Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Update: Downloading: Theft or Not?

There has been some really interesting responses to my post asking people there views on whether they consider downloading to be theft. It's worth looking at the comments section of the blog to read some of the good responses.

I am personally torn. I have to recognize that any downloading that I've done (that is, assuming I've ever downloaded) has resulted in me being less likely to purchase that CD later. On the other hand, I haven't purchased many CDs over the last few years anyways. Is that the result of me getting older? Or is it the result of Napster and it's successors (that is, assuming I ever downloaded....).

It appears as if poster EEF is technically correct in that downloading is not a crime (or at least, not an easily provable one), whereas offering up your own MP3s for download by others is one. This is why the RIAA has sued people, not for downloading, but for allowing the uploading of music. I On the other hand, perhaps the RIAA has recognized that if they sued someone for the downloading of a song, they would have to prove that the person did not have a license to that song (ie - that they already owned a compact disc of that music). And, a downloader was sued, they could just go and buy the CD for the song they're accused of illegally downloading and claim that they owned the CD at the time they downloaded the song.

This may resolve the legal, but not the moral, component of downloading/uploading. How does it feel morally? In this respect comments by Chris seem to mirror my views somewhat - there is little sympathy for the big companies, but a little bit for the individual musicians.

Emailer Laszlo wrote me a long letter ripping the RIAA and the labels (as well as the music stores) for their business practices of selling so much junk as filler with one-hit wonders, charging so much for such cheap CDs, changing of formats (requiring new purchases of music), ripping off of artists, stifling of new and interesting music for bland formats created by Payola practices, and many of the other things that make us so dislike the music industry.

I certainly agree with many of those things, but I don't know if they answer the underlying problem. If I hate drug dealers, everything they do and stand for, stealing their stash is still stealing, and wrong (as well as probably illegal, although I've made arguments before that it's not). Hating the music business is not a reason to rip them off, if that's what we're doing.

I'm still not convinced, is it? I feel a pang deep down that there's something wrong with it, that it doesn't pass the smell test, but I don't feel it's equivalent to shoplifting. Some of the posts pointed out that it can't be common law theft since it's not touching anything, or depriving anyone of anything. However, the rejoinder, that if I came into a store with a laptop and asked to quickly rip a CD from the store owner, I'd be seen as a thief certainly resounds with me.

No one brought up my hypothetical of whether the circumstances are changed (morally, if not legally) if the downloader sends the band in question money for payment for the music, thereby bypassing the record company and the 95% of the money that they keep on each sale. Does that change the situation?

Keep the comments coming, it's really interesting.

6 comments:

---Chris---- said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
---Chris---- said...

I've always wondered this, maybe one of the smarties who post here can help me. When I was 18, I bought Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album. I have since worn that CD to the core synching it up to the Wizard of Oz for some Dark Side of the Rainbow hilarity, and have used the physical media as target practice. Now if I were to download this album, is that within my fair use of that album that I bought and paid for? What about the person who served up the files?

On a side note, I love this site. Keep fighting the good fight, my man.

Christopher

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