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Ethics of Downloading Music; need some opinions on this

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The_Extremist

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Hi guys. If you don't all mind I would appreciate some help on this.

I am taking an ethics course at my university. We currently have a paper which will address a topic with a moral issue. I decided to choose the issue of downloading music.

I would like to get an idea of what some of you all think of this issue. Is it immoral to download music illegally? Is it morally right to download music?

I will be addressing both sides to be fair. Some ideas I already generated are:

Downloading is immoral:
- stealing a product
- hurting business

Downloading is moral:
- "sampling" content (similar to loaning a book from a library).
- getting "ripped off" from a purchase (paying $15 for what ends up to be a mediocre album)

Any more suggestions or elaborations on these ideas would be appreciated.

TIA for anyone's help.
 

Aceon6

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While I don't think it's immoral, I think it's wrong.

By definition, music is transient unless someone takes the time to record it. If I want that recording, I don't have any issue with paying for it. I prefer to "buy direct" if I can... buying from the artist's website so s/he gets the maximum percentage.

As for the bad album example, it's no different than buying shoes and finding out later that they hurt your feet. No one would walk into a shoe store and demand that they be given the shoes for free because they might not like them later.

Just one opinion.
 

LukeA

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Aceon6 said:
While I don't think it's immoral, I think it's wrong.
Contradiction in terms, my friend, contradiction in terms.


But I think that this issue can be summarized by the following question: Do you think that it is reasonable to steal from an entity that treats its dependents as the RIAA treats its artists?

Every person's answer to this question is different (even though most people's opinions usually fall into one of two distinct groups) and can so the above query can never be answered definitively.
 

The_Extremist

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LukeA said:
Every person's answer to this question is different (even though most people's opinions usually fall into one of two distinct groups) and can so the above query can never be answered definitively.
That's what I'm trying to get at. Looking at getting some ideas generated that I may not even realize about the topic.
 

bdb

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Assuming you're talking about illegal downloading (its certainly not the only downloading), I think you hit on the main issues. At a basic level, yes of course its immoral. But the business environment is much more complex than that.

People feel they're dealing with an immoral industry - one that automatically assumes its customers are criminals. Most know that very little of the money they spend on music will actually go to the musicians, and that makes it 'feel' less immoral - essentially cheating the cheaters. The world of commerce has been changing, but the labels are trying to keep music as its always been. The main business of the music industry over the past few decades has been to sell us a product that we don't want - all they need is two good songs, and an entire CD would sell (the majority of the music was expected to be fairly poor). Arbitrary borders were devised to avoid the globalization that affected other industries. Technologies are fought vehemently, unless their purpose is to control customers. Those who cheat the big ugly corporations are sued. Customers feel used. There is no joy in buying music in this environment.

In this environment, probably the most moral act is to avoid it altogether. But people do like some of the music that results. They just feel that they're going to get soiled either way.

Personally, downloading has changed my music buying - I spend a lot more on music. I only bought a few CDs in the 90s, because I got fed up with disappointing albums. Now, I don't buy anything I haven't heard, and that means downloads. I realize its basically not right, but its the only way to hear the music. If cornered, I have little doubt that the major labels would rather leave people like me on the sidelines, and make it so I can't hear music (even if it means I won't buy it). I've stopped buying from them anyway, and part of the reason I feel compelled to buy music is because I feel the labels I'm dealing with are ethical.

Not surprisingly, independent label sales are growing rapidly.
 
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The_Extremist

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Assuming you're talking about illegal downloading (its certainly not the only downloading)
Yes, I should have been clearer on that. This was a particular phrase I was going to make note of and elaborate more on in the essay.
 

goldcoaster

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Aceon6 said:
As for the bad album example, it's no different than buying shoes and finding out later that they hurt your feet. No one would walk into a shoe store and demand that they be given the shoes for free because they might not like them later.

Just one opinion.
But you try the shoes on at the store to see what they are like - and you have the ability to return them if they don't fit correctly (hurt your feet) - well I have done that.

I doubt you could ever return a paid for CD because its not suitable ( unless it is sealed)


- goldcoaster
 

TheJosher

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I illegally download music. I'm not going to say its right, or its wrong. But I will say that if I really like the album, I make an effort to buy it. I'm a student with no job, so I can't buy that many.. but right now I'm getting a couple albums a month.. so that's better than the 0 I'd likely buy if I didn't listen to the music first.

