What to Do With Learning Piracy


Learning has been a foundation of any growing society. Good education was costly because it employed the best minds to teach the fortunate who could afford it.  But content, much like everything else in our world that once cost to obtain is now available for free. Everywhere. Instead of buying a do-it-yourself book on how to lay tile at Home Depot, I can go online and find a dozen free videos that will walk me through the entire process better than any book could. With the democratization of digital tools and basically free storage, the knowledge base of the planet is growing at an exponential rate. Learning piracy has become a growing concern for content providers who are finding it more and more difficult to charge for their products—from book sellers to higher education providers.

learning piracy

People have always found a way to violate copyrighted information by making illegal copies of songs, movies, and other media. In the past the cost of re-purposing media was the expense of a piece of gear…a transferable mechanism like a tape–even the time it took to rip a CD to create a new copy. Those deterrents, however minor they were, are all but removed from our lives. Most smart phones can accommodate audio, video, and text– and do it in a matter of seconds. My 13 year old son can watch a hardvard lecture on his smartphone while waiting to be picked up from school.

So how should we handle learning piracy where multiple sources are pulled together to facilitate learning without any remuneration to its authors? I’m thinking of TED talks and the brilliant presenters that are available to anyone with a fast connection. Will we still want to pay for a college education in the next decade when we could access the best minds on the planet on any given subject instantly?

I’m not certain of what the answer should be. I know, however, that people are willing to pay for experiences and not necessarily just knowledge. While you can access information instantly and freely, you cannot gain the experience that a collaborative environment creates. However, I am sure we don’t need large, expensive campuses to create such environments.

The question is not as much about the future of education as it is about how learning piracy will become the norm and how content providers should address this shift away from paid, quality content.

Where do you think this all is going to evolve into?

  • I think the revenue in content delivery is shifting from product (a book, magazine, etc.) to audience. Authors will make money from speaking fees (selling their live presence to their audience), advertising (selling access to their audience), or a good old-fashioned salary (selling their labor). 

    That’s what I do, btw. I receive a salary from a congregation, which gives me the time to create sermons and other forms of content. 

    These are great days to be a writer; tougher times for publishers.

    •  Great thought Lawrence. I agree with you on the publishers’ plight.

  • I’m equally excited and fearful of where this may take us.  I’m excited that musicians and authors can now pursue their craft without being under the thumbs of the big industry machines.  I love, like you, all the information at our fingertips…but is it accurate information?!   If you have the discernment, you can spot the red flags, however, for most of the world whatever is the shiniest or flashy-est will draw all the attention.  Which is why we have celebrities such as Paris Hilton and the Kardashians.  YouTube videos of extremist pastors from podunk communities are drawing hundreds of thousands of hits and are forming opinions at a rapid speed.

    We will see an upsoar of short lived celebritydom.   Those 15 minutes in the sun will be downsized to 30 seconds.

    …but what impact will those 30 seconds x 5 million have on our culture?

    •  So many implications, Bret. I those the line “Those 15 minutes in the sun will be downsized to 30 seconds…but what impact will those 30 seconds x 5 million have on our culture?” Very well said.

  • I know this isn’t about the future of education, but working with college students and working part-time at a college,  it is a trend that many people are beginning to see. Right now, the high cost of a college education isn’t worth the value – people aren’t finding jobs to pay off student loans like they were in the past. Education is in the process of changing. Just through iTunesU alone, you can “attend” a class at Harvard without ever stepping foot at Harvard. Granted, there are no assignments and you aren’t putting that knowledge to the test in a classroom setting, but I’m sure in 10 years or so, there will be a solution to that. 

    It’s crazy how content is becoming more and more free. Definitely going to see a shift in a lot of industries.

  • Baumer

    Thought provoking… 1st – a loaded title. Most of us don’t think we’re pirates as we look at free how-to-do-it videos ~ or Harvard lectures.
    2nd – college education costs are outstripping inflation by huge amounts as colleges imitate businesses and top-load the salaries, build mega-stadiums and pay coaches $1,000,000 and more per season.  The squeeze will force other routes to education to be discovered – with or w/out internet piracy.
    3rd – the new economy.  Music is still selling, I-tunes does well, and book sales are actually up when you count ebooks.  What is different is the audience is world-wide & the price of admission comes down & the cost of delivery is almost zero $.  New, greater teachers will emerge & the money they make will be by the click more than by performing in the chalky world of our institutions.
    So I conclude that prices will come down & quality will be less dependable.  For my licensed career I take some mandatory internet courses & they are usually more informative than the live classses I attend.
    Lastly, this is my first comment but … I look forward to your postings like few others.  I deeply appreciate your sensibilities & your way of expressing them.  Thanks.

  • As a recent graduate looking back on my first year in a professional career the adage “don’t let school get in the way of your education” proved more true that I would of thought. As the marginal cost of distributing *anything* is only getting closer to zero it is only a matter of time before information becomes free and experience will be the paid good. I think the music industry has seen this a bit (release the album for free, charge for the concerts) and some independent authors have taken a similar route.

    In regards to education – that is a very interesting question. In my field, web development / programming, mostly everyone who is extremely good at their craft is self taught. All the tools to learning anything to do with the web, apps, software, etc is free and it is up to the discipline of the individual to be incredible at what they do. No need to graduate from a prestigious university to land the dream job. The signal vs noise ratio of a resume or diploma compared to the value of a online portfolio and proven published work is changing (at least in the tech industry). Interesting to think about how universities will react to this fundamental shift…

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