I recently had a heated debate about copyright with a college student. Actually, it wasn't much of a debate. He yelled, I listened. In dramatic fashion he argued that anti-piracy advocates were "corporate Nazis" and existed to enrich themselves at the expense of artists and society in general. He said that he and his friends felt it was their "God-given right" to use, copy and distribute files for free using bit Torrent and other file-sharing programs, or to simply cut-and-paste the content.
I asked him if he and his friends distinguished at all between the types of files, i.e., news, music, movies, photos, that they copied and shared for free, versus those in which they might pay for or use accompanied by advertisements. He said no, "a digital file is a digital file," no matter what format it was in or what type of content it was. So far as ads were concerned, he said they were a nuisance and easily by-passed. He cited Tivo and pop-up blockers as examples. I asked him if he felt it was important to give the artist attribution for the work, or perhaps a link to the artist's website, when copying the works. He said no. "Giving it to others is doing the artist a favor."
I then posed the question, "If a digital file is a digital file and it does not matter to you and your friends what the content is or who created it, or how to learn more about the artist, or how the artist might get paid in order to continuing creating, then you are saying that all content is a commodity? "Yes!" he declared with victory, "The Internet makes all content a commodity!"
Next year he plans to study economics and marketing. I look forward to continuing the debate with him after he learns that the worst fate that can befall a product is to become a commodity.