This story about the RIAA and the MPAA fighting back against piracy includes some quotes that piss me off so much that I have to vent my spleen to the world about it. Maybe some of you presently reading this will forward the lesson to others.

Just to warn you, this is not going to be an exhaustive indictment of the RIAA, the MPAA, or any of the various guilty parties involved. Both of those organizations are behaving stupidly about this whole issue, but that isn’t the subject of this post. I’m saving that for another time.

On to the retarded quotes:

And some teen pirates say adults just don’t understand.

“Maybe they don’t understand that teenagers work minimum-wage jobs, so why should we buy a CD with two songs we like on it when we can burn it for free?” said 15-year-old Melissa of Boca Raton, Fla., who downloads songs, music videos and movies a few times a month.

Or this lovely gem:

“The generation before us had to pay for music,” said recent college grad Joshua, 24, of New York City. “Now you have no reason to purchase the music or movie in physical form. Everything is digital.”

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

Now pay attention, class.

Let’s start with young Melissa, who seems to be under the impression that the fact that she doesn’t have very much money somehow entitles her to steal something she doesn’t want to pay for.

Irrelevant, girl. Irrelevant.

First of all, I’m sure Melissa can afford to buy the CDs if she wants to. After all, she’s 15, so if she has a job, the money is 100% disposable on luxury goods.

But more important is the principle here. That music is owned by someone. She does not have the rights to its disposal. In downloaded unauthorized copies of this music, she is taking something that doesn’t belong to her without paying for it. In other words, she is stealing. This is theft, period.

The wealth of the record company is not relevant. Her paucity is not relevant. How badly she wants the music is not relevant. The ease of stealing it is not relevant. Her personal dislike of the recording industry and/or any of its employees is not relevant.

Now let’s talk about Joshua, who is old enough to know better. Let’s take his statements one by one.

“The generation before us had to pay for music.”

A stupid remark since it’s not true. Ever heard of radio, boy?

“Now you have no reason to purchase the music or movie in physical form. Everything is digital.”

This is even more idiotic. But the fact that anyone would utter it seriously forces me to examine the obvious mental deficiency that causes it.

We exist in a physical world. Therefore everything in it is physical in nature, in some way or another. What is a compact disc, or a cassette tape, or a record? It is a physical storage medium for a physical stream of data. This is essentially no different from a digital computer file. An MP3 can be copied directly onto a CD, for Pete’s sake.

The information stored on a vinyl record is digital in nature, when one gets right down to it. The word “digital” has come to assume a meaning that is not entirely accurate. That is, digital vs. analog, when talking about the audio/video industry.

But a record is merely a single spiral groove that has the music encoded on it through the complex combination of bumps and ridges inside that groove. The needle reads these changes and the device reproduces the music encoded therein. Actually, this is remarkably like a CD in principle.

A cassette is a spooled magnetic tape that, again, records data in an elemental form. In this case, as variances in the magnetic medium that can be decoded by an appropriate device.

But the body of data itself, the stream of information, is a commercial property. Now, this gets complicated when you get down at this level, and try to talk about “how much has to be there for it to be copyrightable, and how much has to be stolen to qualify as theft of the copyrighted material”. That’s a question I won’t try to answer here.

But in the case of, say, an MP3, a digital music file, the storage medium merely changes from a tape or CD to the disk drive in your computer, or the memory card in your iPod or other MP3 playback device. Therefore the music is in a physical form in the same sense that a CD or a cassette is a physical form.

Don’t believe me? Try deleting the music file and see if you can still play it.

Joshua has, in his brief comments, demonstrated a lack of comprehension of so many basic notions of material physics and property rights that he needs to be robbed regularly to see if he likes how it feels to have stuff taken from him without compensation and without his permission.

This really is a simple concept. Why is music and movie piracy so wrong? It’s theft. But in case that argument is too difficult to grasp, let’s try this:

Let’s suppose you’re a talented musician, and you like writing and recording your own music. You intend to do this as your sole activity in life, i.e., your profession. You need to get paid, right? Good will doesn’t put food on the table.

Let’s say you cut a CD and put it up for sale on the internet. People like it and start buying copies. Life is good.

Then someone copies one of your CDs, and puts the music up on kazaa for free download to anyone who cares to take it. How does that make you feel? Is it fair? You aren’t getting paid. Someone is stealing the product of your labors. After a while, sales of your CD start to go down, because people discover they can take it without paying on kazaa. You start to go hungry, can’t pay your electric bill, and get evicted from your apartment because you can’t make money anymore.

