A Look at the Ethics Behind Piracy

Adam is an 18-year-old music junkie living in upstate New Yorkwith no job and lots of time on his hands to surf the Internet anddownload music – for free.

He reckons his computer houses more than 5,000music files known as mp3s. The Record Industry Association ofAmerica likes to call people like Adam “music pirates.” They likenhis activities to piracy, a wanton pillage of someone’s property.But perhaps, Adam and others, usually teens and young-adults, aremore like their own personal “music robin hoods” – taking from therich to enrich the poor. Because let us be honest, the $17.75 notgoing into R. Kelly’s pocket is hurting him far, far less than itis Adam.

So is it really unethical for this broketeenage boy to save a few bucks and download a few, or 5,000, tuneson his new desktop Dell?

After all, Jay-Z is not starving, Prince stillhas a roof over his head, and the Rolling Stones won’t get theirATM cards spit out with the screen flashing “Insuffient Funds.”Neither will Metallica or Dr. Dre experience any financialhardship, even though they are very public figures in the musicindustry’s crusade against illegal music downloading.

So what’s the big deal?

It’s really gotten to be a big deal thesedays. Kids are getting sued or at least being threatened with legalaction; universities are putting up network firewalls to avoidlawsuits; even music stores have shut down, while others scrambleto find inventive ways to stay in business.

The music recording and selling industries arescrambling.

This is not Domino’s coming to a neighborhoodand shutting down the local pizzeria – this is a group of gadgetgeeks and a computer-savvy, pocket-challenged consumer basestripping a billion dollar industry and its affiliates down to itstrousers and church socks.

So who is the villain? Who can stand on moralground and say, ‘I’m right’?

Unfortunately, it is not Joey Loose Change whojust bounced the check he used to buy a couple cans of tuna, someNyquil and toilet tissue. As much as it may pain the averageconsumer who has long winced at the site of the cash registershowing $55.26 to buy three albums that were not even worth $.26,the music industry has every right to demand that illegal filesharing stop.

It’s actually very simple. Artists createmusic that record labels produce for consumers to buy – it’s notfor free. Absolutely nothing is for free.

Food costs money, books costs money, watercosts money, streets costs money, even the air we breathe costsmoney (think about it). And it has long been the social norm forartistic expressions or intellectual property, especially those weuse for entertainment and education, to be sold – not taken.

Many people tend to reconcile theirdownloading with the fact that they are saving money only at theexpense of very rich people. But is that the case?

What about the young girl who lost her job atthe record store, or the entry level music engineer, or strugglingartist axed in the midst of a record label merger?

In the end, Clive Davis and Lyor Cohen andPaul McCartney and the other wealthy people will do what they haveto do to keep their salaries healthy and on the rise, despite theindustries decreasing profits. That means lower level jobs are cut,lesser-known artists are dropped and lower profile music studiosare closed. Those things tend to hurt ordinary people, not thestars and moguls.

However, what the “music robin hoods” havedone is taken control. Marx pleaded with the proletariats to assumethe reigns of their labor and muscle the profits away from thebourgeoisie, but that never happens. But in this case, albeit on asmaller scale, it has. Music fans and buyers have literally forcedthe music recording and selling industry to meet their needs.

Some CDs are now being sold for less than $10,there are Internet sites that offer legal downloading forreasonable prices that also allow the buyer to sample and choosewhat songs they buy. Even artists are starting to package theiralbums with sweepstakes, extra features or extra bonus tracks.

And it does not seem like the industry willever regain control over the dissemination of their products to thepoint where they will be able to jack the prices back up andrescind some of the current amenities.

No matter how many file-sharing sites theyshut down, others pop up. Adam went from Napster, to Audio Galaxy,to Morpheos, to Kazaa – and now that Kazaa is getting federalattention, he’ll find another one.

And he’ll continue to illegally download musicand he’ll continue to be both ethically and morally wrong. Sure, hehas ample ways to rationalize why what he is doing is harmless,maybe even noble – but not legal.

When Adam was in grammar school he used tomake these funny drawing of teachers that his classmates loved.They would take the drawings and put them in the front of theirbinders or pin them to the back of their locker doors. By the timehe reached high school, they had become so popular that each yearhe would sell them during the first month of school for $3.00. Hedrew each one by hand.

However, his last year in school, some of hisclassmates decided to just photo-copy their friends. He feltviolated.

A convenient memory blocks that out whendownloads the entire Kanye West album two weeks before it hitsrecord stores.