In an earlier post, I wrote about how difficult it was to get students to think about issues of privacy. There is very little space between the “I see no immediate damage, so there are more salient concerns” and “there is nothing I can do about this, no matter how bad it is.” Actually, this is a bit tractable when some of the more invasive issues come up. Still, though, most students (especially born-and-bred Americans) seem unconcerned with government intrusions into their privacy. Indeed, while there has been a little controversy over Katie Couric’s framing of the warrantless domestic surveillance issue (“legal analysts and constitutional scholars versus Americans, who say civil liberties are important, but we don’t want another September 11”), I suspect she has captured the average American’s implicit trust of government police forces.
The other issue that has always been difficult to talk about is the nature of intellectual property. It’s not just difficult for students, it’s difficult for everyone. But the problem with trying to talk about this in a classroom is again one of framing. Students are most ready to see the “problem” as one of enforcement. Inevitably, one or more students will suggest that “stealing is stealing,” which, to me at least, is an indicator that they have completely missed a large chunk of the problem. Indeed, this is the rhetorical tactic of those who wish to define online sharing of copyrighted works to be stealing, no matter the circumstances. But a particular view of property is so much a part of the ideology of America (and I suspect most other places, though my most direct experience is with America), that it is naturalized: property is real and it is a (god-given) right. Stealing is stealing.
For this reason, I’m interested to see what the outcome is of Eliot Spitzer’s inquiry into music pricing (Spitzer Subpoenas Music Cos. on Pricing). The view that the creators and distributors should have blanket control over their product seems to me to be unshakable, but not necessarily in accord with the law. In some ways, the music industry is a bellwether for other industries. Music has always been about taste-making, but it is hard to think of a commercial product these days that isn’t about creating and maintaining a widespread desire where one did not before exist.