Sunday, September 7, 2014

Intellectual Property infringement as techno-civil disobedience from Harare to Tijuana

Across the continents, intellectual property laws are broken. You can travel most anywhere with a USB and acquire pirated material from movies to music.

Original creations, trademarks, and patents are protected by laws for the benefit of the creator. This makes sense to me as a lawyer and a rule-loving individual. Tell me what the rule is and I will joyfully follow it. In spite of my rule-based disability, I tried to understand why my students were so cavalier about infringing these creative rights. When asked if they were a shoplifter, my students responded slowly with some shame. Asked if they pirated movies or music the hands shot up with an enthusiasm I wished they applied to reading the textbook. I asked them why they stole from others and their answers, rather justifications, were complex. They know they are breaking the law, sort-of. They infringe for many reasons and I think one of them is a response to economic inequality and I would go so far as to say an expression of techno-civil disobedience.

Some copyright owners can afford to track down infringers and punish them.  Disney goes VERY FAR to protect it's mouse, all day long. Other artists and creators do not have those resources. For the artists who have less resources, anecdotal data collected in my business law classes over the past 3 years suggests, individuals try not to infringe. When its a major movie or very wealthy artist, students infringe with impunity. They are Robin Hood, sharing with others or charging a minimal fee.

It is too simplistic to explain away this behavior with generalizations about youth or lack of conscience. I find that their descriptions of how and when they infringe displays a somewhat complex calculation after reflecting on who is actually hurt by their non-compliance. Of course, there exists in this group the everyday, unremarkable criminal intent to deprive someone else of income or property that is theirs. However, I have found that to be the minority.

The majority are looking at the artists involved and making a decision to infringe based on the ability to sustain the loss of revenue. New artists who put music out for free or whose concerts they attend are given the greatest deference. The least concern is for the Motion Picture Association of America, or other high earners. (BEYONCE)  My students constantly surprise me with the things they feel strongly about!

I always wonder why they did not riot or "Occupy" the college during the credit crisis-sub-prime meltdown. They do care about good behavior and what is right. They care quite a bit actually. Their demonstration in the classroom of a real value for treating people fairly was also tainted by a jaded view of embedded unfairness in their world. Many cannot afford more than just Community College. Many students are working full-time and taking care of family or without family and a support system. They think the NSA already reads their email. They believe things are rigged against the less powerful. They are not idealistic. They are not idealistic in a manner that can be easily understood.

They believe in a free Internet and they will always support environmental issues. I laugh out loud in class when they whole-heatedly agree on environmental things but are not sure at all about hiring a felon as an employee. They really struggle with giving people second chances but they care very much about electronic rights and carbon emissions. With some exceptions--it is a car culture and they want to allow some carbon emissions for certain cars, apparently.

It is not easy to understand youth. I gave birth to one and he is 21, but that does not create understanding. Talking to them, spending time with them, just like with AFRICANS, creates some beginning appreciation of the differences---and from that comes understanding--hopefully. This post is the beginning of my writing on something that I have been thinking and discussing with students in classrooms for several years. I believe it is valuable to contemplate.  

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