilitarian analysis, which focuses on the consequences of the act and whether it would bring about overall happiness or unhappiness, there is greater unhappiness to those whose emails were being tapped and the company than the happiness that David achieved through his act. Those whose emails were being tapped would feel insecure and upset, not knowing what the SRE may have spied on and what he may have done with the data. The reputation of the company is also at stake and may cause its profits to fall. There may be a need to retrench some staff which would result in overall greater unhappiness than happiness.   

Kantian Theory says that we cannot use people as means to an end, but he used the people whose privacy was violated to achieve his goal. If the rule that it is alright to violate other’s privacy were to be universalized, then there would be no privacy. As individuals, we all need some privacy and do not want everything to be shared. Hence this rule would not be universalized. To add, his intentions were not that of good will.

Under Social Contract and Rights Theory, rights to privacy is a recognized right. Hence to go against this right would go against fundamental human rights.

These help to explain why it is wrong for someone, such as IT personnel to take advantage of their positions as a member of technical group at the organization to access users’ or employees’ accounts and hence violate their privacy.


So what if I know someone is doing something wrong, what should I do?


One should try to solve the problem internally first by reporting to concerned authorities or supervisors. As they say “never wash your dirty linen in public”, external whistleblowing such as to regulators, law enforcement agencies or media should be considered after internal attempts fail. Often, employees, for fear of losing their jobs, are afraid to speak about any malpractices. Or in other instances, they are worried that if they mention any of these issues, they may risk being involved in a legal tussle or on the contrary, if they were to be asked how they found out about such data, they would be accused of intrusion of privacy. Thus companies or the government should set up protection for whistleblowing. Countries like US, UK, Ireland and India have laws for whistle blowing protection, for example The Public Interest Disclosure Act in UK. In Ireland the law covers both private and public sector. A code of conduct and standard operating procedures must be implemented to help employees understand their job roles.




Thus as IT professionals who are mostly granted access to confidential and classified information, we should be firm and make rational decisions that neither go against law or ethics and nor should we take advantage of the skills and knowledge to find out such information. This itself is violation of privacy as we are retrieving data without permission.

Since people and organizations entrust IT professionals with important data, let’s be accountable to the society for our actions- be ethical!

Ethics is more than just the “Golden Rule”








Internet and Our Environment

The Internet has traditionally been viewed as a ‘Green’ alternative to traditional activities which use tons of paper and non-renewable energy. However, most of us tend to overlook the fact that infrastructures are needed to support the internet. Most of the net activities are powered by large scale energy and water intensive collections of interface devices that produce the web.


A typical 50,000 square feet data center which is used to reside web servers consumes around 5 MW of power and this 5 MW is enough to power 5,000 houses. Of course, there are data centers that use pervasively more power. For example, Microsoft’s data center in Chicago alone occupies 700, 000 square feet of land. Not forgetting their data centers around the world. Not forgetting companies like Google, Microsoft and many others are aggressively expanding their infrastructure. In 2008, Bill Gates stated that Microsoft will be looking into many millions of servers to power their online services. Research revealed that 700 billion kWh of energy had been produced by 2 billion internet users as at 2010. According to the growth rate, if this rate remains unchanged, it is predicted that the entire world would be online around 2017.

Apart from traditional data centers, green data centers with 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency can have power savings equivalent to the output from an entire 1,000 megawatt power plant. Yet we must acknowledge that despite being energy efficient, data center still relies on energy produced primarily from coal and other non-renewable sources to a certain extent, which means that it is still environmental unfriendly. Over exploiting of Earth’s sources, especially the non-renewable ones come with a steep price: ecosystem destruction, wildlife extinction, global warming and more.

However, since the digital world is still relatively young, little blame internet for the energy from burning and trying to understand the environment impact of internet is still a challenge. Moreover, very few scientific studies are done on the focus of internet’s ecological impacts.

Interface Devices

Besides infrastructures, production of interface devices also has a considerable impact on the environment. From raw material extraction, material production, part production and assembly, all have real environmental and human costs at every part of the process. On top of that, in assessing the environmental impact of the internet, it is absolutely necessary to consider the life cycle of these devices when they obsolete. When consumers replace old electronic products with newer versions, many of the discarded products could end up in landfills. This is an environment concern because electronic products contain a mix of toxic components such as lead, mercury, cadmium or polyvinyl chlorides, which are released to the environment when incinerated or buried in a landfill. For instance, a convention computer monitor alone contains four to eight pounds of lead, and newer LCD screens contain mercury. With upward of 300 million computers and 1 billion hand phones manufactured each year, the problem is not going away. According to UN figures, around 40 million tons of eWaste are produced annually. Currently, only 20 percent of eWaste is channeled through municipal drop off sites or companies that offer disposal services. Even with such services, there is no way to guarantee that the waste will be disposed properly.


