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Ethical to download pirated music?

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Guest Marshall Sontag
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The short term benefit of downloading illegal music is immense.

The long term costs are that of reduced profits for record companies and artists and therefore less music produced. If the music I love doesn’t get produced as much then I will suffer in the long term by contributing to the problem.

On the surface it looks as if the long term costs outweigh the short term benefits of downloading illegal music. However, if I as an illegal music downloader, delete my files and start downloading legal music, what effect has this had on the industry? It has had a very tiny effect on profits.

Therefore, what incentive does a person have to act morally if the majority of people are already acting morally? I.e. I can download illegal music in the knowledge that I am only hurting the industry a tiny bit and that there will be enough legal downloading to provide enough revenues for the industry to keep on producing music.

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Therefore, what incentive does a person have to act morally if the majority of people are already acting morally?
This is the "Prudent Predator" argument. I suggest looking at Don Watkins' posts here on morality, because he has written a fair amount on that. Another suggestion for reading is Tara Smith's book Viable Values, which has a chapter "Why be moral", and which spends 200 pages discussing the reason for morality. A really condensed statement of her point is that living is more than morgue-avoidance.
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The short term benefit of downloading illegal music is immense.

The long term costs are that of reduced profits for record companies and artists and therefore less music produced. If the music I love doesn’t get produced as much then I will suffer in the long term by contributing to the problem.

On the surface it looks as if the long term costs outweigh the short term benefits of downloading illegal music. However, if I as an illegal music downloader, delete my files and start downloading legal music, what effect has this had on the industry? It has had a very tiny effect on profits.

Therefore, what incentive does a person have to act morally if the majority of people are already acting morally? I.e. I can download illegal music in the knowledge that I am only hurting the industry a tiny bit and that there will be enough legal downloading to provide enough revenues for the industry to keep on producing music.

Undoubtedly the product of pragmatic thought, there is alot of rationalizing going on here. Myself, I plan to utilize music downloading by providing long clips at my band's website, and in the past I have used music downloading for the purpose of researching an album before buying. However, the moral approach is the one that should always be followed. If you wish to research music, find a legitimate way of doing it that doesn't deprive others of their intellectual property rights. One such way is to try to find work as an album critic and thus gain samples for writing reviews, one of the benefits of such a job would be knowing the extent of an album fully before buying.

The incentive for the individual to act moral is the fact that his system of values will be corrupted by any form of contradiction. If one clings to a possession and fights a theif for the right to keep it, and yet steals music from musicians, he is sealing his status as a hypocrite. Though in the short term, he may be able to mask this, eventually people will come to not trust him based on his actions.

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  • 1 month later...

Noone here questions whether the price of music cds is inflated due to a society crafted on a wrong premise. For me, the choice is simple. Normally, I wouldn't buy cds. Never have, never will. I'd just as soon listen to the radio. But when I download cds and like something, I may buy the cd (which I have, not that often granted). But one thing my downloading music does it spreads it to people who'd of never heard of the music before. I know my pirating has spread music and gotten sales from people who'd of never heard of it otherwise. Say all you want about pirating, but I'm moral and a pirate. Nothing will change that.

Check your premises. You'll find one of them is wrong.

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Say all you want about pirating, but I'm moral and a pirate. Nothing will change that.

Check your premises. You'll find one of them is wrong.

Take your own advice. No matter what the supposed financial benefit to the property owner, the fact remains that the decision to dispose of his property is not yours to make.

And this spreading music to new listeners argument is absolute garbage. There are legitimate samples all over the internet for people who want to check out new stuff. Many B&M stores also have machines that allow to listen to clips before you buy something.

Allow me to dispose of another rationalization: the price. One of the gripes I frequently hear is that the CDs out today only have one or two good songs on them. If that's the case, then it only costs one or two dollars to get the songs you want. I can not believe the lengths to which people will go to convince themselves it's okay to steal so they can avoid paying a buck for a song. Pathetic.

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I know my pirating has spread music and gotten sales from people who'd of never heard of it otherwise. Say all you want about pirating, but I'm moral and a pirate.
So, if an actress shop-lifts designer clothes and her fans go out in droves and buy them, would she legitimately claim that her shoplifting is moral?
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  • 1 month later...
I'm wondering if anyone can tell me what's wrong with downloading music that you haven't purchased? By what standard is it wrong?

