PC World posted an interesting article today about the sale of The Pirate Bay. Titled "Pirate Bay Sale Signals the Death of an Era", the article brings up some important potential implications for education in secondary schools as well as for enforcement at colleges and universities.
As the author points out,
The free software movement has gained critical mass. For most applications, there are free variants available. In lieu of Microsoft Office, we have OpenOffice.org. In lieu of Adobe Photoshop, we have the GIMP. With few exceptions, most paid applications have a free alternative. If people want to "stick it to the man" why not support the free software movement rather than pirating copyrighted apps? And if there's still a commercial app that's so essential that you can't accept a free alternative, perhaps that's a sign that you should actually pay the people who worked to create it.
The same goes for music. Many artists distribute their music for free now via a variety of media:
Why not support these musicians by actually purchasing their music? Many of them give their music away for free just because they want to be heard. By illegally downloading the work of a self-promoted artist, you're just sticking it to the little guy, and that's just plain jerky.
The real point here, though, is that there is a paradigm shift underway. Whether it's the legitimization of the Pirate Bay, the conviction of the Pirate Bay's founders, or the conviction (to the tune of almost $2 million) of a woman for relatively minor filesharing, the wild west of torrents is coming to an end.
So what does that mean for our students? Whether in middle school, high school, or college, most of them think nothing of just downloading the content they want from any number of torrent sites. How many people under 25 do you know who purchased all of the music on their iPods? Zero? One or two if you teach at a Catholic school?
This behavior has to change. I don't mind the idea of "sticking it to the man." I'm Gen X enough to not be overly fussed about taking a mix cd from someone. I'm geeky enough to use free software whenever I can. However, it's clear that both legal and cultural tides are turning against the rampant file sharing in which most of our students engage. RIAA is winning more cases, colleges are blocking P2P entirely, and Trent Reznor is actually making millions on the music he gives away for free.
Add it to your list of Internet education bullet points. Students can no longer afford to take such a cavalier attitude towards file sharing. The real question, though, is how to communicate to students about copyright infringement in terms that mean something to them. Michael Scalisi makes a good start in the PC World article, but any other suggestions would be welcome. Talk back below.