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Ethical to download pirated music?

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Guest Marshall Sontag
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Do one's heirs have a right to the deceased's intellectual property? I know legally they do, but the law isn't always correct. Should (intellectual) property rights be transferrable upon death? What if no heir was named and the money is now, years later, going to somebody who had no hand in the creation of the music in question?

The responses I got in the other thread consisted of the fact that it is legally someones property, therefore they are entitled to payment, but I want to know if they are rationally entitled to the property in the first place. (Mainly, im concerned whether it's wrong morally and rationally, rather than under the law.) Currently I'm thinking that if someone didn't create it, and the artist is dead, it should be fair game to obtain a copy of the music for free, although I even have counter-arguments to this brewing in my head right now.

Artists routinely sell off their rights to music and other compositions, such as paintings, to people who live on past their deaths. I believe Michael Jackson owns a bit of the rights to the Beatles music. An artist dying does not put their works in public domain just as a person dying does not put their house, estate, or businesses they created up for grabs by anyone who wishes to take it.

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(sorry about that, Groovenstein :thumbsup: )

No sweat, man. Just a little friendly ragging. :P

Do one's heirs have a right to the deceased's intellectual property? I know legally they do, but the law isn't always correct.

I know your primary concern isn't what the law is, but you might find it helpful to know something, if you don't already. Though devisable (can be passed in a will), descendable (can be passed intestate), and alienable (can be passed during your lifetime), copyrights are not perpetual. Your garden variety U.S. copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. So let's say I write song X. I die, leaving the copyright to my newly born son. When my son turns 70, that copyright is gone. The song enters the public domain. So my son can't leave it in his will.

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I suppose that it then follows that intellectual property should be able to be exchanged indefinately?
Indefinitely many times but not for an indefinite period of time. Rand's essay on patents and copyrights in CUI makes clear the basis for not making IP perpetual property -- the basic reason is that unlike tangible property, IP cannot be destroyed and therefore you don't have to work to preserve it, like you do with tangible property. That is, it is no longer the product of your mind, as contrasted with the house that you inherited from Aunt Tilly, which you have to save from flood, fire and roaches by application of your faculty of reason.
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Indefinitely many times but not for an indefinite period of time. Rand's essay on patents and copyrights in CUI makes clear the basis for not making IP perpetual property -- the basic reason is that unlike tangible property, IP cannot be destroyed and therefore you don't have to work to preserve it, like you do with tangible property. That is, it is no longer the product of your mind, as contrasted with the house that you inherited from Aunt Tilly, which you have to save from flood, fire and roaches by application of your faculty of reason.

That's a good point. Did Rand state how long she thinks it should be? 70 years seems like a decent amount of time, but is apparently arbitrary.

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Did Rand state how long she thinks it should be? 70 years seems like a decent amount of time, but is apparently arbitrary.
She liked the British law of the time: life plus 50. The idea behind "at least life" is that you don't want a short term fixed reward such as 50 years, because that could result in a 75 year old guy suddenly having no means of supporting himself -- hence the "life plus" approach. The precise number for the plus can always be twiddled a year one way or the other, but the point was to also allow an average lifetime's worth of royalties, and not make that depend on how long you actually live (especially if the greatest wealth is likely to come at the end of your career). Life plus 50 more or less gives you that, on average. I suspect if you searched the history of the debate in copyright, you'd find a more detailed analysis of the numbers.
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Referring (a page or two back) about lending a CD to a friend - I have one objection. Because of the nature of digital music it would be possible for him to copy music without your knowledge - so who would be at fault? Technically wouldn't you have violated your end-user agreement by allowing your friend the means to violate their copyright? What if for instance you switch the ownership of the CD back and forth fluidly, so for instance, say I wanted to listen to the CD all he'd have to do is say: "Ok it's yours again" giving me the rights to listen to the copy of the CD I have. Then when he wants to listen, we do the same thing. What if instead of verbally declaring ownership transfers we just draw up a contract and say this property is shared? Is copyright violated? Could a married couple or a family share music? If this principle were extended broadly by P2P networks wouldn't this be the same in effect?

