Sharing or stealing? Debating the ethics of Napster
Lesson plan to go with: “The trouble with Napster: As artists sue to keep their music from being given away for free on the Internet, teens face a dilemma of whether to continue doing it” by Richard Kwon, September-October 2000
Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour
In this lesson, students will debate the ethics of free Internet file-sharing of copyrighted materials.
• Discuss the definition(s) of theft and stealing.
• Discuss the meaning of ethics and how an individual’s ethics guide her or his actions and beliefs.
• Debate, through role-playing, the legal and ethical considerations involved in free Internet file-sharing of copyrighted materials.
• Discuss and write about how the ethical considerations in this case apply to other situations in their own lives.
• copies of “The trouble with Napster” (one per student)
• classroom chalkboard
1. Warm-up: In journals or on separate pieces of paper, students respond to the following prompt on the board: Write about a time when you had to make a choice between doing something that you thought was “right” and something that you thought was “wrong.” How did you know what was “right” and what was “wrong”? What did you end up choosing, and why? How did you feel about it? Ask for volunteers to read their pieces.
2. As a class, read “The trouble with Napster” and Richard Kwon’s accompanying “reporter’s notebook.” Then discuss the article, addressing these questions:
a. What is the controversy over Napster? What are the different sides to the argument?
b. What is the legal issue at stake here?
c. What is reporter Richard Kwon’s opinion? How do you think he came to this opinion?
d. What do you think? Does sharing copyrighted music for free, without the artist’s or record company’s permission, constitute stealing? If it does, is it wrong? How does this compare to making copies of a CD or movie on video? Why do you think this?
e. What are ethics? What’s the difference between ethics and the law?
3. Divide the class into five groups, and assign each one of the following identities: users of Napster and similar program; representatives of the recording industry; music stars against Napster; unsigned musicians in favor of Napster and similar programs; and file-sharing software developers/Napster representatives. The scenario: each constituent group is to present its case at a town-hall meeting (moderated by the teacher), followed by an open question/answer/rebuttal session in which students remain in character. Using newsprint and markers, brainstorm your group’s position on the issue. Why does your group hold its opinion? What does it want, or want to know, from the other parties involved in this issue? What does it want those other parties to know, or do? After the town-hall meeting is concluded, debrief, out of character. How did students feel supporting their various roles, especially if those roles conflicted with their own real opinions? What group was most effective in supporting its case? How?
4. Wrap-up/homework: Reflecting on the in-class discussion and role-play, write an essay in which you consider the following questions: Can you think of situations, in your own life or in general, in which an action could be illegal but ethical? Legal but unethical? Sometimes, it’s hard to do the “right” thing—why do you think that is? How do we gather the strength of character and conviction to do what we think is the right, ethical thing to do in the face of obstacles (like it being easier to just go with the flow)?
Further Questions for Discussion:
• Who bears the responsibility in this case? The company (Napster) or individual users who knowingly copy copyrighted songs? Why?
• What are the implications of the free and open-source software movements and similar open trading of material on the Internet for industry and commerce?
Students will be evaluated on their participation in discussion and their individual written work.
• Research the history and current status of the Napster case and other legal controversies involving Internet copyright infringement. What are the implications of these controversies for copyright and intellectual property law? How does this affect consumers and producers?