Reefer Madness, 21st Century Style [11:40 am]
Here’s a commentary from the NYTimes Magazine on filesharing that points out that norms are at least as powerful as laws — and that parental and metaphorical dictats to youth can only achieve certain things: Turn On. Tune In. Download. [pdf]
We have heard again and again that this new generation is coming to believe that music is something you don’t pay for but rather simply take. That idea is in the air again since the major recording labels recently started filing what they say will be thousands of lawsuits against people who have used file-sharing software like KaZaA to download songs they have not paid for.
And the implication of that argument is ominous and meant to alarm us: file sharing is like a gateway drug that will make users unlearn their willingness to pay for movies, video games, books. What the music industry is doing might be thought of as administering a dose of tough love, an intervention that will remind wayward youth not just that stealing is wrong but also that we have a system here wherein goods and services carry a cost. It’s called capitalism, kid, and chances are very high that your favorite recording artist — and every other cultural figure you admire — loves it. Better to learn this now and kick the download habit before it leads to harder stuff, like a general unwillingness to pay for material goods of any kind, or a failure to grasp the magic of a great brand. If these consumer delinquents don’t get scared straight back to the mall, the cost to us all will be much greater than lost revenue for the music business. The very morals of a generation are at stake.
For that to be the case, a couple of underlying assumptions must be true. One is that file sharing is at its heart a problem of reckless youth who simply do not understand that what they are doing is wrong and dangerous. Another is that the habits of college are the habits of a lifetime.
[...] The urge to cast downloading as a kind of black-and-white moral issue that simply needs to be made plain to the kids so that they will knock it off is understandable, but it’s also wishful thinking. An estimated 60 million people have downloaded songs illicitly, which makes the phenomenon bigger than a youth fad. It’s more like speeding or marijuana use — activities that many people in a wide range of ages know are ”wrong” in a technical sense but not in a behavioral sense. By now, even if the music industry is right on the legal argument, it can’t win the moral one.