Josh
 

bdb

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Aceon6 said:
As for the bad album example, it's no different than buying shoes and finding out later that they hurt your feet.
If shoes were sold like music, you wouldn't even get to see the shoes before you were forced to make the decision whether or not buy them. At most, you might get get to see part of one of them. If you open the box and then decide you don't like them, too bad - no returns.

Its an extremely anti-consumer environment. While its not right to place all the blame on the industry, it certainly isn't right to place all the blame for the current situation on consumers.
 

melsmusic

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The_Extremist said:
I would like to get an idea of what some of you all think of this issue. Is it immoral to download music illegally? Is it morally right to download music?

I will be addressing both sides to be fair. Some ideas I already generated are:

Downloading is immoral:
- stealing a product
- hurting business

Downloading is moral:
- "sampling" content (similar to loaning a book from a library).
- getting "ripped off" from a purchase (paying $15 for what ends up to be a mediocre album)
To answer the questions specifically from an illegal point of view, p2p, not through iTunes music store downloads and other legal download sites.

Downloading is immoral:
- stealing a product Yes, it is stealing
- hurting business Yes & no. Sometimes people download music, like the artist, but not the inferior quality of the download and go out and buy the cd.

Downloading is moral:
- "sampling" content (similar to loaning a book from a library). I wish they would allow this legally, but they don't. If they did, they may profit from it. I don't think you can download music illegally and claim that as an excuse unless you delete it after either, buying the CD, or because you don't like it. Streaming it would be best for this situation though, no reason to actually download it.
- getting "ripped off" from a purchase (paying $15 for what ends up to be a mediocre album) Again, even though it's true and pushing people to download illegally, you cannot use that reasoning as an excuse.

In saying all of the above, I do not use any p2p or other file sharing programs, but I do share music with my friends in the hopes they enjoy a particular artist they may not have access to, and also if it's not available for sale, I will use other methods to get it.
 

bobb-mini

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I believe the issue of music downloading is lame and passe, don't u think?

Much more interesting current events... It's said that Head of States have to make decisions that are Amoral (why?). George Bush's policy is first and foremost, protect Americans' interests, many times in detriment to other nations/citizens (Same can be said of other industrialized powers). Recently though, starting with Collins Power, who used to work for Bush, says the U.S. must change policy to restore Moral Authority to other Nations. Again WHY?


My opinion about the music bit is simpy... the Genie is already out of the bottle, it's TOO EASY to download, can't stop it in practical terms. What Steve Jobs doing is what everybody else should be thinking, rather than complaining about it.
 
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Jackonicko

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If you're not paying the copyright owners what they agree is a fair price, then you're ripping them off. Period.

By illegally downloading stolen music you are depriving the copyright owner of his rightful income JUST AS MUCH as you are stealing the baker's income when you steal a loaf of bread.

That’s just as true if you use Allofmp3. Which is effectively theft with minor compensation. You’re stealing the $1 candy bar and leaving 10 cents on the counter.

It’s exactly as it would be if someone mugged you on the bus, jacked your iPod, and gave you $10.

They would not have legally bought your iPod, would they? Nor would they be entitled to go and sell it for $50.

It would still be stealing, because you hadn't agreed to that $10 price, and the solution isn't to try to force you to do so, it's to bring the mugger to book.

We probably all steal music, to some extent. Sometimes unavailability makes it necessary to copy a deleted CD, or a record that's only ever been on vinyl, or to genuinely sample from a music blog, or whatever.

But it’s still stealing.

And it is no ethical defence to try and claim that the record labels are ‘price gouging’ or that they are making excessive profits (which, incidentally, tend to be ploughed back into the development of new artists) nor that artists don’t see much of the price of a CD.

If you don’t like the price, then you should boycott the product – NOT use it as a flimsy excuse to steal it.

Jesse put it very well on the Allofmp3 thread.

“I'm not sure why people seem to continually fall back on the idea that theft has to deprive somebody of something of value. Stealing is not about the item, but about the value and compensation for the item.

With intellectual property, the lines may be fuzzier, and the rules of fair use will blur those even further, but the lines still exist. On the one extreme, you buy a CD, you have legitimately obtained a right of use for that content. On the other extreme, you download a song without paying for it, you have stolen that content.

The nature of copyright is such that you never own the content. You have a right to use the content, you may have a limited right to reproduce the content, but you never own it.

The only grey area here is how you are entitled to use the content that you have paid for, and whether the person or agency who owns the content has the right to unreasonably restrict your use of that content. This is where DRM and "fair use" come into play, but neither of these change the fact that if you are expected to pay for the use of something, and circumvent that payment, you are "stealing" that content.

