In the digital age, we have become used to having everything right at our finger-tips; the advances that mobile phone technologies have made in the past decade are astounding.
Personal computers and laptops are something that have become so common in everyday life that living without them seems like a long distant memory. In turn, the music industry has evolved to match these changes in technology. Once music went digital, the trading of music became easy, and much more common. The grey areas with this, ethically, still remain.
While music piracy didn’t begin with Napster in the early 2000s, it was introduced at that time to a large audience with the creation of this easy-to-use program. Napster brought piracy to the public’s eye, and made it a hot discussion topic for some time. There was significant backlash towards this program from musicians and music executives alike, including Metallica, Dr. Dre, and Madonna. However, are successful and wealthy people really losing out from a few less record sales? This criticism was debated heavily during the Napster era, even stirring up enough media attention that a South Park episode was created on the subject.
So, the question remains: Is music piracy OK from an ethical standpoint?
Well first we have to look at the benefits and drawbacks of piracy, as well as the effects that it has on others. The most obvious benefit is that piracy will result in free music for you to listen to, transfer to your friends, and enjoy. Honestly though, the music being free is really the only benefit of note to talk about. Piracy is generally not safe or reliable, and finding an efficient way to do it if you are inexperienced is not an easy thing to do.
This brings us to the drawbacks of piracy. Foremost, it is stealing, no matter what way you try to frame it in your head. Depending on where you get the music, the files you download could easily be poor quality or corrupted. As said above, piracy sites may not exactly be the safest places to spend time online either. The most important drawback to consider though, and this goes back to the “it is stealing” idea, is that by illegally downloading music, there is ultimately less money going towards the artist that made the music. Of course, only a small percentage of music sales actually gets back to the artists in the first place. This is where the ethics of piracy begin to get fuzzy.
Many people try to limit their piracy to only downloading music of people who seem to already be successful, as they believe the artist won’t really miss out from one less record sale. Similarly, people may be more hesitant about pirating music by smaller artists, and people who they feel might need the money and support more. There are also people who will not buy digital copies of albums, but will instead pirate them and spend their money on physical copies of the album, such as CDs or vinyl records.
The reality that the music world exists in today is very different from 10 or 15 years ago. The music industry has had to adapt to the new challenge of music piracy. Facing this reality, it is not a huge secret in the music industry that musicians don’t make very much money off of record sales, unless they release things independently. Most touring musicians make their money off of the merchandise that they sell at their shows. This includes shirts, vinyl, and CDs. That being said, is piracy of digital music files more justified if the artists make very little money off of the sales anyway?
I cannot and do not condone music piracy, as it is obviously illegal. The points made here are for the sake of argument and are all hypothetical. It’s certainly something to think about, though. Next time you find yourself debating whether you want to buy an album or simply download it from elsewhere, it might be worth considering the impact of one less sale for the record company and artist. In a time when it is so easy to download things illegally, we don’t often stop to ask ourselves whether we should or not.