Posted at 12:22 PM on March 24, 2009
by Sanden Totten
Sometimes it feels like newspapers and the music industry are neck and neck in a race to see which will die off first (go place your bets in the comment section). Well, after losing some ground to the papers last week, the music biz has caught back up.
A recent poll came out of Canada announcing that illegal song-snatching is now considered normal and not that immoral. Plus, according to Angus Reid Strategies, the firm behind the study, file sharing is growing in popularity across age ranges. Couple that with the death of SpiralFrog, a site that lets people download free tunes as long as they look at some ads while doing it, and you've got cultural critics saying it's over for the record industry.
Personally, I'm not that sentimental when it comes to big record companies. I've never enjoyed how they charge me twice as much to buy an album where my favorite bands sound half as good as they once did. But this recent news is a little unnerving. Since when did it become okay to openly steal? Newspapers are dying in part because they give their content away for free. Sure, it may be a mistake, but at least it's one they willingly made. The music industry has fought free music at every step. And as the survey says: "nearly 45% of respondents say those who use P2P and file sharing services to download music and movies are "just regular Internet users doing what people should be able to do on the Internet."
To me this sounds like entitlement. Like, if content exists and people want it, they deserve to get it for free. I don't mind if big businesses bite the dust over this, but the idea of a society where people feel they should get what they want, whenever they want, without dropping a dime or sit through an ad, scares me a little. And not just because I work in public radio.
The moral issue of piracy can only be addressed when all involved deal honestly. And it is not honest to refer to piracy as "stealing", as there is a huge difference between theft and copyright infringement. If I steal a loaf of bread from my friend, my friend no longer has that loaf of bread. If I make a copy of a CD that my friend owns, my friend still owns a CD.
Thomas Jefferson said it best: "He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation."
Great quote Frank. Who'duv thunk Thomas Jefferson would speak so eloquently about an idea that seems even more relevant now . . .
Maybe stealing is the wrong word, but that's not what I'm concerned about. I agree in my gut with the idea that information should be shared, but I also know from working in the media, and specifically public media, that the creation of news and entertainment takes financial support.
What worries me is this growing sentiment that what people want they should get without having to pony up. Public radio wouldn't exist if everyone thought that way but I'm sure many people would agree, it's good that public radio is out there doing it's thing. However, if the idea I see in play behind file swapping does become dominant, are those same people going to think they should have to pay for other things they can get for free too? Or are they going to simply take what they can and say that it's someone elses problem.
I guess I just feel mixed on this topic. I like stuff being shared. I also feel bad that great media producers and news organizations are losing staff and resources not because people don't want the content, but because they have decided they don't want to pay for it. I just don't want the sense of responsibility we should have to support what we use and enjoy to decay because getting things at no trouble or cost becomes so acceptable.
Frank, you are splitting hairs with your distinction between theft and copyright infringement.
Let's say I make a music recording and sell it at a market stall. A certain number of people show up each day to buy my CDs, for which I charge $10 each. I have a business that is now worth, say, $1000, based on future revenues. I can realise that value at any time by selling on the rights to my music - it's real money.
Unfortunately one of my customers decides to copy my CD and sets up a stand next to me, charging $2 for CDs of my work. The price I can charge has effectively been pushed down much closer to $2. What do you think the chances are that my business is still worth $1000?
It's ridiculous to imply that no-one loses when someone distributes bootleg copies of my music: I lose the ability to charge for it. The more people legitimise the idea that that's OK, the more I lose, and this will probably wipe out almost entirely the value of what I own.