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Because of the nature of digital music it would be possible for him to copy music without your knowledge - so who would be at fault? Technically wouldn't you have violated your end-user agreement by allowing your friend the means to violate their copyright?
Almost certainly not, though your mileage may vary. I have only one non-commercially produced set of CDs with an EUL, so there has to actually be a license for there to be any obligation. Under simply copyright as owner of the disk you can lend or give it to anyone you want, with no restrictions whatsoever. The friend who makes the copy would be exclusively at fault, whether or not you fluidly transfer ownership, or the item is jointly owned.
Is copyright violated?
Only by making a copy, not by transferring control over the original.
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Let us put it into an Ayn scenario...

Reardon emails his production manager the formula for Reardon metal. Manager makes it public via internet so that Boyle and any other looter can make what Reardon created, but they never could. They profit by taking what is rightfully his. nothing can justify this. Our idea are some of are most valuable assets....

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In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery . . .

17 U.S.C. 102(b ).

The scenario you envision would be governed by contract, trade secret, and/or misappropriation law.

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Reardon emails his production manager the formula for Reardon metal. Manager makes it public via internet so that Boyle and any other looter can make what Reardon created, but they never could. They profit by taking what is rightfully his. nothing can justify this. Our idea are some of are most valuable assets....
Note p. 220 of AS how Rearden invokes the Coke-approach to patent: "Inasmuch as the formula of Rearden Metal is my own personal secret, and in view of the fact that the Metal costs much less to produce than you boys can imagine, I expect to skin the public to the tune of a profit of twenty-five per cent in the next few years". This secrecy of formula has allowed Coke to maintain its monopoly for over 100 years, without patent protection. It has only been very recently that it could even be seriously contemplated that technological copy protection could exist.

Yes, your ideas are your most valuable asset, but when you are speaking of recognition of reality, you cannot claim perpetual ownership of reality. Rearden knew quite well that someone else could discover those same facts that led him to create his metal, and simply chose not to seek legal recognition of his discovery -- abandoning any legal claim to an exclusive right.

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Note p. 220 of AS how Rearden invokes the Coke-approach to patent: "Inasmuch as the formula of Rearden Metal is my own personal secret, and in view of the fact that the Metal costs much less to produce than you boys can imagine, I expect to skin the public to the tune of a profit of twenty-five per cent in the next few years". This secrecy of formula has allowed Coke to maintain its monopoly for over 100 years, without patent protection. It has only been very recently that it could even be seriously contemplated that technological copy protection could exist.

Yes, your ideas are your most valuable asset, but when you are speaking of recognition of reality, you cannot claim perpetual ownership of reality. Rearden knew quite well that someone else could discover those same facts that led him to create his metal, and simply chose not to seek legal recognition of his discovery -- abandoning any legal claim to an exclusive right.

Reardon knew that someone may have DISCOVERED i.e. CREATED the same product (because human knowledge will ultimately achieve, or create what Reardon first discovered), but theft, without knowledge or reason, is not discovery in Objectivist terms. It is looter mentality.

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  • 2 weeks later...

(Really sorry this is so long, I'm a bad writer.)

Two things:

1) Music in the form of CDs is one of the few markets where prices have been controlled by the producers rather than competition. But let’s assume I'm wrong, and assume that everything has been streamlined and it becomes EXTREMEMLY efficient to produce music: No costs for advertisements--people go online in great communities to learn about new artists--very little costs for production--suddenly everyone in the world can have a copy of the guy with the piano in the recording studio. Let's also assume that the cost of a CD jumped up three-fold (how about X50). If the cost was determined, not by a free market, but by an economic notion of "artificial scarcity," would it then be morally permissible to download music, while, at the same time, throwing some money the way of the songwriter (and others). We currently have a hyper-abundance of music. This is what is different from going into a music store and stealing a CD and downloading it--it's infinitely reproducible. Everyone in the world can have a copy of a great song, but we're still paying the equivalent of $15 a cd on iTunes. Many people think that we have the same thing going on today, to a lesser extent.

What if one believes that RIAA is counterproductive to efficiency and to the wellbeing of everyone up the food chain? Is it ok to download, send money to the artist and not to RIAA?

