Copyright Morality: The Kids Don’t Care

David Pogue, NYTimes Technology-writer extraordinare, writes a common-sense, but thought-provoking and foreboding (if you’re Old Media) account of the coming shift in perception about what is and isn’t regarded as moral and ethical (perhaps eventually legal) regarding copyright infringement and piracy.

It’s one of those, “Well, duh” articles that seems like anything but to the record and movie and TV industries, who are (a “scant” 10 years after Napster shook everything up) finally (barely) beginning to realize that things might be different than they used to be.

But while I (and you, most likely) certainly have a pretty strong grasp of the moral grey areas of copyright and know that things are changing fast, many folks (espec apparently don’t, and Pogue’s article does more to illustrate the coming shift than anything else I’ve read.

Pogue describes a presentation he often gives, in which he asks the audience for a show of hands regarding whether or not the copyright-related behavior he describes is OK.
‘I borrow a CD from the library. Who thinks that's wrong?’ (No hands go up.)

‘I own a certain CD, but it got scratched. So I borrow the same CD from the library and rip it to my computer.’ (A couple of hands.)

‘I have 2,000 vinyl records. So I borrow some of the same albums on CD from the library and rip those.’

‘I buy a DVD. But I'm worried about its longevity; I have a three-year-old. So I make a safety copy.’
He goes on, and with each successive question, more and more hands go up, indicating a perception that the behavior described is not cool, not right, not allowed.
The exercise is intended, of course, to illustrate how many shades of wrongness there are, and how many different opinions. Almost always, there's a lot of murmuring, raised eyebrows and chuckling.
But then, something remarkable happened. Pogue gave this exact presentation at a college - the first time he’s spoken to a crowd consisting only of “young people” - and it totally “bombed,” as he puts it.

Of the 500 people present, Pogue could get no more than 2 hands to raise for any of his questions.
Finally, with mock exasperation, I said, ‘O.K., let's try one that's a little less complicated: You want a movie or an album. You don't want to pay for it. So you download it.’

There it was: the bald-faced, worst-case example, without any nuance or mitigating factors whatsoever.

‘Who thinks that might be wrong?’

Two hands out of 500.
College kids. The very same 18-24 demographic so prized by the content industries. I shudder (can one shudder with joy?) to think what the high school kids would have to say about this. The next several years will be interesting.

Read Pogue’s article here.