The 20th century will linger so long as students are taught this:
When the concept was explained that they were obtaining a product that they did not pay for and it was essentially stealing from the artist and the recording company they seemed to understand […]
They “seemed” to understand because they’ve been told a subtle lie. What students need “explained” is that they have violated 20th century copyright law in need of reform to fit our 21st century technology. Then they need to see the difference between physical objects and intangible information. Then they need to see how Big Media ignores this difference every time it claims downloading to be “stealing” and that “piracy” must be fought to “protect the artists”. Students need to see that the analogy with sensate “products” is deceptive propaganda used to encourage thinking of copyrighted works as “property” when nothing could be further from the truth.
If we get this far then we need to explain to students that change can occur if we work toward it. We need to remind students that although they are doing absolutely nothing wrong by file-sharing, it’s against the law – so they do so at their own risk. We need to inform them that change can happen without disobedience – but only if they work for it. We need to expose students to innovative projects demonstrating that copyright need not necessarily be an all-or-nothing venture. We need to educate students with b o o k s that challenge us to become aware of and think deeply about, world-wide digital networks and their intersection with copyright law. Most importantly, we need to ask students about the ethics of file-sharing. And just as importantly, the ethics of those that fight it.
In short, the worst thing we can do is encourage industrial age thinking when the networked information economy is knocking at our door.