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A differently moral-ed generation

Update 12/24/07: As several alert readers pointed out, Ian's post was a quote from David Pogue's article in the New York Times. Sorry for the confusion. Good read regardless.

If you haven't done so already, jump over and read Ian Jukes fascinating post, "The Generational Divide of Copyright Morality," on his Committed Sardine blog. He describes an exercise he conducts with younger audiences saying, "I'm going to describe some scenarios to you. Raise your hand if you think what I'm describing is wrong." His scenarios range from:

"I borrow a CD from the library. Who thinks that's wrong?" (No hands go up.)


"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. ... Who thinks that might be wrong?" Two hands out of 500.

And interesting and informative experiment - one that is probably replicable among "net gen" kids everywhere.

I am not sure that these kids are less moral - only differently moral. A small example:

A few years ago I found the hard drive of my home PC was full. On investigation, I discovered that my teen-age son hadcopyright.gif downloaded a complete, illegal copy of one of the Lord of the Rings movies.

When I asked him if he didn't feel it was wrong to deprive someone of his/her livelihood by denying them payment for their creative property, he replied:

"But Dad, I paid to see the movie in the theater - twice. I will buy the DVD as soon as it comes out. And I will probably buy a deluxe edition when that comes out in a year or so. Just HOW am I not paying for this?"

I am not sure I agreed with his argument, but it was nice to know he was thinking about the ethical implications of his act.

While I have no ethical problems with DRM techniques (to the chagrin of at least a few of my readers, I'm aware), I agree with Ian that copy-protection will not be a long-term viable solution. But I still don't understand any economic model in which creators are compensated for their work when all their songs, books, software, etc., are easily attainable without payment (stolen). 

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Reader Comments (15)

I think you may also want to examine how publishers and their supporters are changing (or trying to change) the concept of 'morality'. Let me highlight some areas:

- the 'doctrine of first sale' is in the process of being repealed. What this doctrine states is that, if you buy something, you own it outright. You can, in turn, lend it, sell it, use it as a doorstop, whatever you want. Increasingly, manufacturers are retaining rights - not just regarding copying, but where something is used, how it is used, for what purpose it is used, and more. It's fair enough for them to try, but how does it become *immoral* for people to defen their rights under the doctrine of first sale?

- the doctrine of 'fair use' or 'fair dealing'. It has long been understood that a creator's rights under copyright are not absolute. In particular, under 'fair use' (or 'fair dealing' in Canada) we have historically had the right to copy a small portion of the work to use when citing, referencing, criticizing, parodying, or teaching. Publishers simply refuse to respect this doctrine - try publishing work with citations allowed under fair use but explicitly cleared by the other publisher. Or try showing a logo in a video without blurring it our. Meanwhile, DRM and similar technology makes fair use impossible. And such use, we are told, is immoral. How so now?

- the distinction between personal use and commercial use - we have had a longstanding understanding that restrictions on certain commercial activities - making copies onto blank media, for example - are perfectly legal in the noncomnmercial domain. That sharing copies among friends is a fundamentally different type of activity. In Canada, moreover, the government collects royalties on blank media, distributed to content providers, in explicit recognition of such activities. How, then, do they become immoral?

- the idea of 'free access' - from time immemorial, we have grown up believing that performances of various media are free to the viewer or listener. From listening to musicians play on the street or in bars, to watching TV or listening to the radio, to reading books in the library or billboards on the wall, if the media was available, then we could access it for free. There was never a *way* to act immorally in this regard. But now we are required to 'avert our eyes' - to not view, to not listen, to not download - in certain cases (and somehow, to magically know what those cases are). Why is this? Why is it OK to listen to a song for free on the radio but not listen to the very same song on the internet? How does the one behaviour remain moral but the other, somehow, become immoral?

- the doctrine of 'sharing' - as children we were told that sharing is good. And that when there are things that everybody can use - parks, roads, museums, culture - these are good as well. But more and more, we are being told that sharing is bad, and that everything must be owned by some person, who in turn has a 'right' to be compensated. How so? What gave *this* person, rather than the thousands of generations before him that nurtured the concept or the idea, ownership? How did sharing, always a virtue, become *bad*?

You get the idea. Children do not have some fundamentally different morality. Rather, they see - while adults, for some reason, are blind - that the game is shifting, that some very self-centered and greedy people are trying to change the rules. The children - who have no stake in this sudden 'ownership society' - are not fooled. We shouldn't be either.

December 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Downes

Hi Stephen,

Thank you for taking the time to make a thoughtful and persuasive case from the consumer standpoint. I agree with most of what you say. Except maybe for the bit about free television viewing being a right from "time immemorial" - but I take your point.

What you did not define is an alternative system that compensates the professional creator. Without such a system, won't all entertainers become amateurs when they are unable to earn a living (or even be well compensated for genius/talent)? By paying for something I like, am I not encouraging the creator to continue to produce and getting more content I enjoy as a consumer as well?

To me this becomes a moral issue since an increasing number of our students will be attempting to earn their livings through their creative output. Including my film-editing son. Since the quality of my nursing home care may be at stake here, it's a serious issue.

Explain the economic model of a DRM-free world.

Thanks again for writing. Always a pleasure to hear from someone eloquent and passionate on this topic,


December 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

The problem is that there is no readily-available way to get the movie NOW, even if I had the money for it.

Effectively, the robbers get BETTER treatment than the people who follow the law.

The fix is for the studios to offer easy online payment and download, WITH the clear license that it can only be recorded on 2 discs at a time (one to watch and one for backup), RIGHT from the start - i.e. whenever I can download illegally, I can also download LEGALLY by paying for it.