2) Some also question the entire notion of "copyrights." Maybe, based on the Rawlsian notion of, "Do you deserve your talents?" many believe that these artists are getting huge rewards for simply being lucky, when many others would kill to live their live with 1/1000 of their profits. There is, after all, no real reason why artist X deserves the billions of dollars that they get over and above you. What reason could they give for why they deserve this lifestyle and capital? their talents? their hard work? These are all contingent matters that make them incredibly lucky, not deserving. In a market system, we understand the necessary evils of “copyright,” but it was created (some say) to benefit not only the holder, but society as a whole. It's really too bad someone from Nirobi didn't make it big in the music industry, because in any real sense of the word, I think they deserve it more than others. Again, I’m ignoring the songwriters, et al. for the moment

Sure we need to support the people who are working for a living (find out and send them a few bucks), but surely some distinction should be made between stealing a CD and infringing a copyright in the form of an infinitely reproducible good from extremely lucky millionaires.

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It doesn't matter how much money they charge; you have no right to violate someones rights like that. Not being able to listen to your favorite music for a low price is not a violation of your rights, so there is no valid basis for what you are proclaiming to do.

It's not even that people lose money this way, you simply have no right to infringe on their rights. First stealing from someone and then giving their family some money back afterwards does not erase your crime; this is similar.

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A few comments and corrections:

1) Music in the form of CDs is one of the few markets where prices have been controlled by the producers rather than competition.
Actually, price is controlled by an interaction of the producers (all of the producers) and the consumers. When demand is high enough, a price like $15.00 is sustainable, whereas if consumer-created demand were to drop at that price, it could go to $12.00 or less. Production cost has more than nothing to do with price, but in this context it's more determined by high demand (except when they are wrong and there isn't such a demand, if you know what I mean).
If the cost was determined, not by a free market, but by an economic notion of "artificial scarcity," would it then be morally permissible to download music, while, at the same time, throwing some money the way of the songwriter (and others).
Well, wait, there is nothing immoral about downloading music per se. The immorality comes from stealing it. I assume you mean illegal copying. Regardless of the factors that influence price, it is immoral to take property that is not yours without permission. Do you mean "steal the track, but send the band a dollar"? That is still immoral (it's theft).
We currently have a hyper-abundance of music. This is what is different from going into a music store and stealing a CD and downloading it--it's infinitely reproducible.
The only difference is that you seem to be embracing a socialist view of economics, where labor and materials are the only things that are valid for computing price. When you steal a physical CD, you are stealing about two dime's worth of plastic. It's still theft, regardless of the medium.
What if one believes that RIAA is counterproductive to efficiency and to the wellbeing of everyone up the food chain? Is it ok to download, send money to the artist and not to RIAA?
It's not your decision to make. The owner of the goods has the right to decide that, and give his product away if he wants.
2) Some also question the entire notion of "copyrights."
Yes, I've noticed that, but I've never seen a coherent rejection of copyright except one that was the rigorous application of socialist principles of slavery and obligation fo "society".
There is, after all, no real reason why artist X deserves the billions of dollars that they get over and above you.
That would be an example: there is, after all, no real reason why human X deserveds the thousands or hundreds of dollars that they get for whatever it is that they do. If only the state were to seize control of the means of production and give everybody exactly the same slice of the Great Social Pie, we would be in paradise.

You do realise, don't you, that you are advocating communism?

It's really too bad someone from Nirobi didn't make it big in the music industry, because in any real sense of the word, I think they deserve it more than others.
I have a couple of comments on that. First, Kapere Jazz band did well enough, and I'm happy to give them some of my bux. Also, Remi Ongala is doing fine though it's true that he lives in Dar and not Nairobi. But second, while I like Kapere's CD, East African contemporary music is, IMOO, crap. De gustibus and all, but if I hear friggin "Malaika" one more time I will vomit ballistically. Garbage shouldn't be rewarded. Admittedly I'm somewhat prejudiced because it is so utterly boring and unrelenting and having to listen to it for months on end from 10 to 2am would drive any man nuts. If you disagree and actually want to buy such CDs, by all means, you should.
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It doesn't matter how much money they charge; you have no right to violate someones rights like that.

Why not? I can seal a loaf of bread to feed my family, if someone is charging 1000 dollars, and has millions of loaves of bread.

And remember, it's not them that are setting the prices. Let's change the situation a bit. What if they were a horrible industry that uped the charges by 10X and you gave money to every person but RIAA including the artist. And remember, I don't think they have a "right" to their "music" anymore than the artist that gave up too soon has a right to his/her nonexistent music.

Edited by tigerstripedcat
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Why not? I can seal a loaf of bread to feed my family, if someone is charging 1000 dollars, and has millions of loaves of bread.

