Intellectual property ain't what it used to be
One of the buzz phrases in education right now is STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. The future of today's young people, we're being told, rests in these careers and interest areas. And I don't disagree. In these increasingly technological times so much of our daily life — our careers, our hobbies, our environment and health — is dependent on these STEMish things.
But you can understand, given my career, how I lament about the demise of centuries of human existence when people could — and were encouraged to — make a living through the arts. Be it a master stonemason, a composer, a philosopher or a poet, those were valid professions that with talent and a good work ethic could ensure you a living.
Those days are fast disappearing, however, and it's not because we're pushing STEM careers on our kids or setting up our entire house to be run by computer software.
It's because the younger generation has no grasp on the concept of intellectual property and copyrights.
Think I'm exaggerating? This is an example of a conversation in my house not that long ago:
Parent: You are not allowed to download music from file sharing websites. It's illegal and wrong.
Teen: But everyone does it.
Parent: That doesn't make it OK. It's stealing.
Teen: How is it stealing?
Parent: Someone used their talent and time to create that song. They sell the right to listen to that song. It's how they make their living, like the bakery down the street bakes pies to sell. Would you walk into the bakery and take a pie without paying for it?
Teen: That's different.
Teen: I don't know, it just is.
Rinse and repeat this conversation for books, photographs, fine art, ideas — anything you can easily consume and copy nowadays no longer has a creator. Therefore, no owner and no one to pay for its use.
One of the most amusing appropriations of this 'no originator' idea involves quotations. Previous to the internet, great thoughts from people great and small were captured in newspaper and magazine articles, in books and the occasional compilations. Sure, sometimes a quote was attributed to the wrong person but it was much harder to do as it was easier to find the original source.
Now it's almost comical and it's not just kids who are caught unaware.
Have you had a chance to check out West Linn-Wilsonville School District's newest middle school, Meridian Creek? A lovely building, with inspiring spaces, including a lovely quote from Mahatma Gandhi writ large on a wall: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Except Gandhi never said it, despite what the internet, bumper stickers and T-shirts tell you.
A few years ago the U.S. Postal Service put out a stamp honoring the great poet Maya Angelou with a quote from her writings — a quote that she didn't write. And Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's brilliant and originally expressed thought: "Well-behaved women seldom make history" is making boatloads of money for T-shirt, bumper sticker and poster makers all over the world — but not her.
I was once asked to speak to a group of middle school students about researching topics and digital copyrights. It was appalling how easily those youngsters accepted the authority of just about everything on the internet (that's a whole other column) but most astounding was the dialogue I had with them about photos, text and ideas taken whole cloth from websites without permission. They were flummoxed to think they didn't have the right to do whatever they wanted with those items, after all — they were on the INTERNET.
In their 21st century view, if it's in a digital format of any kind, it must have been created for their free, unfettered use.
Now I'm not holding out for the unlikely chance that one day I'll say something so profound, so hilarious and life-changing that my original thought could make me money. Even if I did come up with something that brilliant, it would only take a nano-second for it to be attributed to Angelina Jolie and begin raking in the money from designer clothing sales for some faraway manufacturer in Timbuktu.
Leslie Pugmire Hole is editor of the Wilsonville Spokesman.