iKeepSafe Blog

Sharing or Stealing

Congress is debating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill intended help fight the illegal online sharing of copyrighted content. A similar bill, the Protect IP Act has been introduced in the Senate. Both bills give law enforcement and owners of intellectual property new tools to go after illegal file sharing and the websites that enable it.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you could find all sorts of gadgets that let you find, store, share, and enjoy movies, television, music, and games in a variety of settings. The ability to seamlessly move digital content around whenever you want, wherever you are, is one of the great conveniences of a digital, broadband world, but it also poses some ethical challenges. A generation has grown up with the impression that digital content is free and feels no qualms about downloading movies from a peer-to-peer site, trading songs, or posting today’s episode of a favorite TV show to You Tube.

Whether you agree with or oppose SOPA, it exists because of the dramatic change in public attitudes towards paying for intellectual property. The belief that anything on the internet is free for the taking has severely damaged the music industry and now threatens the business model of most entertainment companies.

It may not seem like you’re hurting anyone when you download a song without paying for it, but it is still stealing and it does impact people—most local record stores were driven out of business, for example. More troubling, this attitude seems to be creating a culture of disrespect for ownership of ideas. It’s hard for educators to overcome this and teach ethical conduct about copyright, plagiarism, and citation. Why can’t I copy and paste a paragraph, photo, or programming code? It’s so easy!

Stealing someone else’s ideas instead of creating your own is not just bad in school, it can (and there have been many examples) kill your career at work. And it’s not a big leap from disrespecting someone’s copyrighted work to disrespecting someone’s ideas, personality, or possessions.

So maybe it’s time to have that talk with your children, not about the birds and bees, but about IP.

iKeepSafe has some suggestions for talking about ethical, responsible, respectable use of online resources here. There’s an easy-to-use curriculum for Teaching Copyright and responsible use here, and you can learn more about ethics and responsibility at Cable in the Classroom.


Frank Gallagher is Executive Director of Cable in the Classroom (CIC), the education foundation of the cable telecommunications industry. He is a specialist in media and information literacy, internet safety, digital citizenship, and the impact of media on children and is a former middle school math teacher.

CD image: By User Ericd on en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons. USB Image: By Liam Dunn Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Categories: Digital Citizenship, Educational Issues, Legal Issues

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