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Ethics of File Sharing Music

Nearly everyday there is news of the legal, strategic, political and other objective aspects of music file sharing – here is an excellent article from the LA Times on the ethical aspects, which is ultimately the foundation of all other considerations.

    About half of the Internet users in the United States, some 60 million people, copy music, movies and other digital goodies from each other for free through online networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus — a statistic that suggests a culture of piracy already has solidified. Said one teenage Kazaa user, “It’s hard for me to see it as wrong when so many people are doing it.”

    She reflects the view of many downloaders. They understand that what they’re doing may break the rules of copyright law, but they don’t see anything immoral about it. In fact, some even argue that copying a song online isn’t “stealing” because the owner still has the original track and still can sell the CD.

    ….Said Deborah Rhode, law professor and director of the Keck Center on Legal Ethics at Stanford University: “There’s a view that no one’s really harmed. And that turns out to be one of the major predictors of dishonest behavior, whether people can actually draw a connection between their actions and some concrete identifiable victim.”

    Plus, the ephemeral nature of online music makes it difficult for some to conceive of downloading as stealing. Philips, for instance, said she would never download a movie for free. That’s not acceptable even by her college standards.

    What makes music different?

    “I guess I don’t put as high a value on it,” said Philips, whose tastes run from Aaron Copland and Stephen Sondheim to Barenaked Ladies and the Byrds.

    Expressing a common view, she said music was “more of a background thing,” providing flavor to her day but not a focus. As a result, she said, it’s “something that doesn’t feel quite as tangible” as a movie.

    ….File sharing networks are like groups of libraries that invite people to roll photocopiers from stack to stack. To “share” songs on a “peer-to-peer” network such as Kazaa, for example, users simply put them into a folder on their computer and open the folder to others on the network. Anyone searching for those songs can use Kazaa to find the computers where they’re stored, then download copies onto his or her PC.

    The Recording Industry Assn. of America argues that it’s illegal to share or download music without permission because the labels’ copyrights give them exclusive rights to distribute and make copies of their songs. That view is widely supported when it comes to users who copy hundreds of files, but some legal experts contend that downloading a few files may prove to be legal under the “fair use” doctrine in copyright law.

    “It’s far too early in the day to conclude that everything everyone does with peer-to-peer, even when it comes to copyrighted MP3 files, is conclusively infringing,” said Peter Jaszi, a law professor at American University.

    ….It’s a common refrain from downloaders — CDs are too expensive, new releases often contain only one or two good songs, and there’s no other way to satisfy their curiosity about unfamiliar bands. Another familiar argument is that they support the artists whose music they copy for free by going to their shows and buying their T-shirts.

    ….Cody Morrow, a 13-year-old Simi Valley skateboard fan, said he had used file sharing networks to locate music he couldn’t find at his local record store, such as songs from punk band Operation Ivy. By his logic, his family is paying for the privilege of access to music when it pays for Internet access.

    His mother, Maryann, an accountant, has drawn a clear line: Although reselling music downloaded from the Internet is against the rules, her son’s practice of copying music for personal use is fine.

    The notion that record labels would sue individual kids seems to generate more anger than worry. Taking families to court for behavior like her son’s, she said, is outrageous. “I’m in America. [Suing] for personal use? I think that’s crazy.”

What the article does particularly well is show the prevailing range of opinion from users, and they do see music as different (interesting to see the fundamentally different attitude toward movies), they do see sharing as something different from stealing, the RIAA has made itself a particularly unsympathetic “victim,” and eventually all of this will lead to a change in law that the public generally sees as unfair, overly restrictive and punitive.

The BEST the copyright industry can hope for is some kind of blanket licensing arrangement via ISPs in the manner of ASCAP and BMI. They would be wise to get on it now before the whole thing slips away like sand through greedy fingers.

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: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted.Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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