The Generational Divide in Copyright Morality

January 10, 2008 at 5:25 PM

Here's an interesting anecdotal story about the generational divide in copyright morality experienced by a person who lectures on that subject. In attempting to illustrate varying degrees of "wrongness" related to copyrighted material, the speaker proposes scenarios involving increasingly questionable legal and ethical actions. With older crowds, these scenarios serve to illustrate the vague complexities inherent to copyrights.

Younger crowds, however, see no nuance or grey area; rather, everything is permissible:

In an auditorium of 500, no matter how far my questions went down that garden path, maybe two hands went up. I just could not find a spot on the spectrum that would trigger these kids' morality alarm. They listened to each example, looking at me like I was nuts.

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.