Respecting the Creative Works of Others

A group of my students was given two tasks. First, how do people use digital media without giving the creator proper credit or compensation. The ways were many: streaming video from non-paying sights, grabbing photos off the web for a project, buying pirated DVDs (a huge market right in the open here in Malaysia), downloading music from YouTube, etc …

The second task was for them to list reasons that people give in order to justify the use of digital media without properly giving credit or compensation to the creator. Again, there were many justifications. Here are a few:

  • It’s free on the Internet
  • I’m a poor student.
  • It’s so easy to do it!
  • Everyone else is doing it.
  • Law enforcement doesn’t seem to care about pirated DVDs, so why should I? (this one applies to our situation in Malaysia and many other countries)
  • Those entertainers make enough money!
  • Songs are too expensive. $1 a song!

For people who care about ethics and laws in so many other parts of their lives, these excuses are just that: excuses. The logic behind them doesn’t exist.

How about “I’m a poor student?”  That may be true, but there is no rule written anywhere that poor students are entitled to listen to music they didn’t pay for.

“It’s so easy to do!”  It also may be easy to slip a candy bar in your pocket the next time you are at the grocery store, but it doesn’t make it right.

“It’s free on the Internet!” It’s only free on the Internet because someone believes they can break copyright law without consequence. I’m pretty sure if the person who posted it illegally every created something of value that others wanted to pay for that they would think twice about giving it away for free.

“Songs are expensive.” No, actually, they aren’t. I’ll prove this in a later post.

“Everyone else is doing it.” Do I even have to attack this justification?

“Law enforcement doesn’t care; Why should I?” This is the classic situation of justifying bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior. There have been governments in this world that justified murder, does that mean you shouldn’t care about someone’s life anymore?

When you get right down to it, people use and abuse digital media either out of greed or laziness. Someone might steal a passage from an essay to make their own essay sound better. This is pure laziness. When people download illegal music, that is all about greed. They surmise that their money should go farther than anyone else’s. They believe that they are entitled to have more than what they can afford. Living beyond our means – and digital life makes it all so easy.

But there is no justification in the world which gets around the fact that downloading a song without paying for it is stealing. It’s really that simple. It just doesn’t feel like stealing because digital media can be duplicated an infinite amount of times and the original is still there.

But if you like a song, a book, a movie, think about all the hours of creativity that went into producing it. We must, as a society, begin to value the process of creativity if we are to reap the rewards and enjoyment of that creative process.

I hope we all will make the decision to respect the creative works of others.



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