I do acknowledge that there are environment benefits of internet. For instance, online shopping reduces carbon footprint for travelling, reading documents online is paperless and many more. But to be honest, to what extent does these uses of internet really replace our daily activities. Studies had shown that with 40% of US workforce working from home twice a week, carbon emissions would be greatly reduced by 53 million metric tons a year, which is equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road. However, how many of the people actually work from home?

Consequences of over-tapping on Earth’s resources are undesirable. Personally, I feel that Internet can be as harmful as mining and deforestation etc. While the world is globalizing, resources, at the same time, are depleting exponentially far before they can be replenished. Although now we know that internet can also be damaging, yet minimum can be done to resolve. Moreover, it is unpractical and unrealistic to move backwards, to the era where least technology is used. Nevertheless, whether one is the head of an organization or just an individual web surfer, it is important to at least be aware that using the internet is not “carbon neutral”. All of us are accountable for our conducts on and off the net with human and ecological welfare in mind.

Last but not least, here are some things you might not know…     






Freedom of Expression Online

In my previous posts, I talked about how the internet provides an outlet for people to freely express their opinions, viewpoints and observations online, and how this might result in unethical behaviour for some of these internet users, due largely to them being empowered by the internet to do or say stuff that they probably would not do or say in the real world. Extreme words, ideas and actions are not exactly uncommon online, largely due to the veil of anonymity afforded by the internet and the freedom of expression it provides, and as we have seen with the case of Ms Amy Cheong, once that veil of anonymity is removed, one might have to face severe repercussions and violent backlash with regard to their opinions.

However, are all unconventional opinions and actions wrong, or unethical? People are usually quick to generalise extreme opinions as being flat out unacceptable, and this is even more so in conservative societies with a low tolerance for extremity like Singapore. However, most people do not consider the fact that some of these ideas or actions may not be damaging per se. In this case, with no harm being done by these actions, how can it be deemed as being totally wrong? It is one thing to hurl insults at another race à la Amy Cheong, but it is another to have a harmless opinion, a different way of thinking, or a different set of values and beliefs that are not particularly harmful to anyone in any way.

Unconventional = Wrong?

Among the hottest topics that have been talked about in recent weeks is the saga regarding former ASEAN scholar Alvin Tan Jye Yee, who is currently studying law at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and his Malaysian girlfriend Vivian Lee. They made the news for all the wrong reasons when they set up a public blog titled “Sumptuous Erotica” on blog hosting platform Tumblr, in which they posted online videos and pictures of themselves naked and having sex, even in public places.[1]

Alvin Tan/Vivian Lee

This has led to widespread criticism and calls for him to return his scholarship money and give up his place in NUS. To his credit, he did apologize to NUS for bringing disrepute to the university during a disciplinary hearing,[2] but not before he made several disparaging comments with regard to living in Singapore and the public backlash he received.[3] In the end, he was stripped of his scholarship as a result of his actions, but remains with NUS after being spared from expulsion, with him being let off with a stern warning.[4]

This is not the first time that people have decided to chronicle their sexual adventures online. For example, Chen Guilin, dubbed “Singapore’s Edison Chen” and better known by his online moniker “Gary Ng”, gained online notoriety for filming his sexual exploits with various women and posting them online on various pornographic websites and his blogs since 2008.[5]

At first glance, this might seem like yet another controversial action that everyone would love to criticize and cast judgement upon. Much like Ms Amy Cheong, their identity has been exposed due to the lack of the veil of anonymity normally afforded by the internet, leading to dire consequences for the young couple, with people having actual targets to point fingers at. Unlike Ms Cheong however, their actions are absolutely deliberate, while that of Ms Cheong might have been accidental, due to her being stressed out.

Are their actions harmful though? – An Utilitarian Analysis

Most importantly, however, there is no outright malice in their actions as compared to that of Amy Cheong’s. They were being open about their sexuality, and they neither said nor did anything that targeted or involved any other party directly. Of course, one can argue that the content of their blog might be unsuitable for children, and people might say that it is distasteful in nature. However, the matter of fact remains that we all have a choice whether or not to view this content; nothing is being forced upon us.