Do you have any incentive to write more music and make another CD, when you know what will happen? Of course not. Why the hell should you bother, when everyone will just steal it and you’ll get nothing?

Thus the world loses a talented artist, and you go back to flipping burgers or sitting in an office to pay the bills.

Communism has a similar effect, if I may be allowed to digress slightly. People are forced to produce, but the fruits of their labor don’t belong to them. Anyone can take whatever they want. So why bother producing if some schmuck is just going to come along and take it from you? If the government forces you to keep producing, you have no desire or incentive to make things of good quality, so craftsmanship suffers, and creativity disappears.

Get it?

22 Responses to “Music Piracy”
  1. Jenn Engle says:

    I must confess that I am a shameless downloader of mp3s. Mostly because I hate listening to the same four songs on the radio. I use downloading free music (as well as streaming options like shoutcast.com) as a way of finding new things that I may like. Sampling if you will.

    Much like reading the first few pages of a novel before purchase, I will download a few songs and see if it’s an album I really want. Then, if I like it, I’ll go buy it. *shrugs* (But that’s me. I need to have physical things in my hands, I need to be able to flip through the little booklet thingy that comes with the cd. I need to look for lyrics. I need to see it’s jewel case gleaming on the shelf with all my other litte darlings.)

    I’ve also resorted to downloading mp3s when the cds were of such a short run that you can’t buy them anymore, and the artist has no intention of re-releasing the cd. (which, I don’t understand, not if the demand is there…)

    But none of this really matters, because it’s all just rationalization.

    The point is, many of these artists had no choice in weather or not their work was distributed this way. Even if it increases their fanbase and makes their sales skyrocket, it doesn’t change the fact they had no choice in the matter.

    Baen books seems to have found a profitable solution: http://www.baen.com/library/

  2. Hunter Frazier says:

    The thing is, there is no possible way we can stop music piracy at this point. Everyone knows it’s wrong, but alot of people still do it. You know you do it Jenn. The world is going to hell so let’s focus on more important things. heh

  3. Hunter Frazier says:

    “you know you do it Anne” is what I meant to say.. sorry Jenn

  4. Seema Adina says:

    If laws aren’t yielding the desired results; perhaps they were bad policy to begin with. Instead of going after the consumers, without who musicians would not exist, think about bringing about change within the music industry. Yadda yadda yadda…stealing this, copyright laws that. The laws will stay around for awhile causing collateral damage in a lot of lives, but it is ultimate dead meat…fight as you may.

  5. Simon says:

    Very informally written, but very true. The way around this problem is uppping the cost for tools used to download and play the music and giving the money to the artists.

  6. Spencer says:

    Your comments make it obvious that you do not understand the concept of digital vs. analog. Allow me to enlighten you. When you say that something is stored digitally you are saying that an algorithm has been applied to it to change the analog sinusoidal waveform to a special form.

    A real sound – as you know – is just a vibration of air which can be translated into a waveform. When you digitize it you break this waveform into a set of height points along the curve (I really don’t know the exacts of the process – forgive me) that break it up at such minute points that the human ear can’t distinguish between that and the true waveform AND those points can be later translated back to an equivalent waveform.

    Here is the punch line – making something digital has a number of VERY special qualities that completely change the properties. A digital medium can be EXACTLY duplicated. An analog medium gets less precise with each copy. A digital copy also can’t degrade with time unless the physical device that stores the digital signal degrades. A digital signal can be compressed (i.e. mp3).

    I would say that your analysis of Joshua’s comment is flawed by a complete missing of the point anyway. I think his harebrained argument is more along the lines of “since recent technology makes it so that music is so easy and fast to transmit perfect copies (i.e. DIGITAL) …” You must note that digital music technology (specifically the mp3) is distinctly different from previous forms of music transmission.

    Now to my real point – music piracy is not theft.
    Look up the legal definition of theft (larceny) – let me paraphrase:
    Theft is the taking of property without the owner’s permission (now listen up this is the important part) such that the owner loses his property in entirety.

    I am not saying that it is not immoral. But your entire argument hinges on the fact that music piracy is adjunct to theft and legally it is not. Let me give you a quick example to clarify what I am saying. Let us say that you make a song and release a cd. Someone else bought your cd and posts the song for upload on KaZaa. I download your song. You still own your song. I have not taken the song from you so that you may not keep gaining revenue from it. You are saying that by downloading the song I have stolen the revenue from you that I would have paid for the song had I purchased your cd. The thing is, you are saying that my current actions are stealing for something that I MIGHT have done in the future. That is ridiculous.

