IP Dad

I come from a family that uses tissues, not Kleenex; cotton swabs, not Q-tips; that makes photocopies, not Xeroxes; a family that doesn’t tape movies off of TV or download free music off of the internet–an intellectual property family. My dad is an IP attorney. His line of work deals with copyrights, patents, and trade secrets, and his devotion to the protection of these principles has made IP part of our family culture. Growing up, my moral indoctrination included not only “don’t drink; don’t have sex; don’t do drugs,” but also, “don’t plagiarize; don’t refer to generic products by a brand name; don’t pirate music.” In Dad’s eyes, therefore, using a service like Napster or Kazaa would fall (on a scale of moral corruption) somewhere between petty shoplifting and grand larceny. It’s shocking to think how little time has passed between last summer, when I still stood rooted in Dad’s views against downloading music, and now, when my laptop at school has a veritable arsenal of music-pirating software.

When I first arrived at school, I was determined not to use music pirating services. I never had before, and I assumed that I never would. I even (though I didn’t realize it at the time) looked down upon those who did. It was partially a matter of principle: I really did believe that musicians should be paid for the goods and services they provide, just like merchants of more tangible commodities. Mostly, though, I decided to abstain from downloading music out of respect for Dad and his work. I didn’t want to do anything that he wouldn’t be proud of, and I knew that using the kinds of services he spends eight hours a day crusading against would be like spitting in his face.
After a while, though, my resolve began to wear away. I became curious about downloading music. It seemed so easy, an effortless way to gain access to any song imaginable; so inexpensive and practical, a way to try new music without a $16 commitment. I found myself using the same rationale people use when they start drinking or smoking, fully aware that their parents would disapprove: Why not? It feels good. Everybody else is doing it. How would my father even find out? And underneath it all, I recognized that nagging, oh-so-typical urge to rebel just for the hell of it.

So I downloaded Kazaa. As I registered I felt giddy and nervous and terribly guilty, but so very very excited to be able to download music and not fear the wrath of the IP father, and I enjoyed downloading dozens of songs, songs I knew, songs friends had recommended, and songs I had never even heard of. I downloaded the Beatles, Ben Harper, Phillip Glass, Grandmaster Flash, anything that I could click on, and it felt good—except the gnawing guilt I felt when I realized that I had created a part of my life that I would be ashamed to tell my father about. The gnawing grew over the course of several weeks, until every time I used the service I felt dirty. By this time there were other aspects of my life that wouldn’t have thrilled my father, and felt I had to do something about it. I had to reclaim this last bastion of my morality. I had to fix my life so that my father—so that Dad—wouldn’t be ashamed of me.

So I uninstalled Kazaa. I erased every trace of it from my computer—first, the icons, then, the software itself. My first feeling was of freedom; my second, of moral superiority. Surely, the fact that I didn’t download music anymore made me a better person, one respectful of hard work and the sanctity of private property and all that good American stuff. I was continuing our family’s fine tradition of practicing what we preach. I was making Dad proud. After a while, though, my mind kept drifting back to happier, freer times when I could download music whenever I wished and listen to it with reckless abandon, when amazon.com never appeared on my site history, and when my wallet was a bit fatter. I missed the variety, the diversion, and the fabulous convenience.

So I reinstalled Kazaa. There they were—all my songs waiting for me like old drinking buddies—and I was happy to rejoin them, despite the vice that their company demanded. But this time, the comfortable complacency lasted longer. This time, it wasn’t tempered by concern for my father’s values. The gnawing guilt did not return. When it came right down to it, my own pleasure and convenience had become more important than my need to follow in Daddy’s footsteps. Realizing this, I felt disloyal, selfish, dirty all over again, and while I realized the relatively minor nature of my transgression, I was nonetheless troubled by the way I was systematically divorcing myself from my family’s moral code. I knew that downloading music was something my father would not approve of, and that it was driving a wedge between me and my family. I knew that from then on, anything I said about musicians’ rights to be paid for their work, about the sanctity of private property, or about my dedication to the way I was raised would be hypocritical. It saddened me to think that my father’s code of ethics, which had been the gospel in my childhood and a handy guidebook in my adolescence, had become more or less irrelevant. By reinstalling Kazaa, I had reiterated my loss of respect for my father’s work and effectively ended my affiliation with his ideology. My whole relationship with my family had changed. I didn’t feel as much a part of it anymore, since I had voluntarily alienated myself from one of its distinguishing features. I could no longer pretend to be a vessel for Daddy’s values, a reincarnation newer and stronger and even more committed than the original. I could no longer claim with pride that I acted on the principles under which I was raised, even in a matter so small as how I listened to music.

But oh, the variety! Oh, the diversion! Oh, the fabulous convenience!

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