In addition, there are tonnes of material out there in the internet that are way more sexually explicit, and presumably way more “distasteful” in the eyes of these people, that are just as easily accessible. Just looking at the act of setting up a sex blog alone, I feel that there is no real harm done to people who can easily choose not to view it in the first place, while benefiting the couple as an outlet for their freedom of expression.

What if everyone adopted this mentality of being open about their sexuality online? What if everyone started doing this? Contrary to what most people might imagine – a virtual realm full of “distastefulness”, this perceived scenario might not even happen at all! On the contrary, being sexually open will be the new norm, and with like-minded people all over the internet, no one will ever take offence to such material being put up. In fact, people all around might even revel in and be supportive of such a culture, and with no direct harm being done to others by these actions, an analysis of the morality of such an action using rule utilitarianism reveals that it actually isn’t wrong at all.


Using a similar logic, if we establish a maxim entailing that everyone is free to express their sexuality freely online, there wouldn’t be a logical contradiction if this were to be universalized. There would be no dissention as such an exhibitionistic culture would be something that is shared by all; everyone would think the same way and no one would have any qualms with others showing off their sexual exploits. As such, there is no logical conflict associated with such an act being universalized. Kantian analysis establishes the act of being sexually open online as something that is moral as well.

Human Rights

It is also worth mentioning that as human beings, they have a right to freedom of expression as well, and they are merely exercising their right to do so by setting up a platform to openly display their sexuality. No one can deny them the right to freedom of expression, especially if the act in itself did not cause harm to anyone directly.

Taking a Closer Look

It is worth noting, however, that while ethical analyses of their actions per se reveal that what they did was not wrong, that is only true if we discount the fact that he is a scholar who has an obligation to his scholarship provider and university to maintain a good image. By engaging in such controversial activities, he fails to do so and in the process he actually causes damage to the reputation of his scholarship provider and his university NUS, which will in turn affect the prestige of the scholarship itself. Harm is inflicted upon others and in this case it might be greater than the satisfaction that the couple enjoys from their actions. While the act in itself is not wrong, one cannot ignore the context of the act itself and the circumstances under which such an act occurs.

In this case, due to Mr Alvin Tan being a man of such stature and the standards expected of him, such actions will inevitably lead to damage being done to those associated with him. Because of this, these actions, in his case, would be wrong using an act utilitarian approach. For that matter, any person of importance who partakes in such controversial acts would inevitably lead to negative consequences to those associated with him; under these circumstances, such an act would be wrong if we look at it from a rule utilitarian point of view as well.


To round it all off, I feel that it is a fallacy that all extreme opinions, actions or ideas that are expressed online are harmful per se in a direct manner, especially when one can choose not to expose themselves to it. I feel like people should not be too quick to castigate proponents of ideas or actions that do not conform to society’s normal standards and exercise more discretion and objectivity when it comes to determining if these unconventional ideas or actions, or anything for that matter, are really harmful or unethical. Take a step back to consider the circumstances and context of the action and look at whether such an action actually affects anyone directly in a negative way. In addition, we should all acknowledge the fact that it is virtually impossible for anything controversial to be universally accepted.

After all, there is no way to please everyone, right?

-Chun Leong


  1. The New Paper, 16-Oct-2012
  3. The New Paper, 19-Oct-2012

Second Post!

Back in class, we were exposed to the different types of intellectual properties. In my second blog post, I will be highlighting the pros and cons of patent and also my opinion on whether this intellectual property is necessary.


Just a quick recap for what a patent is – a monopoly right giving exclusive commercial use of an invention for a specified time period. Patent can be applied to a wide range of inventions and processes ranging from improvement to an existing product or process, improvement in computer technology or even new chemical compound and composition.

In order to qualify for a patent, the invention must comply with certain criteria relating to innovation, originality and usefulness. In short, it must be unique. It should also have an industrial application and contain an inventive step that is obscure.

After fulfilling the above criteria, the Patent and Trademark Office will grant a patent for that particular invention to its inventor as a property right. This exclusive right granted to the patentee prevents others from accessing the patented invention without permission. A term of a new patent will last for 20 years from the date on which the application.


Patent protection is beneficial in the way that the patent holder will have exclusive commercial rights to use and license the invention. With these, they can take legal actions against anyone who tries to access the invention without consent. To a certain extent, the existence of a patent helps to deter infringers. In addition, the patent can also e sold as a source of revenue.


In exchange for the exclusive right, the patent holder needs to disclosure any information of their invention in a full description with claims, published and can be viewed by anyone with internet, including your competitors. After the term of the patent, anyone or businesses can freely use the invention without needing permission or payment to the inventor.

