By Vexen Crabtree 2012
The amount of music and film downloaded illegally off of the internet far outstrips the amount that is properly bought from shops and copyright owners. A form of mass-delusion has taken over two generations now, where theft is rationalized, justified and accepted, based on some rather poor arguments. It is simply the truth that wishful thinking and selfishness make people blind to the truth: downloading and copying music and films without paying for it is illegal and, even, immoral. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states "everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author"1 and we don't a right to things simply because they're good2. Music is entertainment, and, there is no moral right to be entertained. It doesn't matter how much you want it, how many others also avoid paying, if you're just 'trying it out' before buying, or if you don't like music companies: none of those reasons are good enough to justify digital theft.
“The debate is a lively one and the scale of illegal downloading vast. Data collected by Ofcom suggests that between November 2012 and January 2013 in the UK, 280m music tracks were digitally pirated along with 52m TV shows, 29m films, 18m ebooks and 7m software or games files.”
Many of us are tempted to steal what we can't afford because you want it. But:
Tough luck. If you can't afford something, you can't have it. That's life, and it's the only possible moral stance.
Entertainment is a luxury, not a right. If it is essential to your survival (like warmth, food or shelter) then that's a different matter - you have a right. But there's no right to luxuries such as music and film.
People do not have a right to the products of other's work: You can't saunter up to an artist's painting, decide that it costs too much, and so take a photo with your phone, and then share it with all your friends. You can't do this, because it is copyrighted, and its producer has legal rights, in order to protect his livelihood.
Many download music because they say companies over-charge for regular access to music (or other products). But:
It's better to pay for products that are not overpriced instead. If it is priced too high, then, that does not mean it becomes acceptable to steal it. To make the world a better place, legitimately purchase music that is not overpriced, and, you will discourage those who sell overpriced music, because other companies will be more successful by selling at a more reasonable price.
A slippery slope: Even if it seems right to steal stuff that you think costs too much, then, all that happens is that as prices come down, there's still a large portion of consumers who think the medium price is too high. And so the stealing continues. This gets worse, the more acceptable theft becomes, and the result is damange to entire industries.
Many justify downloading music without paying for it is OK, because it punishes evil companies. But:
It's better to only consume content from non-evil outlets. By purchasing from better companies, we encourage businesses to emulate their good practices, and follow their good example. This causes industry-wide improvements.
By stealing products from them, we are doing two things wrong.
The hard-working people who make the products suffer from loss of sales more than the company. And presumably those artists are just as much a victim of the media companies as everyone else.
It still promotes the evil outlets: In a social world, consuming products from a musician or artist promotes those products. By stealing from companies, you are still promoting the products of those companies. It's better to legitimately buy from good companies, rather than accidentally promote products from bad ones.
Many justify the practice of copying products without paying for them on the basis that they are trying out a product before buying it. But:
There is no inherent right to try out music or films before buying them. It is wise to try out products first, but, it's not always possible. And where it's not possible, it doesn't become morally acceptable to steal products instead of pay for them. When you spend money, sometimes you simply have to take the risk that you realize you don't like what you got.
It is possible to sample almost all products. The majority of music sites allow music to be played - either entire tracks, or samples and segments. Amazon and Google Books allow long portions of books to be read for free; and all TV series have user-based reviews available online (for example on the (unusually named) Rotten Tomatoes rating site. Many publishers put out some tracks for free so that you can sample bands.
The music industry has become dominated by churned-out pop music, shallow and formulaic, with no depth, little variety, and very little genuine artistry. The solution is not to download what you want, for free.
As masses of music is downloaded, the music industry and individual bands have no idea about what is popular and what people like. By buying albums and singles (or downloading free ones legitimately given out by publishers) you are improving the music industry by giving it direction. The less people buy, the less the music industry can produce anything but the most banal mass-selling mass-market predictable middle-of-the-road material. In order to get sales, they have to popularize. That is the result of illegal downloads: the loss of quality in mainstream music.
Keep swapping personal, not via large scale music and film swapping software. Don't download loads of albums, select individual tracks and use them as a test of whether you want to buy the albums or not. Don't give away your music; just give away small scale samplers and compilation so others might choose to buy it, too. Never allow anonymous access to mass downloads.
Just because you can get it from the Internet doesn't mean you should. Downloading and copying music and films that you haven't paid for, is not only illegal, but immoral. Producers - of anything - have a right to charge other people for their work. Only selfishness and wishful thinking makes people think otherwise.
“The technical brilliance is so dazzling that people can't see the moral squalor of what they're doing. [...] It is outrageous that anyone can steal an artist's work and get away with it. It is theft, as surely as reaching into someone's pocket and taking their wallet is theft. [...] If we want to enjoy the work that someone does, we should pay for it.”
Aside from harming industry and artists, you simply do not have a right to copy other's art or music just because you like it and/or think it is too expensive. It is thinly disguised childishness to say that "I have a right to download my music" before you've even paid for it. Given the volumes and volumes that people tend to download, all the arguments that people are trying it out before buying it are obviously false. None of you are tricking anyone. Get honest, people: It's greed for entertainment.
Current edition: 2018 May 21
Second edition 2012 Apr 18
Originally published 2002 Nov 13
Parent page: Vexen Crabtree's Websites: Forcing Humanity Onwards
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The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.