Before getting into how the music industry should be responding to the technological changes in music distribution, particularly piracy, I want to discuss how consumers should be responding.

I think it’s fair to state that most people have either illegally shared music or obtained such music at least once. While this isn’t based on any research, I talk to a lot of people with different backgrounds, belief systems and bank accounts and nearly all of them have at least implied they’re okay with piracy in some or all situations. Piracy has become a common way of obtaining music without much discussion of ethics besides the fact that in most contexts, it is both illegal and undesirable by the creator. Here are some popular excuses for downloading illegally that I hear, and in some cases have used myself.

1.       “It’s just $12, and most of it doesn’t go to the artist.” While this is basically true, there is a danger to this approach. The problem with piracy isn’t just stealing a few dollars from an artist, it’s respecting the law regardless of whether we agree with it or not. Another $12 isn’t going to hurt most Americans, so why not just take the legal route?

2.       “The artist makes enough money.” This might be true if we’re talking about 50 Cent or Lady Gaga (although why would you want their music?), but to go back to my last point, it’s still illegal. Besides, a lot of people are also “stealing” songs from independent artists who are living paycheck to paycheck. Don’t do that.

3.       “I only download music from major label artists.” Insert any qualifier. It may also be bands that you don’t actually care much about, but would like to have in your library, just in case. While supporting independent and local musicians is a great practice, be careful not to fall down a slippery slope.

4.       “I can’t afford to buy the CD.” If you can’t afford to buy a car, should you steal one? Yeah, I know, it’s different. But what about the principle of it…should this ever be an excuse for illegally obtaining something?

Is piracy okay? Is it really stealing? Why and who from? These are questions we have to answer for ourselves, but hopefully these points will get you thinking. I’m not going to pretend that I know the answers to these or that I’ve never engaged in piracy, but nobody should ever engage in a behavior without understanding its implications, which is one of the goals of this blog series. Ask yourself what you believe about general moral and ethical principles such as the Ten Commandments, what you believe about respecting federal laws and copyright protections and what it means to support a person’s creative property. I believe that one should be consistent in their beliefs and actions, not just because people are looking or one can be arrested, but because it’s what one believes.

Tough stuff! Next week I’ve got some great input from people with different perspectives in the music industry on how they should respond to these issues.

2 Responses to “Did the Internet Kill the Artist? Part Three”

  1. I think before publishing an article like this, you should familiarize yourself with the philosophical and legal battle you’re commenting on. Though you question it later, words like steal (which imply loss on the part of Artist) should not be applied without justification.

    Also, in a country where the population is encouraged (or at least was, once upon a time) to question and indeed challenge the laws put to them by their government, it’s pretty disheartening to see “it’s illegal” as your primary argument.

    As you said, people need to understand the implications of piracy, but I don’t think you’re providing that here. When someone pirates, they’re not taking something from the band, they’re negating a potential sale. That said, the potential may still be served if the person decides to pay later or, as is often the case, convince their friends that this band is worth listening to. This promotion through piracy of course may lead to more of their albums being pirated but it also leads to sales of shirts and other merch. As a struggling musician and software developer I’m certainly not pro-piracy, but I also don’t think of it as stealing, just something to be dealt with.

    There’s an article by minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson that you might want to read. It much more eloquently goes into the things I’m babbling about, without all the legal obfustication of reading about Pirate Bay.

    • Thanks for your comment!

      My point with this post was merely to get people thinking about what they believe about “piracy.” I chose not to take a stance for or against because there are many different issues that have to be accounted for.

      When I made the point of illegal downloading being just that, I didn’t intend it as an end-all argument and expected some kind of controversy over it. The idea there is that it’s legally wrong, so that should count for something and needs to be considered. I agree that we should question such laws, and as technology changes I personally believe that this particular application is somewhat archaic and needs to be modified.

      If you look at the last couple of posts in this series, you’ll see that they provide more insight into the actual implications than this post does. Here I wanted more to explore some ethical considerations.

      Overall, I didn’t want to write a book on this topic, just a couple brief posts to help get people thinking and to stretch my legs with blogging practice :) I will definitely check out Mr. Persson’s article; it sounds really interesting! Again, thanks for your input. Peace!

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