Illegal filesharing is a common practice, whether between friends or complete strangers.
Like Napster before it, an October 2010 court order officially closed the virtual doors of LimeWire, ending its practice of allowing people to share copyrighted music, movies and more.
In effect, the ruling said the site allowed its users to steal. If your child walked out of a record store without paying for a CD, you might expect them to get nabbed by security. But do kids or parents share the same concern when downloading the latest song or movie from the Web?
“I was recently shocked when one of my daughter’s friends thought there was nothing illegal—or even morally wrong—with making multiple copies of songs from Christian artists and handing out copies to friends,” said Dan Lohrman, Chief Technology Officer for the State of Michigan. “Her comment was, ‘As long as we don’t sell the material, it’s fine.’ What she is doing is, in fact, illegal.”
Rather than merely wagging a finger at LimeWire, the ruling is actually a perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about cyber-ethics, particularly the issue of downloading and sharing music.
“Illegal copying of copyright material is a huge problem online. From articles to music to videos, thousands of people violate laws every day,” Lohrmann said.
Who’s the Real Problem?
The court ruled that LimeWire “intentionally encourages” copyright infringement by influencing its users to illegally trade copyrighted music recordings on its popular peer-to-peer network. The Recording Industry Association of America reports LimeWire is “responsible for millions in lost sales to countless up-and-coming artists.”
Some count this a major victory for the music industry—and from a legal perspective, it is. But unlawful file sharing is not going away any time soon. Mark Mulligan, an analyst specializing in music at Forrester Research, says, “The record labels have won this battle, but they’ve not won the war.”
“The simple fact,” Mulligan says, “is that the vast majority of music fans don’t like paying for music.” Mulligan puts his finger on the trigger of the issue: as much as services like LimeWire encourage and enable the illegal sharing of music, it is music fans who make the demand.
It is easy to have one set of ethics for the “real world,” and a different set of ethics for the online world. Dr. John Suler, a psychologist from Rider University, says it is easy for people to lose their inhibitions online. “Everyday users on the Internet have noted how people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world,” Suler writes. “They loosen up, feel less restrained, and express themselves more openly.” (CyberPsychology & Behavior, Vol.7 No.3, 2004).
We see this effect with pirated music and filesharing. Many parents do not want their children swiping CDs off the shelf at Best Buy but think nothing of the thousands of illegally copied, downloaded, and shared songs on their kid’s computer or iPod. Tell this to a “digital native” and expect to get a response like, “But it isn’t really stealing, Dad.” Many who have grown up in a cyber culture do not perceive the act of freely receiving and passing along music with no legal right to distribute it as theft.
Refreshing Cyber Ethics at Home
The question for parents is who or what will shape your family’s code of ethics. What shapes your standards? What shapes the values you impart to your kids? Is it merely the social norms of the day or is it something timeless?
Every parenting guru will tell you the same thing about imparting your values to your kids: They need to see consistency. Kids easily pick up on mixed messages. They need to see you practice what you preach. They need to see you modeling the same code of ethics in all the practical situations of life. We don’t just tell them to respect the property and rights of others: we show it. Return extra change to the department store, return things you borrow in a timely manner, be generous, be honest—and help them to see why things like buying music (rather than stealing it) is consistent with the values you are imparting to them.
Dan Lohrmann recommends parents use valuable tools like the Covenant Eyes Accountability Service to monitor what their kids are doing on the Internet. “Covenant Eyes provides an easy to read weekly log, which lists the websites visited on the computer,” he said. “Parents can visit these sites and see what their children are actually doing. Special attention can be given to websites that are known to cater to illegal downloads.”
Of course monitoring alone is not enough. Good discussions and positive reinforcement are also needed. “Once you have the facts,” Lohrmann says, “ask your children what they are doing at these—and other—sites online. Make sure that they know what behavior is legal and what’s not. Discuss the implications of these behaviors. Finally, always make doing the right things easy. Don’t just discourage the bad, encourage the good. Help your children develop good online habits.”