The ethics of downloading music

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Stop! Thief! Did you pay for all of those songs? Don’t you know that’s stealing? Think of the artists!

But that’s just what I’m doing. I’m thinking of why the bands I listen to make music in the first place – to be creative and be heard. If I can do so for free, why wouldn’t I?

Saying that pirating music doesn’t support the artist only begs the question, “What is considered supporting the artist?” Those opposed to downloading music imply that supporting the artist is done on a financial basis, by buying CDs, merchandise, concert tickets, and so on. Those in favour of it would suggest that supporting an artist is done in less tangible ways, such as simply listening to the artist or spreading their music.

So, what is it then? One would have to take the artist’s goals into account. Are their goals to create music with integrity? If that’s their intent, then sure, simply listening to the artist’s work would be sufficient support. However, if the ambitions of the artist are to make money, this likely isn’t the case.

From a realistic perspective, the goals of a career musician likely fall somewhere in the middle – creating intelligent music, but still making enough to support their career. As a fan, you want your favourite band or artist to afford to keep making music, but why on Earth would you pay for something when you can get it far too easily for free? Does the fan that decides to pirate the album rather than paying for it hurt the artist?

In an extremely over-simplified sense, artists signed to major labels make no more than a couple of bucks from the sale of one album, depending on their contract. This means artists have to find other ways of generating revenue, like touring and merchandise sales. You want to really support the artist? Go see them live. It’s what a lot of musicians live for.

The artists don’t really seem to be the ones that suffer the most from music pirating. The record companies are the ones that are hit hard. The Recording Industry Association of America constantly files lawsuits against entities like Limewire, while bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have released albums as downloads – for free.

I don’t think that downloading music should be illegal. Art is created not to have a price tag or be bought and sold, but to be shared. One doesn’t write a song in hopes that no one will hear it. If one were to pirate an album, get excited about it, share it with all of his or her friends, and then go see the band when they come through their city, it’s unclear how that could be seen as not supporting the artist.

Paul Bogdan
Contributor

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