Teens and Intellectual Property Rights

I read an article today on Ars Technica that talked about teens and how they do not understand copyright law.  Not surprisingly, students do not understand that downloading and copying songs and images from the Internet is illegal.  Interestingly though one of the findings of the study revealed that most teens credit their own parents with anything they do actually know about copyright.  This made me wonder what exactly we are teaching in schools about intellectual property rights.  Do we assume that students know already that copying other people’s work is wrong?  Do we assume that students can extrapolate from the fact that stealing someone’s lunch would be wrong, therefore stealing their ideas or their electronic work would also be wrong?  Is all our “reminding” them about citing sources and crediting authors based on an incorrect assumption, that they already know that they should not copy things from the web?  I imagine myself nagging my students about copying from the web, and putting things in their own words and the blank looks I get back lead me to believe that I have become Charlie Brown’s parents.

While this is clearly a serious issue, I also wonder if we will be kicking ourselves i the future that we wasted our time on all this.  Information and ideas want to be free.  Intellectual property is an illusion.  Once an idea is shared it becomes part of the collective intelligence.  To repeat it, build on it and rework it should be everyone’s right.  Citing the origin of the idea remains important, but paying for the idea is ludicrous.  Can I then extrapolate that, if a song is in the public domain I should be able to copy it, share it, remix it and improve on it, as long as I let everyone know the original work belongs to David Grohl?  I think so.

I think that, one day, likely soon, all information and intellectual property will be free.  Free to use and share.  Corporations and the RIAA are the ones that are resisting this evolution of information.  They do not know how they will still make money.  That is their problem.  Information wants to be free and the democratic web will bring that about.

Original Microsoft Research paper