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“It’s more like speeding or marijuana use”

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Rob Walker has an interesting take on file sharing in the NY Times Magazine. First, he dismisses the notion that file sharing represents the first step on a slippery slope toward the degradation of capitalism:

    For that to be the case, a couple of underlying assumptions must be true. One is that file sharing is at its heart a problem of reckless youth who simply do not understand that what they are doing is wrong and dangerous. Another is that the habits of college are the habits of a lifetime.

    We can dismiss right away the notion that most file swappers would stop if only they understood that what they’re doing is wrong. One of the most amusing research results from the various studies of music piracy is the finding that most file sharers apparently don’t care if they’re violating copyright laws. But this attitude doesn’t mean disdain for the marketplace. Earlier this year Forrester Research surveyed 12-to-22-year-olds and adults 23 and older and found that while about half the kids had downloaded songs in the past month (compared with 12 percent of the grown-ups), nearly half of the young downloaders said that they were buying as many CD’s as ever. (Members of what Forrester dubs Young Samplers on average bought 3.6 CD’s in the past 90 days.) What’s more, while 67 percent of the young cohort think ”people should be able to download music for free,” the same percent claim they are very likely to buy a CD as a result of a recent download.

Why is file sharing dominated by young people? Duh:

    But the biggest factor, as any baby-boomer politician will tell you — in fact, as most baby-boomer politicians have already told you — is that youth is a time of experimentation. If everyone carried their college-age behavior patterns into adulthood, then half our elected officials would be current recreational dope smokers. Which is probably not the case. Certainly we have all absorbed the lesson by now that it’s possible to party, get crazy and shrug off responsibility all through college and still grow up to be president.

    The lawsuits do make downloading riskier, but a major component of youthful experimentation is a liberal attitude toward risk that mellows over time. Just as important is run-of-the-mill rebellion. An unnamed 16-year-old female in Forrester’s report summarizes her defense of downloading this way: ”RECORD COMPANIES ARE UNFAIR AND ARE PART OF THE SYSTEM, GO AGAINST THE SYSTEM!!!!!!!!!”

I discussed similar matters of youthful experimentation in a post on Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.”

But while most expressions of youthful rebellion and experimentation fade with age, some don’t. Walker sees file sharing as here to stay and the RIAA is just gong to have to learn to live with it, which, since most people who file share still spend money on music, they should be able to do. The current legal route is a waste of time, money, and good will:

    The urge to cast downloading as a kind of black-and-white moral issue that simply needs to be made plain to the kids so that they will knock it off is understandable, but it’s also wishful thinking. An estimated 60 million people have downloaded songs illicitly, which makes the phenomenon bigger than a youth fad. It’s more like speeding or marijuana use — activities that many people in a wide range of ages know are ”wrong” in a technical sense but not in a behavioral sense. By now, even if the music industry is right on the legal argument, it can’t win the moral one.
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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • Stealing is still stealing. As I was just remarking in comments in another article: I think if there was a way that friends could loan to other friends, that would be palatable for everybody involved — because people have been loaning each other books, tapes, CDs for ages without conflict.

    However that is different than strangers filesharing with other strangers files that are not be borrowed or loaned, but outright copied; it’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

    And no matter what the RIAA’s heavy handed tactics are, and those of us who disagree with them, they are still technically in the right to pursue the enforcement of the music’s copyright.

  • I don’t recall the part of the Ten Commandments that appends Thou shalt not steal with “unless the victim is a big corporation, even if it is filthy and vile.”

    I like “The Simpsons” as much as the next guy, but looking to Homer for moral guidance is just dumb. Stealing cable is wrong, period.

  • File sharing is like Stealing Cable. As Homer Simpson read from a brochure called “So You’ve Decided to Steal Cable,” he stated the basis of the “Stealing Cable Doctrine,” something along the lines of “it’s not really stealing because it’s a big company and nobody cares.”

    I have no strong position on this issue, but there’s the view of one of America’s foremost philosophers.

  • File sharing is stealing. I see no excuse or justification for it (though I believe the RIAA’s lawsuits are unconscionable). However, teenage rebellion notwithstanding, comparing file sharing to speeding is ludicrous; speeding can lead to loss of life. And comparing it to marijuana usage? Uh, no; that’s just stupid. Perhaps one could say speeding while under the influence of marijuana or martinis, but then we get back to the previous statement — DUI can lead to loss of life, but file sharing can not. (Unless one counts the heart attack a clueless parent could have upon discovering that his or her teenage child’s activities have brought a process server to the doorstep.)