In real life, most people are fairly law-abiding, either by disposition or because we’re afraid of getting caught. In cyberspace, the chances of getting caught sometimes seem slim. And, perhaps because people sometimes forget that there’s a human being on the other side of the computer, some people think that a lower standard of ethics or personal behavior is acceptable in cyberspace.
The confusion may be understandable, but these people are mistaken. Standards of behavior may be different in some areas of cyberspace, but they are not lower than in real life.
Don’t believe anyone who says, “The only ethics out there are what you can get away with.” This is a book about manners, not about ethics. But if you encounter an ethical dilemma in cyberspace, consult the code you follow in real life. Chances are good you’ll find the answer.
One more point on Netiquette ethics: If you use shareware, pay for it. Paying for shareware encourages more people to write shareware. The few dollars probably won’t mean much to you, and they benefit all of cyberspace in the long run.
Breaking the law is bad Netiquette
If you’re tempted to do something that’s illegal in cyberspace, chances are it’s also bad Netiquette.
Some laws are obscure or complicated enough that it’s hard to know how to follow them. And in some cases, we’re still establishing how the law applies to cyberspace. Two examples are the laws on privacy (see Rule 8 and “Email Privacy — a Grand Illusion” on page 125) and copyright (see “Copyright in Cyberspace” on page 133).
Again, this is a book on manners, not a legal manual. But Netiquette mandates that you do your best to act within the laws of society and cyberspace.