“I believe the ethical use of information…”
…is changing, whether we want it to or not. I do not believe this is from a lack of effort on the part of the education system, but rather society’s view of information as a “raw material,” as Warlick describes it in Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008). Unlike oil, coal, timber, and other “raw materials” whose value is dependent on the amount of supply on hand, the supply of information in the digital age is infinite, which according the law of supply and demand, drives the value of information to near zero. Even if one information provider shutters its virtual doors, so to speak, there are dozens of others already providing a redundant source of the same information.
One example of this is the infamous Napster case of the late 1990’s. Napster was a peer-to-peer file sharing site that allowed its users to share music files (mp3’s) for other users to download. It was not the first, but it was certainly the largest utility for “mining” music recordings from the Internet. Prior to Napster, people had to buy the CD and rip the tracks they wanted themselves. Napster not only saved you the time of doing that yourself, but also the money of needing to buy any CD’s! The RIAA sued Napster for copyright violations, and over the course of the eight-year lawsuit, Napster paid out well over $300 million in settlements. Well before this ordeal was over, however, dozens more tools very similar to Napster were already successful and popular doing virtually the exact same thing.
In the fifth chapter of Redefining Literacy, Warlick devotes a large portion of the chapter to discussing Creative Commons licensing. Creative Commons is a set of licensing standards that have been recognized by official copyright organizations around the world that give more control over the copyright restrictions of creative works. By “more control,” I don’t mean more restrictive, but rather a greater option set. Many people today believe the modern copyright laws are too restricting and beyond the scope of the founding fathers. Even the White House itself (www.whitehouse.gov) uses Creative Commons 3.0 for most of its copyright protection.
Finally, a personal anecdote: a few years ago, I taught a music appreciation class to middle schoolers. I spent three class periods (a whole week’s classes) devoted to music “piracy” and copyright laws. Well over 75% of the class had no problem whatsoever with illegally downloading copyrighted music files from file sharing sites. Modern students do not view this as “stealing,” as much of the older generation does. Unlike a car or a laptop, where if I steal yours, you no longer have it, digital information is limitless so that if I download a copy of your Metallica mp3, you still have yours and I now have mine. This does not fit in the traditional view of “stealing,” so it is hard to convince young people that music piracy really is “piracy.” This mindset is not likely to disappear anytime in the near future. If Star Trek is as good at predicting future economic states as it was at predicting flip phones and iPads, we may never return to the traditional view of “Information as Property.”