    If you can counter this argument PLEASE HELP ME. I find this argument infuriating because it seems so intuitive that downloading music to be immoral but I just don’t know WHY.

    I just want to further say that I am not trying to argue against your point (in which I also believe) or insult you in any way I just believe in this argument and want to understand the entire topic better for myself.

  7. Kyle Haight says:

    Downloading and playing a song which you don’t own isn’t wrong because you ‘might’ not pay in the future; it’s wrong because you are making use of property in the present to which you do not have a right.

    At root, this issue turns on two very different conceptions of what property rights are and where they come from. One view, which I call “Stallmanist” after Richard M. Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, claims that property rights are a mechanism used to ration scarce resources. You and I can’t both use the same toothbrush, so we need some way to figure out who is entitled to use it. Empirically, property rights seem to work pretty well for that. One obvious consequence of this view is that it doesn’t make sense to apply property rights to resources that are not scarce. Digital information, because it is essentially costless to duplicate, isn’t scarce. Ergo, the Stallmanist view concludes, it isn’t property. Stallman originally applied this model to software, but it applies equally well to digital music.

    I don’t accept that view of property rights. I think that when someone creates something new they acquire full property rights to their creation. If I write a song, I own it. If it weren’t for my effort the song wouldn’t exist at all, so on what possible basis can anybody else claim a right to control its use? On this view of property it is simple to see why downloading and using music without paying for it is wrong: it is a violation of the owner’s right to control the disposition of his property.

    There are legitimate grey areas when we apply this ownership principle to the real world, of course. What if I bought a CD and then want to download an MP3 of one of its tracks because it’s easier that converting it myself? What if I’m just browsing, trying to make a purchase decision? Etc. But there’s no way these exceptional cases can undermine the wrongness of the paradigmatic case in which a song is downloaded and played repeatedly for enjoyment without proper compensation to its owner.

  8. Spencer says:

    I agree – I never said that. I just said that it is not theft for those reasons.

    I have always been concerned with the concept of ‘rights’ in questions of morality (and that is what we have here – whether it is wrong or not to download copyrighted music)- They just do not seem logical. A right is something that a person is entitled to – BUT the government has the ability to strip a person of his rights for a number of reasons. Hrm…. Sounds like rights are more a social/ethical construct where everyone in society agrees that if everyone else has this then I am safer (I think this is a Hobbesian argument but it has been some time since I have taken a political philosophy class). They do not preempt morality. So I do not dispute that it is a violation of your right, which is unethical, but does that make it immoral? – i.e. is it inherently wrong?

    Everyone knows that stealing, murder, etc. are immoral. I have read hundreds of posts from as many sites and all of them have some idiot saying something like “Everyone knows it is wrong, but they do it anyway.” Wrong => immoral. They always site theft as justification. It is not theft. Then WHY IS IT IMMORAL? I am looking for an answer – not arguing against you.

  9. Kyle Haight says:

    We may be talking past each other here. I think that using or exploiting property to which one does not have a right *is* theft. Or, if you want to quibble over legal definitions, it is a violation of the rights of the property owner and thus should be treated as a criminal act — if you don’t want to label it theft then suggest an alternative.

    I also disagree with your statement that the government can strip people of their rights. The only legitimate cases I can think of where that should be allowed is when the person in question has already committed a serious crime. In the general case the government cannot strip peaceful, law-abiding citizens of their rights because those rights pre-exist the government. Government doesn’t bring rights into existence, government is instituted to protect rights that exist independently. They are not a social construct in the sense I think you intend.

    You seem to be pushing towards two deeper questions:

    - Are rights-violating actions necessarily immoral?

    - What makes an action immoral?

    Of these, the second is the more fundamental question, because you can’t answer the first without first answering the second. This isn’t really the place to go into these questions, and it probably wouldn’t be fruitful for me to explain my views on them without knowing yours.

  10. Spencer says:

    With your “legidimate grey areas” I am beginning feel as though maybe there is no moral reslution; that I may need to let it rest with it being unethical. I suppose we could construct an argument saying: Doing things that you believe to be immoral is immoral – whether or not it is actually true that it is immoral. So if everyone believes that it is wrong to download music then it is for them.

    Then there is your padadigm of the wrong case: that a song is downloaded and played for enjoyment without compensation. There are 2 nouns there… 2 seperate actions. 1) Downloading. 2) Listening for pleasure. This might be the cause of our difference of stance. Is it immoral to download someone else’s copyrighted work (ignore the case that you might not actually know at that time what you are downloading because all you have is a name). Then – is it immoral to listen to that music for pleasure. Are you contending that it is immoral in both cases? I am confused. In the first all you have done is make a perfect copy of the work and placed it in your possession. It seems to me that if there is an immoral act it would be the act of listening for enjoyment. That realization hits home – as I am currently listening to music a friend pirated 4 years ago and I copied off his computer.