And if you say by man's life, how does copying electronic bits of information harm or demote my life? I understand that treating music files as merely 1s and 0s is context-dropping and that objectivity demands that I identify them as what those bits comprise: songs created by someone's effort, translated into an electronic medium.

I'm sure that the answer has something to do with that, but I'm not sure where to go with it.

David Veksler told me it "destroys your ability to cope with reality" and causes "tremendous psychological damage." These are pretty ridiculous claims, because a little induction will demonstrate to you that millions of people download music with no apparent psychological harm. Regardless, I'd like to see what kind of rationalistic mental gymnastics he'll go through to "prove" it to me. It should be amusing at the very least.

Perhaps music isn't worth what its being sold for today and the downloading is a compensation trying to swing it back into normal levels.

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Perhaps music isn't worth what its being sold for today and the downloading is a compensation trying to swing it back into normal levels.

I would say this is what it really comes down to. We can debate the morality of file-downloading all we want, but the truth of the matter is that the current laws are simply unenforcable, and the industry is going to have to adapt its business model to take new technology into account, or go bankrupt. Initiatives like i-tunes are obviously a step in the right direction, although they are late, and extremely poor quality (who is going to pay for a 128kbps AAC encoding when they can download superior -ape/flac for free? And lets not even get into DRM restrictions.). I would imagine that the situation will improve in the future, as better services emerge for the legal electronic copying of music - the music industry is eventually going to realise that its campaign to turn America into a police state via initiatives like the DMCA and the more sinister laws they are lobbying for wont work in the long term (10 years in prison for simply typing "Britney Spears mp3s" into google? Good work Congress!). Of course, you guys will probably have lost a lot more freedom by the time that happens, but meh.

To put the matter into perspective, if media lobbies had the same kind of power 50 years ago that they do today, there is no chance things like video recorders and cassette tapes would have ever been legal.

Edited by Hal
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Yes, well, there are better ways of showing you disagree with a price; don't buy the product. It doesn't give you the right to start violating property rights all of a sudden.

No. Because I don't accept the terms of "like it or don't be involved". I dislike a few things about america. I would not die for my country. I would also not move out.

I like music. However I don't think only the rich should be allowed to have more than a few albums without devoting their entire paycheck to cds.

I am and will be a pirate until the day I die. I will never shoplift or steal from somebody. If you can't see the differentiaion that's your own indequacy. Pirating music is simply not wrong. With today's technicological advancement it simply deflates a big part of what the music and entertainment (movie) industry produces since we can do it ourselves for relatively cheap. Because the comman man can reproduce certian things for cheaply means they should mold their industry to compensate for this.

Not that every joe who downloads music or movies is immoral.

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No. Because I don't accept the terms of "like it or don't be involved". I dislike a few things about america. I would not die for my country. I would also not move out.

I like music. However I don't think only the rich should be allowed to have more than a few albums without devoting their entire paycheck to cds.

I am and will be a pirate until the day I die. I will never shoplift or steal from somebody. If you can't see the differentiaion that's your own indequacy. Pirating music is simply not wrong. With today's technicological advancement it simply deflates a big part of what the music and entertainment (movie) industry produces since we can do it ourselves for relatively cheap. Because the comman man can reproduce certian things for cheaply means they should mold their industry to compensate for this.

Not that every joe who downloads music or movies is immoral.

Music is being sold, you are obtaining the music without permission or recompensation, you are stealing. Plain and simple. Just because you can't afford something does not entitle you to have what others can afford. If you want to buy more music, then earn some more money, get a second job. You are worse than a thief who merely steals because he wants something, you steal because you feel it is your right to steal. You are no better than someone who refuses to work and leeches off the welfare system. There is never any justification for a little immorality.

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I am and will be a pirate until the day I die. I will never shoplift or steal from somebody.
That's a blatant contradiction. Piracy is theft -- it's unusual to see an advocate of theft actually call their stealing "piracy". Most of the time, thieves rationalise their rights-violations by some sort of "what's the harm when you're dealing with an evil profit-making organisation" excuse. How come you can't go that last step and realise that piracy is immoral?
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That's a blatant contradiction. Piracy is theft -- it's unusual to see an advocate of theft actually call their stealing "piracy". Most of the time, thieves rationalise their rights-violations by some sort of "what's the harm when you're dealing with an evil profit-making organisation" excuse. How come you can't go that last step and realise that piracy is immoral?

You miss the discrimination. I will never steal from a store. Did you not understand that part of it? I will not take stock out of a store I enter. I steal virtual copies. Xeroxes. You know, what libraries illegally allow you to do to books?