Besides, applying for patent is a lengthy and time consuming process. Cost of patent filing may surpass the actual financial gains. Cost increases if a patent is to be filed in multiple countries. After the patent is granted, annual fees are to be paid to the respective patent offices to prevent the patent period from lapsing. Most importantly, patent holder must always be prepared to defend its patent and taking actions against infringement is costly.

Question: Is Patent Necessary?

The patent system has its own benefits but also has its flaws. Although patent is in place to provide incentive to those pursuing industrial advancement and creativity under the circumstances of invention disclosure and time limitation, the question whether patent is necessary is still debatable.

An inventor does not invent because he/she desires a patent. Instead, one does so to advance the realms of research. A patent merely offers one with a platform to benefit from their invention. Yet if one decided to file for a patent, he/she is subject to the conditions laid out by the patent office. Companies have the choice to keep their composition a secret and as such, do not apply for a patent. In the case of “trade secrets”, inventors may opt to or not to disclose their invention. Ultimately, it’s up to the inventor himself to decide on his point of view with regards to his invention.

Personally, I feel that having a patent can be good but only for short term. As patent gives credits and rights, the patentee can “show off” its invention. Having a patent in the beginning is likely to lead to an increase in sales due to curiosity of consumers and at the same time creates a negative impact on its competitors.

However, having a patent will slowly become pointless as its ‘side-effects’ will then dominate its positive impacts. When competitors modify the initial invention and find excuses to argue that they are originals, a patent will become troublesome and costly to maintain as it gives rise to unnecessary lawsuits that occurs due to “jealousy from competitors”. These lawsuits will result in more comparison between the companies involved and negative remarks from public.

Taking the Smartphone Battle as an Example

Among Samsung devices, many were found to be infringing its “bounce back” feature that occurs when navigating to the end of a page and “zooming in and out” feature as well as the design and iconography on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches. Although there was a conflict in interest between these two companies, Apple mentioned that it is unlikely for them to terminate its supplier partnership with Samsung. Apple need Samsung’s processing chips to manufacture its iPhone and iPad. Without Samsung, they cannot produce these products.

Besides lawsuits between Samsung and Apple, there are also other on-going cases between other companies. The figure below gives a general idea of conflict of interest between existing mobile companies.

In my opinion, there is no point fighting against each other since their products mounted with Samsung LCD. On the other hand, many other smart phones are also installed with Google’s Google Map. Not only that the battle of patents benefits none but also it gives public the opportunity to “see free show”, compare and give sarcastic comments of For example, the new iPad is one of the many models that are  are so similar. Besides, most of their parts are not produce by their own

 At the end of the day, we, as the consumers, do not really care who the originator of this particular invention is. What we are more interested in is the quality and cost of the invention/product.  If having a patent will eventually lead to waste of time and money due to unnecessary lawsuits, why not spend this time and money to invent or improve on existing creation.





The Power of Social Media

Does this person look familiar to you?

If you have been following the local news for the past couple of days, you would probably recognize the above person as Ms Amy Cheong, a former assistant director with NTUC who made the headlines for the wrong reasons last week when she posted a racist comment regarding Malay weddings on Facebook, a social utility for online networking.

Her disparaging comments resulted in her being widely criticised online almost instantaneously after she posted it. A Facebook page was even created, calling for her to be sacked. She was subsequently fired from her job[1] and shortly after was forced to leave Singapore for Australia, where she is a citizen, due to threats of violence she received.[2] This incident became the feature of local newspapers for several days, and even became global news, with several newspapers in various countries such as Australia, India and Malaysia reporting on this incident.[3]


Social Media and its Pervasiveness

How could an opinion by someone who is not even remotely well-known receive so much exposure and draw such widespread opinion within a matter of hours, and totally turn her life upside-down within a matter of days?

Such a scenario would be almost utterly unthinkable a decade ago. These days, however, such instances of offensive online posts are not the least bit uncommon. Earlier this year in February, a scholarship holder from China studying at the National University of Singapore was fined $3000 and was ordered to complete three months of community service before he was allowed to graduate, after sparking an uproar due to an offensive blog post, in which he ranted that there were more “dogs than humans” in Singapore.[4]

One month following that incident, Nanyang Polytechnic student Lai Shumin made an expletive laden post on Twitter and Facebook, likening Indians to dogs after being displeased about having to share the same cabin as some Indians on the train, leading to her being condemned by netizens. She eventually issued a public apology before deactivating her Twitter and Facebook accounts.[5] Is this indicative of moral decay of people nowadays? Or is it simply a due to the greater ease self-expression brought about by the rise of social media and the internet?

