Ethics and Dinosaurs

What can a dinosaur teach about ethics?

Do not steal has been around at least since the ten commandments and that’s just when it was set in stone.

I recently happened across an interesting blog post by James Gurney, creator of Dinatopia about his encounter with the designers of the TV show ‘Terra Nova‘. It was entitled ‘Wish you weren’t here’.

Apparently, they had been using his art in their design mock ups and decided to contact him and ask him to collaborate. At this stage of the game, he was not pleased. They are paid to design after all and should’ve asked him before using any of his art, not after. His flat out ‘no’ was not surprising. Asking beforehand might’ve been a compliment. He could’ve said yes or no. Asking afterward is treating him like he’s an afterthought. It’s neither professional nor polite.

Having seen a piece of promotional artwork about Terra Nova some time after the show premiered, I found this story solved a puzzle. I’d seen Terra Nova. I’ve got one of the Dinotopia books and seen the mini series. Outside of them both having dinosaurs, the style of the TV show has no resemblance to the artwork, which did seem rather familiar. Now I know why.

Dinotopia, the Original Book, photo by chubbzazz, Photobucket

What I find saddest about this is not just that the bigwigs behind Terra Nova were willing to rip him off. It’s that some of the designers probably never realized they were doing anything unethical.


This brings me to the whole Internet regulation debate in congress.  Personally, I suspect it would just shift the ethical issues from the many individual to the few individuals in charge of big corporation if the government tries to regulate it.. I find that alarming. I don’t have any reason to think those few have higher ethics than the rest of us.

Learning Internet and Media Ethics

What they should consider is whether this is an issue under the heading of education. Most morals are learned from parents. But the internet isn’t a family activity. In order to find out the parents morals, the kid has to be watching said parent on the internet.

Now there are two reasons that won’t happen. One is, the internet is a dull spectator sport. Fun to surf, not fun to watch someone else. Two is, the older the adult the less likely they are to know anything about computers. No offense to any age group, I’ve just found the older generations grew up without it and are less likely to think they need it. Nor is the parent likely to be watching the kid surf. If they don’t know much about computers, they won’t know what they are watching anyway. So a kid downloading for free an entire music library can happen right before their eyes and how would they know?

The result is that there really are people who don’t realize the ethical implications. I still encounter people who, when you tell them that images on the internet are copyrighted, are dumbfounded. Honestly, the thought that taking the image and using it on their own commercial items is wrong, has never crossed their mind!

If it’s online, someone still had to create it, draw it, build it, sing it or act it. Someone put time and energy and money into it.

Then there is the whole justification that music studios make tons of money and stick it to consumers for regarding downloading songs for free. This may or may not be true, but like it or not, they pay the artist. The same is true for movie and television studios I for one, do not want to find my favorite music artist or actor had to abandon their art to wait tables, because they weren’t getting paid. And that’s not to mention all the background people that go into making movie or music magic happen.  It’s not like when you record off the radio and TV with the old cassettes or VHS and only get part of the song or show in dubious quality. That’s more of a placeholder and reminder that when you have the money you intend to buy. An artist might offer a song or two for free as a promotion, the same for the TV shows, but if you can grab the lot for nothing, there is no incentive to buy a quality copy short of your own honor. Is your honor stronger than temptation?

Notice I’m only referring to the individual end, not the web site. I love going on Youtube and browsing music videos. I encounter music I’d never have heard otherwise. I get to enjoy funny clips of my favorite shows. And yes, if my connection is causing the video to continually stop midstream I may download out of desperation. But I don’t strip the music out. I know it’s doable, but I don’t feel like it’s ethical. It’s too tempting to keep that as the ‘final’ copy of the music instead of paying the actual artist. And I don’t plan on re uploading them under my own name either. The music videos are usually a form of fan art, meant for fun.  It gives the movie or TV show or music artist a free promotion and the creator has fun and gets to learn skills in making and cutting together videos and music. But I can see why some would object: the free promotion is only beneficial if people don’t steal the goodies, but are encouraged to go out and buy them. Whatever the web site owners thoughts on the subject, in the end it’s up to the individual as to whether they’ll ‘cheat’.  No matter how often they change the computer code, someone will find a way around it.

I’ve only once found any of my art somewhere I didn’t put it and it was in a Halloween music video. I was actually took it as a compliment. It’s not like they were profiting off it, and as far as I know they really did purchase the item. If they didn’t they’d only find a low res or watermarked version. Free advertising, I will happily accept.

