Friday, July 9, 2010

Current Real-Life Examples for Discussing Copyright Ethics

I promise I am not trying to turn into a copyright guru as a couple of my more recent posts might imply, but within the space of a couple of hours this morning two different real-life situations came to my attention which put human skin on the copyright debate. These two stories make more concrete the fact that copyright protects property, but it also protects people behind the property with feelings and creative abilities and incomes to earn.

I want to make reference to them here because I believe they both provide real-world situations that anyone we might be discussing copyright with can relate to. Whether you are formally presenting to a group of teachers or students or having a one-on-one conversation with someone, referencing one or both of these stories might help get the point across.

The first example comes courtesy of Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown who grew tired of the free but illegal downloading of his (and others') sheet music which occurs via the Internet. He decided to try a little experiment where he contacted individuals offering his sheet music for free and politely asked them to stop doing so. During the course of his experiment, Brown got into an involved email exchange/debate on the ethics of freely sharing copyrighted sheet music with one young teen, Eleanor. With Eleanor's permission he posted the entire thread of their interactions to his blog. The exchange is a rich source of insight both into the mind of the composer/copyright holder as well as the teen who does not see a problem with freely sharing someone else's music. The comments on the blog, which Brown had to cap at 159 so he could go on with his life, are also enlightening. I can see both the blog and the comments being good reading material in a class or course that covers copyright topics.

This second example may be old news to those of you who are Twilight fans, but it was new to me since I am not part of that group. Vampires just haven't ever appealed to me. But the unfortunate story of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer's last Twilight novel, Midnight Sun, being leaked to the Internet and essentially released before it was finished, did capture my attention. Ms. Meyer's post detailing the leak and its effectively killing her desire to finish the novel properly speaks volumes about real consequences of the lack of respect for the intellectual property of others. In the end, Ms. Meyer went ahead and posted the unfinished partial draft herself, but does not know now if she will ever finish the work. How sad for her as an author, and how very sad for Twilight  fans who may now never get to experience another complete adventure, all because someone could not wait for the final finished, crafted product. This story regarding a Twilight novel might appeal particularly to teens when discussing copyright.

Hopefully these two examples will put a face copyright issues for you or for anyone you speak with on this topic.

If you have other real-life examples along these same lines, please share them in the comments!

Copyright symbol graphic used with permission from