Copyright symbolRight after I posted about the Junior Achievement survey yesterday on the shaky ethics of many teens, I discovered an article by technology writer David Pogue in the New York Times about young people (in his case college students) and their disdain for following copyright law.

In it, Pogue describes some talks he’s given in which he tries to demonstrate how the ways people in which use of the products of digital arts and entertainment lead to some slippery personal definitions of when one is breaking copyright law. With people over 30, some will feel that if you rent a DVD from Blockbuster and make a copy, that’s breaking the law, and others won’t. But when he spoke recently at a college, almost no one thought that making copies of digital movies and music was a bad thing.

He claimed amazement (although I know Pogue can’t be that naive), and concluded:

I don’t pretend to know what the solution to the file-sharing issue is. (Although I’m increasingly convinced that copy protection isn’t it.)

I do know, though, that the TV, movie and record companies’ problems have only just begun. Right now, the customers who can’t even *see* why file sharing might be wrong are still young. But 10, 20, 30 years from now, that crowd will be *everybody*. What will happen then?

Following up yesterday’s survey, it does make for an interesting question. But keep in mind a wry comment from that mistress of wry comments, Dr. Ruth Gordon, a longtime school librarian and ALSC member, who commented about this issue on the ALSC-L listserv:

I spent a great deal of time trying to explain copyright law to teachers and told them about some really interesting – and expensive – cases in the courts.  I posted copyright rules in the simplest language possible on each reprograph machine.  Some listened and read; others could not have cared less…. No–nothing new under the sun and if we go back to the history of printing we’ll find one person happily stealing – and selling – the work of others.  In fact, I am sure someone stole the artistic ideas from Lascaux and sold them to an interior decorator in the late stone age.

Do I believe that copyright is going to die permanently? No. And I, like Pogue, certainly don’t believe that copy protection is the answer; there’ll always be someone clever who will find a way to defeat it. But I do feel that any of us librarians who can explain why copyright exists should take whatever opportunities we can to let kids and teens know why we need it.