In the end, ethics come down to the individual.

So what happens if the government and big corporations step in and decide to regulate the internet? We have to trust ‘their’ individual ethics. What if they decide Youtube is altogether too abused and shut it down? Or the fan fiction sites? Maybe they’ll find reasons to block their competitors sites or competing web hosts. And would it really stop the piracy? I doubt it. The worst offenders probably aren’t in the US. In all probability, even if they are they’d just get more creative about how to cover their tracks. Meanwhile the little people get pounded. Fan art encourages creativity. It helps develop skills and the confidence to create ones own art, video and music in ones own style. I fear government regulation would be the equivalent of a sledge hammer: it would pound the people who put up websites with the sole purpose of profiting off others content or stealing. But everyone in the immediate vicinity, those who create websites to share their creative fandom, may get flattened too. The fine line between fandom and copyright violation is just too close.

A good example of dealing with it on an individual basis is  They have a list of fan fiction material they won’t accept because the author requested it. They take any fan fiction not rated mature and not on that list. Fan fiction is non profit in any case, but they accept the authors preference. No need for an army of lawyers or police descending o them.  Another example is how the whole issue played out for Star Wars and Lucasfilm: there was a time they seriously considered going after the sites offering fan fiction and the like. The outrage of the fans caused them to rethink the issue. Now if you sell unofficial knock offs of Star Wars you can expect an army of lawyers as surely as the rebels could expect an army of stormtroopers if discovered. But at times their own web site has supported and encouraged fan videos, artwork and other such uploads. Even now they link to it. They recognize the fine line: they want to stop piracy and theft, but they don’t want to alienate fans or discourage their creativity. After all, today’s employees were the ones doing the fan art ten years ago!

Short Term Temptations have Long Term Consequences.

As for the individual it’s naturally tempting to turn to free downloads and ‘borrowing’ others work when money is so tight, whether personally or in business. But the people who created the art and music and video , whether they are the musician, artist or star, or some background cameraman, also need to eat. We won’t help our own job situation by stealing their product. We just may put one more person teetering on the edge out of business. Being famous or popular doesn’t necessarily equate to being rich. Neither the money or the fame will last forever.

There are a whole lot of things out there I want too.  I have a backlog of songs, books and videos on my wish list (including a few by the aforementioned James Gurney and more than a few of Star Wars). I struggle with other bills (internet, cable – the only place one can see my beloved White Collar in a timely fashion.) In fact, my computer seems determined to keep demanding money (right now it’s a battery) which I can’t spare. I’ve only just gotten a job. I’m playing catch up. My priorities have been basic necessities including computer repair and the internet, since that’s the field I’m going in.

Pinched for cash I may be, but I don’t want to cheat to get the extras. And it’s my very love for the stuff that is the strongest thing holding me back. I want more. I want it to keep coming out. I want to be able to buy it, not have it cease to exist because it wasn’t turning enough profit to pay for the highly expensive creation and or  production! Even if it’s ‘just’ a piece of artwork, I’m an artist and I know how much art supplies cost. And if it’s music or movie, I know it took more than just the artist: it took producers, directors, sound engineers, special effects, filming permits and more to bring it to life.

Terra Nova Concept Art
Terra Nova Concept Art, Photo by JADFlores, Photobucket

As for Terra Nova, I like the show okay, although whoever was responsible for the design department needs a remedial course in ethics. But I figure there is no point in getting to like Terra Nova too much. It’s on regular network, meaning big corporation types control the content. Sci Fi and fantasy are niche markets and rarely do those shows survive the network bigwigs for long. Even if they are popular (like Joss Wheldan’s Firefly) they get dropped by the fickle bigwigs.  Forget about the show that needs to build an audience. It has as much hope as a snowball in a volcano. So if you want to check it out, you’d better hurry. It may not be there for long.

On a final note: I do think copyright laws were designed in part to give jobs to lawyers. Sometimes all you want to do is use a picture or song in a small video for fandom or non profit. Who do you ask? Have they got a plan to allow for that? It would help if they did, I’m sure. Because people who just want to use it for ‘fair use’ and would like to ask seldom are given an option.  This is an issue these big networks and producers should address with something besides a blanket NO or simply ignoring them. They seem to figure ‘no use’ is fair use.  Giving fans an option like that would build good will. It would probably take less time to develop a plan than run around stomping on the fans who upload just to share their fandom. And it would win over people like me…who would never have known the music artist, TV show or what have you existed without it. And if I don’t know it exists I sure can’t buy it!