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Ethics of Downloading Music; need some opinions on this

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The_Extremist

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Regarding the whole issue with how the RIAA and their lawyers are suing "pirates", how do you all react to this? It would make sense for them to stop someone who is a major distributor of content, but is it also morally right to sue various other people who do not engage in this activity much? Is it right for them to automatically say "any content on your computer was obtained illegally?" Is it right to sue anyone including young children? (see this article as an example: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,96797,00.html ; I found the last comment to be interesting)
 

bdb

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I understand your view, Jacko - it is the same "all or none" standard as the RIAA. I have in fact made the choice you recommend when it comes to the them - paying for every single song I might consider hearing isn't a reasonable option, so I boycott their music. I don't download it, because all too often that leads to me buying it. I think their (and your) view of "winning" buy losing my business like this is not the best business sense, but that's the way they want it, and I generally comply (on rare occasions I'll buy a major-label CD).

I am not claiming that what I am doing is completely above reproach. I'm not denying its a moral grey area, but I also happen to think that the dollars I shell out are not irrelevant. The labels I deal with usually offer up some songs for free - they're not trying to fit your all-or-none model in the first place. Is it just coincidence that the labels that take your hard-line stance are losing money, while the indies that are willing to work in the moral grey area are growing?

Still, you're probably right, my purchasing behavior probably doesn't represent the norm, but I don't know what percentage it might represent. It may actually be a larger percentage than those who know how to download and completely refuse to for moral reasons.
 
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bdb

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The_Extremist said:
Regarding the whole issue with how the RIAA and their lawyers are suing "pirates", how do you all react to this? It would make sense for them to stop someone who is a major distributor of content, but is it also morally right to sue various other people who do not engage in this activity much?
The details of the lawsuits are pretty sketchy, but suffice to say that an individual could become a major distributor of content (depending on how you define "major"). There are a lot of people who make thousands of songs available for download.

This is clearly wrong, though it does enable some of the music exploration that has caused me to spend money. Lawsuits may be viable to send a message, but they just cause more animosity in the long-term.

An important point that Lessig made in his presentation was that the discussion is currently just name-calling, finger-pointing, and legal actions between the extremists at both ends, and until this changes there will be no workable solution. As long as we're all labeled as either bakers, buyers, or thieves, we'll never escape the fact that digital music presents more opportunities than the bread analogy.

neb said:
Need we forget that Napster offers a full sample of songs? Providing they have the song, why not use that service instead?
I'm guessing you haven't used this much :). A lot of music is still 30-second samples. I have streamed music on Napster, and I have bought music based on that (though not from Napster!). Unfortunately all the services that let me preview music at this point are ones I wouldn't buy from!

jhollington said:
There are many ways of sampling music, as radio channels abound, many CD stores have samples available of some CDs, and of course iTunes offers their 30-second previews.
The first two are great for mainstream music; they exist as mainstream advertising mechanisms and marginalize the majority of music. Its just more of the "Wal-Mart" effect, where all the emphasis is on a limited number of mainstream albums, as described in the great PBS Frontline episode "The Way The Music Died".

30-second samples are often horribly unrepresentative of music. I like to listen to instrumental music at work (lyrics distract me), and I've purchased several tracks that were instrumental-only in the sample but were actually vocals...sometimes really lousy vocals. Its the same frustration I felt in the 90s when I purchased CDs based on a couple of songs I'd heard on the radio, only to find that the other 80% of the CD sucked. Like my analogy of letting you see only part of a shoe before you have to make the purchase decision (whether the shoes fit is irrelevant): no company could survive in any other business with such an anti-consumer attitude.

Music is immersive. There is no way to know what the experience will be like, except to hear it in full at a reasonably good quality. We all know of many albums where there aren't any particularly great songs, but as a whole the album is fantastic. There is no way this could be experienced with 30-second samples or hearing one song. Even low bitrates and choppy streams can take away from the experience enough to make a difference.

The RIAA-endorsed method of doing this is of course subscription services, but its been expressed many times on these boards that people generally feel they're too expensive for what is essentially 'radio' that is gone when you turn it off. Just like legal vs illegal downloads, there is a gap between what the content owners are willing to charge and what most listeners are willing to pay.

Maybe its just me...how comfortable is everyone else with paying for music they've never heard?
 
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pohatu771

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If you're using an illegal (or legal, but unfair) service, it's wrong. The artist, while they may be getting ripped off by their label, is still getting something on legal downloads or CD sales. With illegal, and therefore free, downloads, they get nothing.

