The Generational Divide in copyright morality or creativity experience?

A very interesting article by David Pogue about a possible generational divide on issues around the morality of infringement. It talks about a presentation he did where he would go through a set of copyright-related scenarios asking if people thought it was wrong -- in general audiences he would get more hands going up as the scenario became more morally questionable. At a college with entirely young people, only a tiny number of hands went up.

I happen to agree with him that there will be a generational question, but think the difference isn't about different morals, but different life experiences.

In the past, the technical means of production and distribution was very expensive, such that it was only an industrial activity. People knew about these high costs, so having the outputs of this highly expensive process be expensive and restricted was seen as justified.

We are now growing up in a world where nearly everyone can afford the technology required to participate in culture, and an ever increasing number of people are. While this has pushed the expense of movie and television production into the more expensive markets (to compete with cheaper amateur production, often derogatorily called "user generated content"), the high costs and the call for restrictions on technology are going to be harder and harder to justify.

Ask someone young if forced to choose between big-budget movie production and personal control over their own technical gadgets, and I suspect they would all be quite willing to personally hand out pink slips to much of Hollywood -- and then head over to YouTube for their entertainment. As a software author who makes all my money based on technology owners being able to make their own software choices, I am obviously going to agree with them -- even if for different reasons.

The question I always have with this extreme scenario is this: Why are people being asked to make these artificial extreme choices?

I see no reason why well paid professional creators cannot exist in a world where every citizen has personal control over the tools used to participate in culture. Yes, some people will abuse these tools to infringe copyright just like people jaywalk today without any technological help. If everyone jaywalked, our transportation system would come to a standstill and many people would be physically harmed. There will always be reasonable legal and business means to deal with these types of problems.

There are many people quite willing and wanting to pay for professional content, as long as it is offered in a format that is worthy of being paid for. This for me means that there is no "DRM" which restricts what devices can be used to access it, and the content distributor preferably allowing me to download automatically (again, with the tools of my choosing) so content is ready whenever I am.

When will I be able to subscribe to a password protected feed of my favorite television shows so I can automatically download them (to my own desktop) and watch on my Neuros OSD that I just ordered?

I just bought many more books this evening from an online bookstore. I still find it frustrating that I'm killing so many trees, but the publishers are still stuck in the dark ages and the only eBooks available are infected by DRM. I'm far more likely to simply go without than purchase content infected by DRM. I hope to get my OLPC XO-1 soon from their Give One, Get One program, and I'm told that among other things it is one of the best eBook readers out there. Too bad the only content I'll be able to access is Creative Commons stuff from academics (and of course, forward-looking science fiction authors like Cory Doctorow).

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To answer some emails.

I use the Jaywalking example on purpose. I don't believe that individual instances of non-commercial copyright infringement is harmful. I do, however, believe that it has a cumulative effect such that if a large number of people do it, it becomes quite harmful -- and not only to the interests of the creators.

I'm always open to other analogies to convey this message, so please hit reply and offer them.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

See also my (short) blog posting