There is nothing about their supply and their price that gives you any right to steal from them regardless of you or your families needs. "They" have no obligation to tend to your families wants or needs. Artists and producers have no obligation to provide music to you at a price you want to pay.

Maybe, based on the Rawlsian notion of, "Do you deserve your talents?" many believe that these artists are getting huge rewards for simply being lucky, when many others would kill to live their live with 1/1000 of their profits.

Who cares what they believe. Some people believe omnipotent invisible beings rule the universe. Beliefs do not make arguments. Facts and reality establish arguments, rights and rational courses of actions.

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Why not? I can seal a loaf of bread to feed my family, if someone is charging 1000 dollars, and has millions of loaves of bread.

No you can't, why even go there. 1) music is not food, you don't need it to survive. 2) buy something else to eat. 3) grow your own food 4) if 2 and 3 are not possible for whatever reason in your scenario, eat your family.

And remember, it's not them that are setting the prices. Let's change the situation a bit. What if they were a horrible industry that uped the charges by 10X and you gave money to every person but RIAA including the artist.

Who is the 'them'? The artist? They determined it's in their best interest to hand over the production/distribution/price setting to the others, if they are getting the raw end of the deal, that's their issue to rectify, not yours by determining they should be receiving more money. If the RIAA was a horrible industry, then a different one would crop up that would provide better deals to the artists and the public. Artists do NOT have to go through the RIAA. None of that changes the reality that it is WRONG to steal. You do not have a right to listen to music. You do not have a right to determine a business is unfair and justify stealing from them.

And remember, I don't think they have a "right" to their "music" anymore than the artist that gave up too soon has a right to his/her nonexistent music.

Regardless of whether you "think" they have a right or not to the music signed over in a contract does not change the reality of the situation. Check your premises.

Edited by Lathanar
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What do you think? That's not sarcastic, it's an info-seeking question. Do you think there should be copyright laws? Why or why not? When you look at the why or why not, is permitting someone to photograph a painting and then copy the photograph consistent with that result?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Why is downloading an mp3 file to your iPod any different from recording an FM radio broadcast using a cassette tape or audio input line to your PC? For years broadcasters have been pumping the same, repetitive music down the throats of the American people and for an equal amount of time it has been recorded, traded, mixed, and played by hundreds of people on audio cassettes. Where was the great legal battle when this was going on? If I download an mp3 file of a song I really like I can be sued by the RIAA. If I record the song from an FM or XM broadcast then nothing will ever be said. Do you think if the RIAA had a way to track how people were copying music using cassettes that they would still not care about it? I think there are good arguments on both sides of the fence. I just wanted to add my thoughts to the topic.

-Wes

Edited by FreeLogic
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It's not different, ethically, in any material way. It's different for the RIAA because illegal downloading is on an exponentially larger scale than copying off the radio ever was, and because they can see how much downloading is taking place. If they could track people taping the radio, they might care, but I doubt much. I just don't see it being big enough to be worth their time.

For years broadcasters have been pumping the same, repetitive music down the throats of the American people . . . "

What exactly are you suggesting this is relevant to? In other words, where exactly do you think the quality (or supposed lack thereof) of the music played on the radio fits into the moral equation?

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What exactly are you suggesting this is relevant to? In other words, where exactly do you think the quality (or supposed lack thereof) of the music played on the radio fits into the moral equation?

Sorry, I meant to edit that out of my post, but I missed it. Originally I was trying to emphasize how we have been recording music from FM radio stations almost as long as they have been around. It didn't really work. It's totally irrelevant.

In some ways I can agree that dowloading music on the web hurts business. What I don't agree with is a situation like the one at XM. They just created a new mp3 player/recorder called the Inno. It allows you to listen to XM and then record songs on the player. The RIAA is suing them because they claim that it infringes on their distribution rights although the recorder operates exactly like an audio cassette system from Best Buy, only with flash memory. I'm trying to understand where this subjective law concept is coming from.

I see their though process like this: Prostitution is illegal. If there are more women prostitutes than men, then it should only be illegal for women to be prostitutes. Since there's not huge populations of male prostitutes (or we just simply don't know) we shouldn't really care about that. The argument is one in the same. Since we can track the downloading of files, we should make it illegal. Since we can't track it on the radio...we won't worry about it.

