Matt Mason

The average person in the U.S., even if he or she doesn’t illegally download music or movies, violates copyright laws so many times a day, according to John Tehranian, a law professor at the University of Utah, that if he or she were sued for just one day’s worth of violations, the damages would amount to about $12.45 million. It involves everything from forwarding an e-mail with another e-mail or a photo attached to taking a photograph with a TV on in the background. All these activities are technically illegal.

But humans are copying machines. We learn by imitating one another. That’s how we learn to speak. That’s how we learn social norms. That’s how culture happens. Everything we do is an invitation to copy. And now, thanks to digitization and the Internet, we can express that in ways that we couldn’t before. The Internet is the ultimate copying machine, and it’s affecting many business models. There are times when piracy is a great idea and there are times when it’s not; that’s why I call it a dilemma. The point is, though, it is not a dead end. It’s in the interest of all who deal with the buying and selling and sharing of ideas to confront piracy and its implications now — that is, to reevaluate their business models so they include ways to capitalize on a freer flow of ideas and on more sharing of information and content.

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