I believe copyright law (in the US, at least) allows you to download a copy of software or music and keep it for 24 hours if you do not own a physical copy of, or rights to, that software/music. After 24 hours you must delete it.

However, I believe if you own a cassette or vinyl record (or your computer lacks the ability to rip the CD), you are legally allowed to download the music, and keep it. It doesn't apply to songs you've purchased from an online store, like iTunes, to be played on an incompatible player, since the rights to it are strictly tied to the file you downloaded.

If you don't have own the rights to the use of that music, it's wrong- unless you're keeping it for less than 24 hours, when it is considered "sampling."
 
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pohatu771 said:
I believe copyright law (in the US, at least) allows you to download a copy of software or music and keep it for 24 hours if you do not own a physical copy of, or rights to, that software/music. After 24 hours you must delete it.

However, I believe if you own a cassette or vinyl record (or your computer lacks the ability to rip the CD), you are legally allowed to download the music, and keep it. It doesn't apply to songs you've purchased from an online store, like iTunes, to be played on an incompatible player, since the rights to it are strictly tied to the file you downloaded.

If you don't have own the rights to the use of that music, it's wrong- unless you're keeping it for less than 24 hours, when it is considered "sampling."
These are all myths and completely untrue with no basis in fact. There is absolutely nothing in the actual Copyright Law of the United States or any WIPO treaties such as the Berne Convention that support this in any way.

The "24-hour-rule" is a myth created by people who are distributing copyrighted material to attempt to justify their infringement. They feel that by putting a disclaimer that says something like, "You must delete this after 24 hours" they will be exempt from any liability for copyright infringement. The same applies for disclaimers that say things like, "This is distributed for fair use", or "For research purposes only." in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink sort of way. The bottom line is that nothing could be further from the truth, and in reality the courts will look at the actual behaviour and not the fine print.

The "Abandonment" rule is another similar myth often applied to computer software. This rationalization suggests that if the developer is no longer supporting or developing a piece of software, then it is suddenly okay to pass it around for free. Again, completely untrue and the copyright is maintained. Just because somebody may or may not choose to enforce their copyright does not make something non-copyrighted, or acceptable to infringe. (Unless of course the normal statute of limitations on copyright has expired)

The issue of downloading music if you already own a recording of it in some form is a much more grey area, and while I don't think there are any ethical issues with that (any more than there are in making your own copy), the reality is that such behaviour would probably be construed as a violation of copyright in the most technical of terms. Again, there is no express permission for this in the copyright law, and copying from other sources would not likely be construed as "fair use"
 

bdb

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Rather than bombard them with the entirety of copyright law ;), I suggest reading the section 107. Its really a quick read, and very revealing about just how vague the law is.

This is why it so quickly becomes an ethical discussion. Very little is explicity against the law.

There are also section 106 exemptions, where the copyright owner can specify some of the types of disclaimers noted above. This is only applicable if the copyright owner makes these disclaimers, not just someone holding a copy.
 

mnhnhyouh

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neb said:
No.

I think the important linking statement is this: The loaf of bread is a good, in much the same way as the artist's song is a good. They are both a product of the factors of production. The artist's capital will be instruments, recording studio etc.
So where does the copyright on a song sit in this definition?

h
 

neb

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mnhnhyouh said:
So where does the copyright on a song sit in this definition?

h
Copyright applies to an expression rather than an idea. Therefore it is harder to obtain a copyright for foodstuffs. It is nigh-on-impossible to consider a loaf of bread as an expression linked to some kind of artistic output. In this country bakeries have piloted a new crust-less bread. The company that originally thought of the idea is Kingsmill (a subsidury of Sunblest Bakeries). They could not protect their idea from being copied and subsequently the rest brought out their own similar breads. On the other hand, it is a lot easier to link this to songs as they are a true representation of artistic expression.

Patents on the other hand...
 
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jwc110869

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I tend to believe that everybody here deep down understands that p2p sharing of music is wrong. But unfortunately, the people who still do download have successfully justified their illegal activity with self-propoganda, and internal smoke screens.

The musician is getting screwed, lets steel. The RIAA stinks, lets steel. Look, I don't personally care weather you do or don't do this. But people, stop kidding yourselves, and be prepared to have music become harder and harder to enjoy. The recording industry is going to make it more and more difficult to have the content the way you want it. Oh, and by the way, everybody that doesn't participate in p2p or allofmp3, has to suffer for the snowball you pushed down this frosty hill.