We see controversial opinions on the topic of race all the time online, on forums, blogs and social media. We also see that regarding other similarly controversial topics such as sexuality, politics, religion and even Xenophobia in Singapore’s context (does anyone remember a certain Chinese Ferrari driver?), yet we do not see all of them being vilified in the same manner – one could not even fathom it happening on such a large scale to so many people. The reason is that most of these people are protected by a veil of anonymity afforded by the internet. Most posters on forums, chat-rooms and even blogs are just anonymous online personas; no one knows who they really are.

Amy Cheong, having posted her comment on a social networking site, could be said to be an unfortunate victim of circumstance; her careless comment, without the shield of anonymity that would have prevented her from being found out, let to her downfall, no less helped by the fact that information is propagated at lightning speed with the help of the internet – a fact that all of us should be familiar with.

Racism isn’t something shocking or new. For example, to put things in perspective, we see racism all the time in sports. Professional football has suffered from racism for a long time, and still does today. Just a few days ago, the Serbian Football Association was charged with racist chanting by spectators during a football match between England and Serbia.[6] Is it right for someone to be persecuted over a seemingly random racist comment? Did Ms Cheong deserve to be publicly vilified over her foul-mouthed rant, just because her identity is exposed? Did she deserve such a severe punishment?


When one takes a closer look at this incident, it appears that her comments might have been taken out of context. Some might even argue that it might have just occurred in the heat of the moment, considering the fact that she was trying to get some rest when the incident occurred and she was faced with a noisy neighbourhood for the past few weeks due to funerals, karaoke sessions, weddings and quite obviously weddings.[7] There is no evidence that she is inherently racist, and her comment is quite possibly unintentional and pure circumstantial; it does not give an accurate representation of her values, beliefs and who she really is. It seems wrong to persecute her and cause her such a high level of distress over a singular and seemingly unintentional comment.


However, there is no doubt that the act in itself is obviously wrong; it brings almost no benefit to anyone, except perhaps aiding in the stress relief of the poster of the comment. On the other hand, with the comment being racist in nature, it insults the Malay community and is offends towards a large number of people.

If everyone starts posting nasty comments online whenever they are feeling cranky and want to relieve stress, the virtual realm would be filled with insults and foul-mouthed rants of the millions of internet users. You wouldn’t go a single day without having to endure the pain of reading the expletive-laden Facebook posts and Tweets by your friends. The world would be so much more miserable with all these negativity being circulated online. As a result, using rule utilitarianism to analyse this situation, this act is definitely wrong as well.


In spite of all these, is such a strong reaction to her extreme, but nonetheless singular and quite possibly unintentional comment justified? In fact, Amy Cheong has even apologized for her comment shortly after she realized the folly of her ways [8], but nonetheless the apology was not accepted by many people, and condemnation of her actions failed to cease.

People have gotten away with doing far worse stuff. Prolonged vilification of a person and even her family who has already apologized for her wrongdoings and whose acts were probably unintentional and merely a result of her being tired and affected by the noise seems totally unfair and indeed seems a little over-the-top. This matter has been way blown out of proportion. All that time and effort spent criticizing her could have been better spent on other more constructive stuff. From a utilitarian viewpoint, such widespread condemnation of a single act is not desirable simply because of the wastage of time and effort. If every case generated that much controversy, one can imagine the massive loss of productivity to society.

She has already been duly punished and sacked for her actions, as well as apologized for her actions. For that I see no point in such prolonged and vicious personal attacks on her and her family; that is inherently wrong in itself.

In conclusion

While her act is inherently wrong, due to it being possibly unintentional, we should not be too quick to judge her character based on a singular comment, and I feel like she should definitely be given a second chance, especially since she has been punished and has shown remorse for her actions. With that being said, the massive reaction to this incident is largely unwarranted. The community has to take some responsibility for this saga as well.

The internet is a dangerous place without the veil of anonymity. Anything you post can be seen by others. In the information age, we all tend to take our freedom of expression online for granted, ignoring the presence of anonymous, faceless personas that lie in the shadows, waiting to strike at the first opportunity. We should all exercise due diligence and care and recognize the dangers when it comes to making remarks online, especially if we do not choose to do so anonymously, because, as we have witnessed, certain things we do online can potentially transcend the virtual realm, and a moment of folly can lead to a lifetime of regret.

Be smart, stay safe.

-Chun Leong


  4. The New Paper, October 9, 2012