Music is being sold, you are obtaining the music without permission or recompensation, you are stealing. Plain and simple. Just because you can't afford something does not entitle you to have what others can afford. If you want to buy more music, then earn some more money, get a second job. You are worse than a thief who merely steals because he wants something, you steal because you feel it is your right to steal. You are no better than someone who refuses to work and leeches off the welfare system. There is never any justification for a little immorality.

Okay. And this is unacceptable? My transgression is worse than the prices in that industry? Fine.

Do you pay taxes? Let's see if you're a hypocrite.

Edited by Illuminaughty
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The closest analogy to downloading music I can think of would be to copy blueprints of something. Sure, if you leave the originals there you are not directly stealing something, in the sense that they don't have it anymore, but you sure as hell steal revenue from the company indirectly by doing it.

Or patents for that matter, I could log on to espacenet and copy the patent instructions and start producing. Would you also say that that should be legal? It is pretty much the same thing as downloading and/or distributing music directly...

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The closest analogy to downloading music I can think of would be to copy blueprints of something.

The closest analogy to downloading music would be taping a film thats on TV, or recording something on the radio.

Copying blueprints would be more analogous to breaking into an artist's recording studio and taking a copy of their album several months before it was due to be publically released.

Edited by Hal
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But what about patents? They are made publicly available I think as one of the requirements, so you can use them if you want. There is no breaking and entering involved in this situation, but it's still stealing, and I think it is quite similar to this situation.

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You miss the discrimination. I will never steal from a store. Did you not understand that part of it? I will not take stock out of a store I enter. I steal virtual copies. Xeroxes. You know, what libraries illegally allow you to do to books?

Okay. And this is unacceptable? My transgression is worse than the prices in that industry? Fine.

Do you pay taxes? Let's see if you're a hypocrite.

I pay taxes because I am forced to, there is nothing hypocritical about that. You are not stealing because you are forced to. Did you ever to stop to think that part of the prices of the songs and albums is due to the cost of trying to find new ways to stop pirating? Are you advocating that we should regulate how much profit is allowed for a company to make? What are you trying to say? That the prices are unfair? Boohoo.

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But what about patents? They are made publicly available I think as one of the requirements, so you can use them if you want. There is no breaking and entering involved in this situation, but it's still stealing, and I think it is quite similar to this situation.

Well, it wouldnt be stealing, it would be patent infringement. Theft involves deprivation of physical property, not just use without the owner's consent. If I used someone's car when he was out and returned it, I would have used his property without permission (and depending on context, should be punished by law), but it isnt theft.

I suppose you can say that copyright infringement is theft (of the exclusive right to copy) in the same sense that you can that murder is theft of life or that rape is theft of vaginal fluid (?!), but this isnt how these offences are currently classified in law, and they represent quite a strange way of speaking.

But in any case, I would agree that downloading music is like patent infringement, but only if the infringment in question involves you building a single copy of the patented thing for use in your living room, and not selling it or giving it to anyone else. I'm not saying that this is a moral thing to do, but the magnitude of the offence is far less than (eg) shoplifting or mass-producing someone else's patented goods and selling them for profit.

edit: although the second paragraph sounds like I'm being flippant, I remember once being informed by a lawyer friend that if a women pierces a condom without you knowing, then has sex with you and gets pregnant as a result, then the offence which she has comitted under British law is actually theft (of semen). So if you wanted to press charges, thats what you'd go for. Assuming this is true, is it really theft? Well I would be inclined to say 'no, of course not'. But this obviously doesnt mean that it should be legal.

Edited by Hal
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I pay taxes because I am forced to, there is nothing hypocritical about that. You are not stealing because you are forced to. Did you ever to stop to think that part of the prices of the songs and albums is due to the cost of trying to find new ways to stop pirating? Are you advocating that we should regulate how much profit is allowed for a company to make? What are you trying to say? That the prices are unfair? Boohoo.

Ah, I see. And because you're forced to you're no longer to do what's good and right, yes?

I did. Its not. Its just inflated so all the middle man can mooch off the original, simple skill.

No, I'm advocating something that's not worth that much not being paid for for exorbitant rates.

They're not unfair to some, they're bogus to me though. Before I pirated I just listened to radio. It'd still be the same if the technology had not changed. If anything, I've actually bought a good deal legitimate cds since I downloaded some and got the desire to listen to specific music. Had I bought everything legit I probobly would have next to no cds and still be listening to solely the radio..

