Should Schools Crack Down on Pirating?

I think everyone should watch Everything is A Remix by Kirby Ferguson.


The basic idea is that copyrights and patents were created to improve the public good in society.  But this purpose was lost over time and the wealthy industries lobbied for changes in the laws in their favor and often against the public good.

I often hear adults criticize people who download music or software illegally.  The basic idea behind this criticism is that this copying is illegal and that not paying for it is stealing.  It is illegal and I will get to that in a moment, but is it “stealing”?  If you sing someone’s song, is that stealing?  If you play their song on your guitar, is that stealing?  If you make a copy for you to listen to, is that stealing?

While I was not a Dead Head growing up, I must admit that I really respected the Grateful Dead and their attitude on music and copyright.  They would let anyone record their concerts and even let them sell that recording for their own profit.  They felt that it was the live concerts where they should be making their money in this industry.  No one could copy this live performance experience which was a much fuller experience than just listening to a copy of a cassette recording.  They were happy with the amount of money they were making even if they could have made more from selling their “live” albums themselves.  They had a good life (maybe too good at times) and were not greedily out to milk the public out of everything they could get from them.  They respected their audience and knew they should treat their audience fairly.

I remember when I was in high school and the compact disc came out.  The price was almost doubled from $8 to $15 for something that was actually cheaper to make and cheaper to ship.  The music industry colluded on these high prices, and the American Justice Department let them get away with this illegal activity.  We are now seeing Apple and Amazon getting sued by the government for collusion and price-fixing in the digital book industry.  As soon as Apple started to get involved, the prices of e-books started increasing.  This is obviously hurting the public good and needs to stop.  Hopefully the Justice Department will successfully stop this illegal activity, but the industries are very powerful and I will believe it when I see it.

There are many ways of fighting against this system of unfair practices against consumers.  We can write letters to our Congressmen to make better laws that protect the common good.  We can protest in front of the White House.  We can vote for candidates who promise to work towards making better laws.  But all of these ways go against the big money of the industries that make their money from some fair and some unfair practices and history tells us that those who spend more money on the issue tend to win.  One recent success for consumers was the defeat of the SOPA and PIPA bills that the entertainment industries were trying to push through Congress at the expense of consumers.  But the only reason it was able to be defeated was because the technology industry had their own interests at stake and they used their resources to battle those of the entertainment industry.

So many people have chosen another route to fight against these uncompetitive practices.  They have chosen a kind of civil disobedience which gives them the only kind of power that they feel they can take.  They have decided not to buy the digital entertainment and software from the anti-consumer markets created by these industries.  Instead they have found ways of getting at these non-competitive industries by downloading the software for free from other locations.  Is it illegal?  Yes.  Is it bad?  That is what is debatable.  If one side uses unfair practices to take advantage of another, does the unfair practice of the other make it more fair?

I am not arguing that schools should go out and download their software for free, but I do want to point out that some of our kids and parents have done just that and that it should not be our position to enforce the unfair laws that these corporations have created for their advantage.  When we are creating our Appropriate Use Policies I hope that we will not become a police state for cracking down on our kids for illegal downloads.  While the school should not be conducting any illegal activity, we should respect that the families of our students have made their own choices for civil disobedience and that enforcing those laws might only hurt consumer rights and help the industries gain more unfair advantages over the consumers.


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