The same logic applies to attending a movie or theatrical performance without buying a ticket. You may suggest that it's all well and good to walk into a theatre and take an empty seat. After all, that seat wasn't being sat in anyway, and I am therefore not depriving the theatre owner of any revenue. However, you are consuming the performance without paying for it. Sure, it may not cost the owner anything for you to sit there (in terms of money spent), but this is revenue that they will not gain. You are consuming a service that you did not pay for.

This is the same logic people have used to justify all sorts of illegal copying of copyrighted works. Well, it's only a copy, and I wasn't going to pay for it anyway, therefore I have a right to use it without paying for it. It really escapes me how otherwise reasonable and intelligent people can convince themselves of such things. As I said in my earlier message, if you feel strongly enough about something to not buy it, then don't.

No matter what trite rationalizations one comes up with, it doesn't change the fact that the consumer does not have the right to alter the basic rules of copyright and commerce on a whim. A reasonable person would never walk into their local corner store and say to themselves: "That candy bar is junk. Not nearly worth the $1 they want for it. Therefore, I'm going to take it and eat it anyway." yet those same people apply this logic to intellectual property.

If you honestly believe that stealing is ethical and okay, then by all means do as you please within the confines of your own particular legal system, but let's not come up with any patronizing nonsense that tries to define this behaviour as something other than theft.

I honestly weep for today's young generation and their very poorly developed sense of ethics.”
 

bdb

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I find it interesting how many feel the need to use terminology that is more jarring than the actual act. Rather than "copyright protection", some feel the need to call it "theft". I've noticed several cases where people use the word "robbery" to denote theft (robbery differs from theft in that it involves use or threat of violence).

Its as if we feel that the actual heinousness of the wrongdoing is insufficiently communicated when we call it what it is. Perhaps its some indication that society has become immoral enough that acts that are clearly wrong have become acceptable, and we only make them 'unacceptable' by calling them something much worse.
 
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Language is an imprecise thing at the best of times, but by the purest definition of the word "theft" this is not an inaccurate term. Theft is a general term used to refer to the taking of property without consent (most dictionaries define it in some variation of this definition). Since copyrighted material is considered "intellectual property", the taking of that intellectual property without the consent of the owner is technically theft.

There are varying degrees of "theft" under the law, even when dealing with physical property. We are of course referring to the linguistic definition of theft here, and not the legal one (since the law in most countries does not use the term "theft" in this scenario). "Theft of intellectual property" might be a more accurate term.

I realize that this is a semantic discussion, but the fact is that the reverse also applies. "Copyright violation" is too fuzzy of a term, and can mean a great many things. Technically speaking (fair use aside), I could be construed as committing "copyright violation" in certain jurisdictions simply by making a copy of a CD to transfer onto my iPod. In this case, I have purchased the content (the CD), and have a certain right of use to it, but there is room for debate as to whether I am permitted to copy that material.

Again, this is an ethical question. There are very obviously people out there who have no ethical issues with downloading music (theft of intellectual property) but would never consider the theft of physical property. That's fine if your ethics allow you to do that... Ethics are a personal thing. However, what annoys me is those who somehow try to define it as something other than "theft" and rationalize their decisions as somehow being morally right or for a higher cause.

However, to those who have absolutely no ethical issue with downloading everything for free, one must also ask the question of what it is that prevents them from doing what is essentially the same for physical property? The reality is that most people without a well-developed sense of ethics follow the law for fear of punishment, not simply because of any internalized sense of the rightness or wrongness of an act.

Downloading music is a "victimless" act and the chances of being caught, prosecuted, or otherwise suffering any consequences for this act are extremely remote. People may therefore rationalize that this is okay, but in reality there are doing it because they feel they can "get away with it."
 

bdb

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melsmusic said:
- "sampling" content (similar to loaning a book from a library). I wish they would allow this legally, but they don't. If they did, they may profit from it. I don't think you can download music illegally and claim that as an excuse unless you delete it after either, buying the CD, or because you don't like it. Streaming it would be best for this situation though, no reason to actually download it.
Streaming works pretty well for music preview, but its a burden on the provider - there has to be enough bandwidth for everyone who wants to listen. Too little bandwidth, and the quality suffers for everyone. A broken streaming model just turns away customers. I think a limited-play DRM model isn't bad either, and its less bandwidth-dependent. It could even be distributed via P2P, so the content provider wouldn't have to pony up for all the bandwidth.