On this topic... I specifically DO NOT redistribute to make money. I think that's wrong if that makes any difference.

Also, what about internet radio stations? Independant ones? Aren't they using the songs again without permission buying the cd grants? I could be wrong at this one, I'm just curious as the thought came to mind.

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Ah, I see. And because you're forced to you're no longer to do what's good and right, yes?

I did. Its not. Its just inflated so all the middle man can mooch off the original, simple skill.

No, I'm advocating something that's not worth that much not being paid for for exorbitant rates.

You're going to have to clarify what your saying here, because it makes no sense. And yes, if forced to do something against your will, it is not immoral to comply. You have no choice in the matter. That is addressed in many of Rand's works and you would have a fun time trying to refute the logic and reasoning behind them.

They're not unfair to some, they're bogus to me though. Before I pirated I just listened to radio. It'd still be the same if the technology had not changed. If anything, I've actually bought a good deal legitimate cds since I downloaded some and got the desire to listen to specific music. Had I bought everything legit I probobly would have next to no cds and still be listening to solely the radio..

On this topic... I specifically DO NOT redistribute to make money. I think that's wrong if that makes any difference.

Also, what about internet radio stations? Independant ones? Aren't they using the songs again without permission buying the cd grants? I could be wrong at this one, I'm just curious as the thought came to mind.

Every radio station, every internet radio station, to be in compliance with the law, must pay the music publishing companies to be able to play those songs for the public. It is not free music. The radio stations earn back that money by selling ad time. It is a business transaction, and the radio stations offer the songs for you to listen to for your time, to listen to their ads. They are not stealing the songs from the artists. it does not matter if you redistribute the songs or not for profit or for free, you were wrong when you downloaded it without paying.

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You're going to have to clarify what your saying here, because it makes no sense. And yes, if forced to do something against your will, it is not immoral to comply. You have no choice in the matter. That is addressed in many of Rand's works and you would have a fun time trying to refute the logic and reasoning behind them.

Every radio station, every internet radio station, to be in compliance with the law, must pay the music publishing companies to be able to play those songs for the public. It is not free music. The radio stations earn back that money by selling ad time. It is a business transaction, and the radio stations offer the songs for you to listen to for your time, to listen to their ads. They are not stealing the songs from the artists. it does not matter if you redistribute the songs or not for profit or for free, you were wrong when you downloaded it without paying.

Ah, so if someone threatens to kill your family, such as a mob unless you do hits for him (kill other people), there's nothing wrong with that situation? You must do your duty?

like I said... what about indie stations?

No, I wasn't.

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I like music. However I don't think only the rich should be allowed to have more than a few albums without devoting their entire paycheck to cds.

You can get most of the songs you want for a dollar each. One dollar. You could have twenty CDs worth of music for two or three hundred bucks. All this boils down to is trying to find some half-assed rationalization for not wanting to pay a few bucks a week over the course of a year to put together a little library. A few bucks a week is your entire paycheck? Maybe if you're washing clothes in Uganda.

Because the comman man can reproduce certian things for cheaply means they should mold their industry to compensate for this.

That's a business decision, not a license for you to swindle.

Finally, you will be a pirate until the day you die? Do you know where you are? If you want to be here much longer you need to take a long, hard look at the forum rules and the philosophy of Objectivism. We tolerate questions, not unapologetic thieves.

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Ah, so if someone threatens to kill your family, such as a mob unless you do hits for him (kill other people), there's nothing wrong with that situation? You must do your duty?

like I said... what about indie stations?

No, I wasn't.

There is no duty invloved. It is a value judgement. I have no obligation to anyone, family, friend or foe. If faced with that situation I would do everything in my power to not kill innocents, not cause harm for my family and go back after the mob, I would refuse them. I would never agree to kill another through extortion, the value I place on my principles is greater, for without them I am nothing, I would die first. This line of analogy is nowhere near what paying taxes is, the government is stealing from me, yes, but I am not stealing from others, the government is not telling me to kill, and there are ways to changes the laws with out resorting to violence. Your example is too extreme and off the point.

Regardless, there is no one forcing you to do something wrong. Only yourself. You can not justify your immorality by trying to find immoral actions of others either. Even if I were hypocritcal it just means we're both wrong.

With the indie stations, if they are playing music that has no open air contract and not paying royalty fees for the ones that expect it, they are wrong plain and simple.

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