Within any professional field we will find legislation that applies generically to many apparently unrelated fields, such as: the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; the Data Protection Act 1998; and the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
We will also find legislation that applies specifically to a given field, for example, legislation such as the Digital Economy Act 2010 and the Computer Misuse Act 1990 do apply directly to areas within computing.
The fact that Acts such as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the Data Protection Act 1998 would not originally have been written and implemented directly for computing practitioners does not mean they do not apply to this field. Marshall McLuhan, in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extension of Man talks of books and newspapers as being extensions of the spoken word and radios and televisions as being extensions of the written word.
This same idea of something being an extension of something else can be applied here to computing; if we think about it, an online professional journal from a professional body for, say doctors, that might have once been printed on paper might now be distributed electronically, thus, computers and the online world are extensions of the world of magazines, journals and books originally produced by traditional typography via the printing press. The same issues surrounding copyright still exist regardless of how the text is distributed whether typographically or electronically.
Equally, when we use Facebook or Google or other such online companies and provide information to these sites they should still be bound, in the same way that a company that you might interact with on the high-street should be, by laws that clearly define and enforce data protection laws that are designed to protect the individuals rights within society to rights of privacy.
Acts, such as the ones that we have mentioned, identify not only the parameters that individuals and organisations should operate within but also the penalties that might be applied where breaches in the Acts have been found to have occurred. These penalties can take the form of monetary fines and imprisonment.
It is important, though, to understand that Acts of Legislation are not fundamentally there to punish but instead are there to protect and prevent, or depending on how we look at matters, to actively encourage certain actions or behaviours via the actions and behaviours that they push us away from. In the same way that professionals have a duty to their personal ethics, employer ethics, professional body ethics, environmental ethics and society’s ethics Acts of Legislation exist in a large part to manage and balance these very same factors.
The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is, at its core, there to protect the rights of the copyright holder – the author or creator – rather than there to punish those that breach the protections offered by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 regarding copyright, though this is a by-product of the protections in order to encourage individuals or organisations to respect the rights of the authors an creators.
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