Back in February, I stumbled across an essay written by a twelfth grader named Kamal Dhillon. In it, he argues that file sharing may be illegal, but it is not ethically wrong. The essay had been entered into the Glassen Ethics Competition and Dhillon won. Out of eighty entrants in the contest, the essay that won the one thousand dollar prize and got republished in The Winnipeg Free Press, argued that yes, copyright infringement can be morally justified. Though the views that Dhillon expresses in the essay and the sheer intellectual resilience that he displays in it are not characteristic of his entire age group’s attitude towards file sharing, nor does his understanding of the issues seem to reflect that of most twelfth graders, it got me thinking. What happens when fans are not stupid anymore? What happens when there are high school students who happen to have a firmer grasp on the file sharing debate than some of the executives and artists who get quoted in the headlines?
I mean, they are smarter than a twelfth grader—right? Most likely not, I am afraid. Readers of blogs like Music Think Tank and TechDirt, who live to learn about and make sense of the impact of technology on the recording industry and have observed how file sharing has reshaped our cultural lives—i.e. you—are in fact, smarter than a twelfth grader. But, what about these out-of-touch executives, commonly relegated to “struggling dinosaurs,” whose only exit from this industry entails mass extinction of their kind and the destruction of the music empires they created? What about all those artists in recent years who have made off-the-cuff comments about file sharing, only to be criticized for their complete disconnect from the arguments? Better, how do Dhillon’s arguments stack up against some of the viewpoints that have been gaining traction in recent weeks?