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The ethics of copying

Posted October 5, 2015

Human life would be impossible to imagine without the copying of things or behaviours. Copying is essential for individual and social learning processes, cultural development, and economic success. Copying enables processes of democratization by providing access to cultural goods and relevant information. However, until well into the twentieth century, copying was the business or specialists. Nowadays, through the development and dissemination of digital data and communication media along with computerized production techniques, the copying of texts, images, video recordings, and audio recordings has become an everyday mass practice that is even performed automatically. Nonetheless, this has been an increase in conflicts over who may copy what. These are the topics of the new research group ‘The Ethics of Copying’ at Bielefeld University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) that will start work with an opening conference from the 6th to the 9th of October.

‘We lack an ethics of copying that should tell us what could be a fair balancing of the interests of those affected by copying processes,’ confirms the philosopher Professor Dr. Reinold Schmücker from the University of Muenster. He is heading the research group together with Professor Dr. Thomas Dreier (Karlsruhe) and Professor Dr. Pavel Zahrádka (Olomuc, the Czech Republic). On the one hand, existing legal regulations of conflicts over the ‘right to copy’ are in many ways helpless and inappropriate when it comes to dealing with the new situation. On the other hand, in everyday life, those who make use of copying practices as a matter of course often lack an awareness of wrongdoing or consider copying as an individual private behaviour to be legally insignificant

The research group composed of legal experts, philosophers, art historians, experts in literary, musical and media studies, as well as experts in cultural studies and social scientists intend to redress this twofold deficit. The aim is to develop a basic ethics of copying and formulate concrete proposals on how to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate copying practices – proposals that could also be relevant for the further development of relevant legal standards.

At the international Opening Conference ‘Towards an Ethics of Copying’, 70 researchers will delineate the range of the problems and study the claims of the different parties in the conflicts. The conference begins with a public lecture in German ‘Vom Ethos des Kopierens’ [On the ethics of copying] by Wolfgang Ullrich (Karlsruhe) on Tuesday the 6th of October. The programme for Thursday evening is the film Double Happiness (AT/CN 2014) followed by a discussion with the film director Ella Raidel (Taipei).

Further information is available online at:

Source: Bielefeld University

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