-Wes

Edited by FreeLogic
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Wow, I think I actually have something relevant to add to this discussion, and the time to do it! ;)

Let me give you all a little background on the music I'm into. I am a DJ, and mostly play house music, which is one genre of electronic dance music. For many years, most electronic dance music was produced on vinyl, and much still is. DJs that spin this kind of music mix a track off of one record [or CD] into another, often times with both songs playing at the same time for long periods. Depending on what kind of music you are playing, this can take quite a lot of skill to do well. This specific area of music and performance is very DJ driven - i.e. the artists producing the music do so with the knowlege that this is what happens, and in fact, it's what creates most of the demand for their music. The consumers of DJ culture, people who go to dance clubs or parties where DJs are playing this kind of music, generally do not buy these albums - they much more frequently purchase mix CDs produced by DJs. Now most CDs getting distributed comercially or for profit DO license every track on the CD from the artist or copyright holder. However, most DJs I know cannot hope to ever make a living from DJing, and do it because they love the music and mixing it together, especially for other people. And in order to increase their chances of being able to DJ for larger groups of people, they need to distribute demo CDs demonstrating their skills to people that might be interested in booking them for an event. Alot of the artists producing the music are DJs as well.

So I have a couple of questions for you all. I've thought about this issue long and hard, and still fail to determine hard and fast answers. I produce such demo CDs and give them to people for free, as well as making them available on my website to be downloaded for free. I should also mention that due to the nature of a mix set, it would be pretty difficult for someone to isolate a specific track on the CD for long enough to be usable to them in making their own mix set, as well as extremely unlikely that anyone would want to buy a copy of my mixset from them. Whenever possible I include track listings to give the artists credit. One reason track listings might not be included is that I didn't know I was being recorded or through some other oversight managed to not keep a track listing - and with thousands upon thousands of records it can sometimes be difficult or impossible to put a list together after the fact. In any case, I'm wondering what your take on this is. Honestly due to the nature of this specific area of the music industry [hopefully I explained that well enough] I have never seen anything wrong with this. Perhaps I would feel differently if any DJ I knew personally [and I know quite a few] was making money DJing and could ask them about it - for most of us it's a very expensive hobby. ;) I think I should also mention that most of these records do not have anything written on them regarding how they may be used - generally the artists appreciate any exposure of their music, and really hope it will get played in places other than no-namers [such as myself] basements, especially by better known DJs as then more people [usually other DJs] will buy the album. So I am curious what your take on this is.

Here is my next question. I have the utmost respect for intellectual property and have spent many thousands of dollars on music over the years, and would absolutely never attempt to gain any for free if I could have paid for it, regardless of price. [i also would never attempt to sell any mix CD I produced without getting all the tracks licensed.] I have spent over $50 for a single record, that had a single track I wanted. The advent of digital technology is super exciting though, and more and more dance music DJs are playing more and more music from CDs. One great thing about it is the price point - in the past, I would frequently pay $10 or more for a record that had 3 or 4 tracks, but only one I liked. Now frequently I can purchase that single track online for $2. That's freaking awesome, I can afford so much more music now! It's also great for those producer/DJs that are unsigned as they can mix their own music into their sets much more affordably as burning a CD is much cheaper than pressing a dub-plate [a lower quality record for personal use.] Anyhow, I hereby admit to having downloaded music when I didn't have the artists permission to do so, but only in instances where I could not find the artist to pay him, or find a copy of the music in question to buy. So many electronic record labels have gone out of business, and there is so much good music out there that is out of print or just impossible to get otherwise. I think in order to gain more perspective on this issue I will see if I can track down some of these artists and get their take on it - but I do think it's likely that instead of being upset about such transgressions they would be happy that there are people out there that love their music enough to track it down or share it when it's no longer available to be purchased, and who would pay for it if they could. What do you guys think?

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What do you guys think?
Wull you're not exactly being explicit about what you've done. So let me sum it up and see if I get the point: you've illegally copied music without paying the required license fee. If you do that knowingly, it's immoral and evil. If you do it accidentally, you can be forgiven but of course you should do whatever you can to make amends.

Arguments like "I'm not making a profit" or "I can't find a legal source for the CD" simply don't cut it. Your concern with locating the artist is misplaced -- you should be looking for the copyright holder, who I would bet is not the artist. The artist probably got a bunch of money for the transfer of rights, and if that's the case, the artist is now irrelevant.

I do wish more companies would get on board with the idea of electronic re-releases of older items, but their failure to accomodate my wants is not a justification of taking their property.

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