Its not uncommon when discussing downloading for someone to bring up "content providers not changing their business model", but no one offers a model that is economically viable. Just giving it away and hoping people will pay for it probably isn't a valid model. Streaming is expensive. So they stick to 30-second samples to cut costs, but those samples are often horribly unrepresentative of the songs. The only viable option for a customer who really wants to know what they're buying is downloading, but that opens up a variety of other problems.

And of course, there is a tendency to oversimplify this complex situation and label all the downloaders as criminals, which is mainly just avoidance - it certainly doesn't help simplify or solve the problems.

I think there are cases where people have received some reprieve for downloading music that they later bought, but with p2p systems today, downloading also means you're uploading - and that is what gets people in trouble.
 

melsmusic

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Well if streaming isn't an option, they do have the ability to give you the full song for a 3 day period, or similar. Just like they are doing with the Zunes file sharing. It has a certain number of plays. If allofmp3 can stream, why can't iTunes though?
 
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And of course, there is a tendency to oversimplify this complex situation and label all the downloaders as criminals, which is mainly just avoidance - it certainly doesn't help simplify or solve the problems.
This is exactly where the ethical issue gets murky, and in this case the self-righteous folks who are suggesting that you should never download music illegally are most definitely guilty of oversimplifying the situation. Of course, these are the same folks who probably also suggest that you should never drive over the speed limit or jaywalk.

Do I have an ethical problem with sampling music before I purchase it? Absolutely not. In the end, I am not depriving the copyright holder of any revenue, and music is not pay-per-play (in other words, I don't need to pay money every time I listen to a song).

There is only the most subtle of differences between downloading a track or album to sample it and borrowing the same CD from a friend for the same reason. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to tell the difference to the outside observer (a CD is a physical item that changes hands and gets returned).

In principle, I have no ethical problem with downloading a track from somewhere, and then making a decision on the basis of that to either purchase said track, or delete it. IMHO, if it's worth keeping, then it's worth paying for. I avoid P2P services because they're a pain in the neck, and have no interest in dealing with the myriad problems that they pose. On the other hand, I have no problem with receiving music sent to me by friends and acquaintances because they think I might like it. If I like it, I buy it. If I don't like it, I delete it.

melsmusic said:
Well if streaming isn't an option, they do have the ability to give you the full song for a 3 day period, or similar. Just like they are doing with the Zunes file sharing. It has a certain number of plays. If allofmp3 can stream, why can't iTunes though?
Well, iTunes does stream, but it's only a 30-second preview. Bandwidth may be part of this, but at the same time I'm sure that if they offered more than a 30-second snapshot, it wouldn't be any time at all until some clever hacker came up with a way to suck down the entire iTunes music library via streaming.

Apple has been successfully walking a very fine line with the iTunes Store, even moreso than other digital music services (they certainly seem to get away with more concessions from the RIAA, or at least be willing to try).

Up to this point, Apple has not made any significant modifications to their FairPlay DRM to even support a subscription-based or time-limited model. It would be a very interesting idea, however, if Apple were to somehow allow for single-play sharing of purchased content... In other words, I could send you one of my iTunes purchases, and you get to listen to it once. It would probably require the receiver to have an iTunes Store account in order to track this, but since Apple owns all of the pieces (the song, the DRM wrapper, and the player), it really wouldn't be difficult to implement at all.
 
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bdb

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jhollington said:
However, what annoys me is those who somehow try to define it as something other than "theft" and rationalize their decisions as somehow being morally right or for a higher cause.
I see your point, and I agree. I think it works better to clarify why it is theft than to use the (more common) method of analogy. Example: Jacko's analogy of the loaf of bread: this doesn't fit, because if that loaf is stolen, the baker can't sell it (but if a song is downloaded, the content owner can still sell the song). I read an analogy yesterday along the lines of "...say I came up with some way to duplicate a Ford automobile for free...". Analogies just end up being irrelevant or plain dumb.

Of course, when people actually buy music they've downloaded, the whole situation becomes much more complex than simple "theft".

melsmusic said:
If allofmp3 can stream, why can't iTunes though?
Allofmp3 doesn't stream full songs anymore; I think they do 90-second samples at terribly low bitrate, or 30-second samples if you don't login. Now you can download full songs for free, but you can only play it on PCs that run their software and can connect to the internet - it imposes restrictions similar to streaming, actually. I think its a great model, and I already have a considerable amount of music lined up to purchase because of it (though I'll be purchasing from legitimate stores, not allofmp3). It takes away the temptation to just keep the downloads and not buy, since they're of limited usefulness.
 
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