I usually drive my vehicle over the posted limit, to some small degree. If I get a ticket, I'm not going to say "BS I'm not hurting anybody!!!"
 

bdb

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jwc110869 said:
The recording industry is going to make it more and more difficult to have the content the way you want it.
Make that the big labels are going to make it more and more difficult to have the content the way you want it. These are the guys lobbying to the federal government to stop considering ripping and copying of CDs as "fair use". They're going after your personal rips on your iPod as much as they're going after downloads. And you're probably paying them to do it.

The labels that treat their customers like customers are benefitting from the increased exposure their music is getting, and growing fast. These labels dislike things like copy-protected CDs as much as everyone else.
 

neb

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mnhnhyouh said:
So downloading is not taking the good, as the artist still has it?

h
Copyright also covers duplicating and exploiting. The artist (or rather the record company) will license a specific number of copies to be sold on the market (not sure how digital downloads work). An infringement would occur when an unlicensed copy is made.
 

bdb

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I understand what you're getting at mnhnhyouh - there is no concept of the copyright in the bread analogy. There is no concept of many things applying to digital media in the bread analogy. There are even concepts with physical music (CDs) that don't apply - you can't eat the loaf of bread many times, nor can you sell it after you've eaten it many times.

I thought the bread analogy was something that Jacko himself came up with, and simply insisted on using despite its many flaws. But if the lead singer of Wilco is bringing it up, probably it isn't. Clearly the net result of the bread analogy is that everyone ends up focusing on whats right or wrong with the analogy, thus diverting the conversation from the actual topic. It sounds like something one would use to intentionally avoid the subject, so it makes sense that someone like the RIAA would use it - but we don't have to here.

I suggest you leave the analogy alone. Any opinion you may have about illegal downloads, their morality, or their impact on the industry is much more applicable.
 
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Jackonicko

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I use the bread analogy because it's really that simple.

You don't need to over-complicate everything searching for inconsistencies in the analogy, because at it's root it is absolutely applicable.

Because the fact that a copyrighted piece of music is not a physical object is irrelevant.

Because the fact that you can consume the music many times is irrelevant.

Because the fact that the copyright owner still has the music after you've bought OR stolen it is irrelevant.

Because if you take the fruit of someone else's labour, without their permission, and if you do not pay them their agreed price for it, then, whether it's a loaf or a download, you are stealing.

It's really that simple. Bringing in inconsistencies is often used to obscure and avoid this key, simple truth.
 

bdb

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Jackonicko said:
Because if you take the fruit of someone else's labour, without their permission, and if you do not pay them their agreed price for it, then, whether it's a loaf or a download, you are stealing.
So you believe that buying used CDs is "stealing"?

Meh. To get the discussion back on the topic of downloading (and hopefully off the topic of bread), I had a discussion last night with my family (wife, teenage child) about this. It was amazing that the high school offered no discussion about ethics. I don't suppose mine did either, but a lot of things are considered OK now that never would have been back then. When asked what her friends had to say about it, she said they just don't talk about it. Its not that they consider it a "hush-hush" topic, its that they simply don't care. Some of them are massive downloaders, too.

She personally felt that it is important to support smaller artists and independent labels, but she really didn't care what happened to the fat-cat big labels or the rich singers who use their videos to flash their "bling" in our faces. She didn't have a problem with just downloading their music, though she noted that it wasn't music that interested her in the first place.

I presented my opinion about the disservice that big labels are doing to the industry, and that downloading their music simply vindicates their position that we're all just criminals, so the only viable option is to buy or (preferably) boycott their music. Neither of them disagreed with this, but I'm not sure either felt it necessary to take it that far.

My wife doesn't really care about music much at all, but she pointed out that supporting arts is a good thing from a purely cultural standpoint, and that the real innovation is likely to come from the independent labels anyway. She's pretty stingy with money, but she has yet to complain about all those charges to various music resellers.
 
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Jackonicko

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"To get the discussion back on the topic of downloading (and hopefully off the topic of bread)...."

OK, BDB, if you prefer:

"If you take the fruit of someone else's labour, without their permission, and if you do not pay them their agreed price for it, then you are stealing."

Most of us do buy second hand books and CDs, and I certainly do. I can see why copyright owners don't like it, but at least thay have been paid once for one physical product.

The obvious problem is that too many people copy CDs and then keep the content in some format and then sell the original.

Moreover, the CD is designed not as a desirable object in its own right, but is intended as a vehicle for delivering one copy of the music to one individual. Second hand sales get around the intent of the copyright owners.

In any case, it's clear that by downloading you are:

Taking the fruit of someone else's labour, without their permission, and without paying them their agreed price.

How can anyone seriously justify that?
 
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