  11. Spencer says:

    True – backing away from moral definitions.

    So – using someone else’s pool while they are away on vacation is theft? I think you are misusing the term.

    Many cases of government stripping “basic rights” in cases of war-time (Japanese citizens in WWII) or on suspicion of terrorist sympathies etc. exist. Government protects rights as long as doing so protects the rights of others. They reserve the ability to strip those rights when they believe they are acting in defense of the common interest. If rights are truly “Natural” then they should not have that power. In other words – government giveth and taketh away – and we gave the government its power to do that. I am just saying that sounds to me like it is a collective decision to ACT as though rights exist for the better for all – except in the cases where it is actually better for all to disregard rights.

    We already know that theft is immoral. And people equate internet piracy with theft as proof that internet piracy is immoral. I hope I presented the case already that they are not the same. Though I suppose if you want to broaden the definition of theft you will need to present a moral argument that shows how the new inclusions are also immoral.

  12. Spencer says:

    Not trying to be an ass – But I am citing you in an essay and I do not want to misquote you. Above you wrote
    “owner’s right to control the disposition of his property”
    I assume you meant dispersion or distribution rather than disposition, meaning temperament, right?

    Assuming you did mean distribution – and assuming what you said in that same paragraph is 100% true. Then the person uploading the music is the one who is violating the right of the musician – since only they are violating the owner’s right to distribution. I am not convinced that the owner has complete control over all “use” of his product. Consider US copyright law – Chapter 1 Section 114.a specifies that sound recordings (CD’s) are “limited to the rights specified by clauses (1), (2), (3) and (6) of section 106″ which are (allow me to paraphrase again):
    1) reproduce
    2) prepare derivitives
    3) distribute copies
    6) perform publicly by means of digital audio transmission.
    The law even specifically states there are limitations to these rights. I am not going to cite any more but you get the idea. You would need to prepare a very good argument for the artist’s right to control all use of their intellectual property once it has been made public.

  13. Ana says:

    I agree. Yet I don’t know why mp3s are still existent in the digital world with all this piracy this and infringement of copyright laws that.

    I admit that I too am a guilty as sin downloader of mp3s. I feel like, unless I stop it and just stick to the radio or the purchase of any item (which I intend to, anyway), I’m gonna be like Brianna LaHara was: next in line to be sued by the RIAA or similar people for piracy.

    Every CD, DVD, etc. states quite clearly:

    ‘WARNING: All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized copying, reproduction, hiring, lending, public performance, and broadcasting of this record (DVD, whatever) prohibited.’

    But with all this ability to copy mp3s with something like say AudioCatalyst, people that do so are IGNORING the coyright laws!

    Regarding the whole CD thing, I don’t buy every CD on which I can lay my hands even IF I had enough money to do so. I usually only buy CDs by certain artists I like (and there are about 14 at the moment, including Phil Collins, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera (a truly phenomenal singer, by the way), Evanescence, Sarah Brightman, Mika Nakashima (from Japan – my favorite female singer!), Spandau Ballet, Andrea Bocelli – anybody like that).

    Furthermore, I agree with Anne about the artist needing to make money. I’m aiming to become one myself (singer/songwriter), and while I did indeed for some time like so-called ‘P2P networks,’ I backed away from them because of the whole copyright issue. Now that I’ve bravely decided to join as a music artist all my own, I too live in fear of having somebody copy MY music and making it available for download without my permission. The record labels DO lose money, and the artists get next to nothing from it.

    Correct me if I’m mistaken on this one.

  14. joyrider says:

    I love the comment that copying and downloading music that you did not buy or own a license for is not theft…Well, that is irrelevant. Spencer indicates that “Theft is the taking of property without the owner’s permission (now listen up this is the important part) such that the owner loses his property in entirety.” Well, joy riding is not theft then either…yet, and THIS is the important part, it is still illegal. It takes the use of the product away from a licensed or authorized user or owner. Get real.
    You do it, okay, but don’t justify it as being legal.