December 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterElliot Lee


In your post, you seem to equate a lack of DRM with the dawning age of ubiquitous thievery -- Radiohead's recent foray into digital distribution disproves that argument.

Alternative models exist, but not as a one-size-fits-all solution. DRM is the lazy person's solution, a technological response to a human question.

However, that's not really the point. You ask about viable business models without DRM, and that misses the mark. A more interesting question: how does DRM help distribute our cultural artifacts as broadly as possible, so as to minimize the socioeconomic factors that limit access?

It's also important to keep in mind, that here in the States, our copyright law seems to change whenever Mickey Mouse is in danger of falling into the public domain. These types of political machinations -- most recently written into law in the 1998 Copyright Extension Act -- do nothing to dispel the notion that DRM has more to do with protecting corporations than artists' rights.



December 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBill Fitzgerald

Hi Doug,

Just a brief claraification, I'm not sure Ian Jukes conducted the exercise with students, David Pogue did. See the very first line of Jukes' entry, it links to David Pogue's NY Times blog which is absolutely worth the read...



December 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChris Craft

Although I see disrespect for copyright protection is prevalent among young people; I have experienced it many times over with educators and administrators. I sat across from a principal who said "I printed out your essay and gave it to the team. I know it was copyrighted and all; but..." and she laughed it off. The essay had been included in an anthology.

I have seen material like this passed around at school meetings for years..not just fair use material; but the entire piece, including tech plan templates, rubrics for evaluating technology, etc.The same holds true for a lot of the illegal/unlicensed copies of software that still lurk around on hard drives in our classrooms.

Your son's rationalization (I am going to buy the DVD when it comes out) is actually more palatable than educators who don't value the years of experience, hard work, and intellectual rigor it takes to produce an original piece of thought or research.

From time to time in my career, I have been guilty of this myself.


December 24, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterpete

Hi Chris,

You and several other alert readers pointed out, Ian's post was a quote from David Pogue's article in the New York Times. Sorry for the confusion. Thanks for catching this and I added a note to the original post.

All the best,


December 24, 2007 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Elliot,

This seems to be the model that has been successful with iTunes - digital media that are convenient to download, have reasonable user rights, and are affordable - are successful. I hope this extends into movies, books, games, etc. as well.

Thanks for writing. Yours is the first response that begins to answer the question from the viewpoint of the producer, rather than solely from that of the consumer.

All the best,


December 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Both Radiohead and iTunes show models that seem to work. Rather than call DMR the lazy man's solution, I would hope it is a stop-gap measure in a market place that has not figured out how to protect its assets.

I don't think that asking for viable business models without DRM misses the mark at all if you are looking at this from the creator's viewpoint (or from the POV of the consumer who wants a continued stream of high-quality content that results from the remuneration of talented individuals.)

I am not sure what you mean by the "distribution of cultural artifacts ... to minimize socio-economic factors that limit access." Does this mean figuring out how to help poor people see King Kong for free?

I certainly agree that all creative content should revert to the public domain in a far more timely fashion than it does now (Disney's continued push for every longer copyright ownership will come back to bite it in the butt).

Interesting topic and thanks again for your comments,


December 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Pete,

You are dead-on here. Ignoring copyright is certainly done only by the young and I've had plenty of experiences like you have (and am not spotless myself in terms of respecting all copyright.)

A couple things (in defense of guilty abusers of copyright) that might make following the laws a little easier:

1. Simplify and loosen copyright laws.
2. Make it a whole lot easier to pay for a copyrighted work.
3. Finance education to the degree that teachers actually have funds to pay for copyrighted work.

I appreciate the twist here!


December 24, 2007 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson


It seems morality should start at home. It is one thing for Ian to reference a good article by Pogue and another altogether to post that article as if he was describing things that happened to him. The fact that you originally thought Ian's words were his own merely proves the damage that can be done when material is appropriated without reference.

Over time I've learned whose writings to trust, and whose to look at more closely.

I assure you, if I had copied someone's work wholesale without proper attribution, I could kiss my career goodbye. Educators deserve better -- we all do.

December 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Thornburg

Could the reason I had twice as many copying/plagiarism assignments this semester be attributed to this issue? Although the common excuse I got was "we were working in a group, so I helped" (even though that student did no actual typing or writing), I had many more students involved that any past semester. I can see where they know that they won't get caught copying a song, so what is the big deal about copying someone else's work - especially when it's on a partial assignment, or that student actually helped develop the idea for the paper.

I have now changed my classroom management plan / syllabus to make sure that the students can only hand in work that they personally created, they only worked on, and that they only hand in.

Unfortunately, the end is justifying the means...

December 24, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterkgorman

Hi David,

(Disclaimer: I am a pretty good friend of Ian)

I don't think this was a deliberate attempt on Ian's part to pass another's work off as his own since he did cite and link to Pogue at the beginning of the blog entry. A pretty dumb thing to do if he wanted others to think the writing was his.

I do think Ian could do a better job setting off in italics, indenting or using quotation marks other's works. It would make things crystal clear that way. But I see myself primarily at fault for not reading more carefully and reading Pogue's original article before commenting myself.

And it's Christmas, a good time for all of us to be charitable toward others.

Thanks for the comment and have a happy holiday season. I admire your work!

All the very best,


December 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Ken,

Great question. My sense is that there are as many rationalizations for cheating as there are kids doing it.

You might take a look at this column that provides another perspective:

All the very best and happy holidays. Thanks for the intriguing comment!


December 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

> Explain the economic model of a DRM-free world.

See here:

December 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Downes

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