I?vebeen doing a good deal of speaking recently. And in one of my talks, Itell an anecdote about a lesson I learned from my own readers.
It was early in 2005, and a little hackware program called PyMusiquewas making the rounds of the Internet. PyMusique was written for onereason only: to strip the copy protection off of songs from the iTunesmusic store.
The program?s existence had triggered an online controversy aboutthe pros, cons and implications of copy protection. But to me, therewasn?t much gray area. ?To me, it?s obvious that PyMusique is designedto facilitate illegal song-swapping online,? I wrote. And therefore,it?s wrong to use it.
Readers fired back with an amazingly intelligent array ofcounterexamples: situations where duplicating a CD or DVD may beillegal, but isn?t necessarily *wrong.* They led me down a garden pathof exceptions, proving that what seemed so black-and-white to me is aspectrum of grays.
I was so impressed that I incorporated their examples into a littledemonstration in this particular talk. I tell the audience: ?I?m goingto describe some scenarios to you. Raise your hand if you think whatI?m describing is wrong.?
Then I lead them down the same garden path:
?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 CDfrom 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.?
With each question, more hands go up; more people think what I?m describing is wrong.
Then I try another tack:
?I record a movie off of HBO using my DVD burner. Who thinks that?swrong?? (No hands go up. Of course not; time-shifting is not onlymorally O.K., it?s actually legal.)
?I *meant* to record an HBO movie, but my recorder malfunctioned. But my buddy recorded it. Can I copy his DVD?? (A few hands.)
?I meant to record an HBO movie, but my recorder malfunctioned and Idon?t have a buddy who recorded it. So I rent the movie fromBlockbuster and copy that.? (More hands.)
And so on.
The exercise is intended, of course, to illustrate how many shadesof wrongness there are, and how many different opinions. Almost always,there?s a lot of murmuring, raised eyebrows and chuckling.
Recently, however, I spoke at a college. It was the first time I?dever addressed an audience of 100 percent young people. And thedemonstration bombed.
In an auditorium of 500, no matter how far my questions went downthat garden path, maybe two hands went up. I just could not find a spoton the spectrum that would trigger these kids? morality alarm. Theylistened to each example, looking at me like I was nuts.
Finally, with mock exasperation, I said, ?O.K., let?s try one that?sa little less complicated: You want a movie or an album. You don?t wantto 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.
Now, maybe there was some peer pressure involved; nobody wants to look like a goody-goody.
Maybe all this is obvious to you, and maybe you could have predictedit. But to see this vivid demonstration of the generational divide, inperson, blew me away.
I don?t pretend to know what the solution to the file-sharing issueis. (Although I?m increasingly convinced that copy protection isn?t it.)
I do know, though, that the TV, movie and record companies? problemshave only just begun. Right now, the customers who can?t even *see* whyfile sharing might be wrong are still young. But 10, 20, 30 years fromnow, that crowd will be *everybody*. What will happen then?