  15. Dudeman says:

    I know downloading things is not stealing. I know that it supports an artist because (just like the radio) more people buy the product than copy a lower quality one (whether it is from the radio or another person’s mp3 collection). In the end, some consumers enjoy free music, but artists get money from the people that really enjoy the music. It’s a WIN-WIN situation people. That is why music should be distributed for free accross the internet. More music for the masses, more advertising for the record labels (some of my favorite CD’s I also have on my PC, because I downloaded it first). This also puts a demand on artists to make BETTER music so people will really want the CD, T-shirts, concert tickets. :)

  16. Travelsonic says:

    “I love the comment that copying and downloading music that you did not buy or own a license for is not theft”

    Technically in a legal sense this is true, copyright infringement is not theft legally.

    “Spencer indicates that “Theft is the taking of property without the owner’s permission (now listen up this is the important part) such that the owner loses his property in entirety.”

    Which further proves the copying isn’t theft portion, since the “property” is not removed, it is merely duplicated.

    “It takes the use of the product away from a licensed or authorized user or owner”

    Then why is that person still able to use it? If I took away the use, in theory, you would not still be using it. Your logic is illogical to me.

    “You do it, okay, but don’t justify it as being legal.”

    I know for a fact there is a fine line difference between justifying a crime, and stating that one crime and another aren’t comparable.

  17. Jibbs Mcgee says:

    I don’t think that downloading or the internet is a bad thing because it has help so many bands like lily allen, the arctic monkeys and the lions. Click on my weblink to view more about how downloading can help bands rather than hinder them

  18. Limey McWire says:

    RACISM.
    Pirates are cool.
    All the cool kids are pirates.
    You can all rant about your toothbrush shit, but I’m going to download an album.
    Laters.

  19. Mark says:

    I don’t think it’s a simple argument – but it’s just STUPID to compared music piracy to theft.

    When someone steals something, the person who has something stolen from, has lost that item.

    When someone illegally downloads a track, all it means is that maybe they won’t actually ever buy it.

    I don’t see how the act of choosing not to buy something is theft. If I buy food that has seeds in it, that enables me to grow more food myself, then am I stealing from all the supermarkets that I won’t need to buy said food from in the future?

    And what about the price? If music piracy is to be compared to theft, then lets look at the compensation. If someone steals a car, and then trashes it and gets arrested, I would imagine at the very least they have to pay back the price of the car, with whatever other costs on top, to the owned.

    If someone downloads a track illegally, then exactly how much money did people lose? One can’t even put a figure on it. To start off with it depends how much the track costs on different websites.

    What if I write a tune, and decide I will only let people download if for $50,000. If you don’t pay me $50,000, then you do not have the rights to download it.

    Now, if someone then goes and copies it – would I have the right to sue them for the lost $50,000 in earnings?

    Whilst I, and I suspect most people, cannot complete get a grip on the ethics and morals in piracy, one thing is for sure MUSIC PIRACY FOR PERSONAL USE IS ABSOLUTELY NOT THE SAME AS THEFT FROM A SHOP, AND THE MORE AND MORE IDIOTS THAT KEEP CLAIMING IT IS, THE MORE AND MORE YOU STOP MORE INTELLIGENT DISCUSSION ON THE MATTER.

    And for the record, if music piracy is a crime because of lost sales, then every single second hand games shop should be fined for causing loss of earnings to games companies. The games companies make a sale on the new game being sold – but then afterwards, that same game keeps getting resold to the shop and to customers, with the game company losing out on a ‘potential sale’ each time.

    No second hand music either. That’s a loss of a potential sale.

    Whilst we’re at it, no second hand cars should be allowed to be sold – as there’s too much potential loss of sales from new cars.

  20. Wendolyn Macarthur says:

    Andrea Bocelli is truly a master. He has a super great voice that sounds heavenly.,:,

  21. Sparxx says:

    And to Lime McWire hahaha that’s why your obvious favorite “LimeWire” website got shut down its flat out ILLEGAL

  22. Lawgirl says:

    ‘Larceny is a crime in which a person intentionally takes and carries away the property of another without permission with the intent to permanently deprive that person of their interest in that property.’
    The intention to permanently deprive comes into both UK and US and there has always been an issue of interpretation on this matter. Is it theft if I stole a season ticket to Man U until the end of the season and then gave it back? I didn’t ever intend to permanently deprive and I gave it back so technically it’s not theft… However, the value of the ticket for all the games that were missed has been permanently stolen away; this therefore would come under the definition of theft.
    An argument to take into consideration that goes against this view is whether or not the illegal downloader would have purchased the item anyway even if they could not have downloaded it for free? If the answer is ‘no’ then can one really argue that they have lost out on payment as the payment would not have been made whether the download was made legally or illegally.

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