Confronted by a generation of young people who have carelessly brought ruin to an industry they love and the people who comprise that industry, David Lowery is somewhat flummoxed: “Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!”
He is referring, of course, to the digital destruction of the music industry.
Responding to Emily White, an intern for NPR who admitted to owning some 11,000 songs despite having only purchased some 15 albums, Lowery laid out a simple, moral case explaining, point by point, why stealing music is wrong. Unfortunately, right and wrong means very little to the millennials—the generation to which I belong—when it comes to digital technology and instant gratification.
As White puts it, “I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience. … All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?” Parroting the line we have been taught time and again—stealing is okay because the product is available and we deserve to have everything right away, business models be damned—White obviously hasn’t given much thought to our generation’s not-so-principled objection to paying for our music.
After all, what is more convenient to purchase than music? A few clicks of the mouse and you’re at Amazon. A few clicks more and you’re at iTunes. Poke around on Google and you can find websites for individual artists that will provide links for places to purchase music. This is all done from the comfort of our couches, at our computers at work, and on our phones while commuting on the bus. There is literally nothing—nothing!—in the history of commerce that is more “convenient” to buy than music in the year 2012.
Convenience is not the issue. The real issue is that we have combined technological progress with human desire and intellectualized our way out of assuming moral responsibility for theft. As Lowery put it, “Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done.” (Emphasis Lowery’s.)
This is, of course, the purely economic argument: technological progress has rendered marginal cost—i.e., the cost of a producing one more unit of a good—of a digital product to be, roughly, zero. Since the marginal cost is zero, paying nothing is not just justified but an economic imperative. Only a sucker pays more than the marginal cost for a product, after all.
Of course, the artists who actually create the product that you’re now “justified” in obtaining for free don’t really benefit much, but what’s to be done? It’s economics! Relentless, merciless, economics! Morality doesn’t enter into economics.
Morality might not enter into economics, but it certainly should enter into human interactions. As Lowery puts it, “it is up to us individually to examine the consequences of our actions. It is not up to governments or corporations to make us choose to behave ethically. We have to do that ourselves.” Pushing for the government to fix this problem is a fool’s game and risks doing great damage to everything that makes the Internet great. As Lowery notes in his piece, corporations are heavily invested in the “Free Culture” movement because its a valuable profit center, so waiting on them to do the right thing is a waste of time.
Restoring the rights of creators won’t come at the hands of lawsuit-hungry attorneys or lawmakers who don’t understand how the Series of Tubes operates. It will only come once we have decided that doing the right thing means that we don’t have the right to any intellectual property we want, at any time, at whatever price point we deem acceptable.
I desperately fear it may never come at all.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles