Here's a disturbing article from The New York Times. On the surface, it's yet another story of the mean, old RIAA going after a supposedly poor, defenseless college student for stealing a song or two. The more I thought about how this particular student reacted and what he said though, the more irritated I became.
Here's a college student (Zachary McCune) at one of the nation's finest institutions admitting that he had been warned before and "his eyes glazed over", "it was a campus cliché" and he "quickly forgot about it." This is the sort of person who gets pulled over twice for speeding, is issued warnings both times and then becomes outraged when the third incident results in an expensive fine.
This experience pushed McCune into action: He co-founded the local chapter of Students for Free Culture. Great idea. I tend to agree that the language and spirit of our laws need to be revisited from time to time, especially when technology comes into play. The group apparently has roots tied to Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture book. (It's a great book and I reviewed it earlier here.)
Although Lessig presents numerous interesting cases and models, I seriously doubt he'd ever advocate stealing content. That's the point students like McCune need to understand. It's perfectly fine to swap and share in the open source world, for example, but you need to respect IP ownership in the world of copyright. So by all means, go ahead and build, contribute to and otherwise support the exchange of free content and ideas via the use of the Creative Commons license, but don't try to apply the exact same terms to other products that are protected under other models. I firmly believe both can co-exist and thrive, but only if everyone abides by the laws.
This reminds me that I need to sit down with my own kids and make sure they're clear on all this...