Piracy: It’s NOT About the Music

I’ve often written about digital piracy and its negative impact on artists, whether it be on news articles concerning new bills or laws, or just blog postings designed to try and make people understand exactly what it does. No matter what the context, inevitably, there’s always people attacking me saying that I’m wrong, close-minded, an idiot, anti-social, and a few other choice things. The thing is though, these people just don’t get it. They’re completely misunderstanding the reasons behind my argument that piracy is wrong.

Honestly, one of the biggest reasons for the misunderstanding is the complete close-mindedness of the people reading and responding. Not that they’re close-minded in general, but they get that way when they see someone saying that piracy is bad. The second they get on the topic of piracy, their eyes turn red, they grab a bullhorn, and proceed to go on a tirade like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum in a grocery store. They scream “censorship!” “disgust!” “outrage!” and any other incendiary words they can think of to portray their feelings in the most overly-dramatic way possible. When presented with an opportunity for a mature, educated discussion on the issue, they start yelling and turn it into a protest rally. Of course, no effective discussion can take place once that starts. Don’t get me wrong, there are people capable of discussing these issues, it’s just that the vast majority that I’ve interacted with online fit that bill. Since I now have the opportunity to explain my position in one uninterrupted post, I will attempt to do so in the clearest way possible: the issue of piracy has absolutely nothing to do with music at all.

In order to have an effective discussion about piracy, you must separate the legal issue of piracy from the social issue of sharing music. Right away, that should be as clear as it needs to be, but I’ll elaborate further. Contrary to what you might assume, I really do believe that people should be able to share music. I would love nothing more than a society where I could listen to all the music I want without having to go broke doing it. Unfortunately, we can’t have that and have artists making a living at the same time. Some artists could, but not on a large enough scale. Either way, again, that’s not the issue.

Let’s be clear about something: sharing music is not a crime, nor should it be. However, sharing copyrighted music against the will of the owner of that music is a crime, and it most certainly should be. It’s not about copyrighted music, it’s not about any industry, money, or anything else. Piracy being illegal is about protecting the rights of individuals and businesses to operate as they see fit, to do what they want with their property. Period. If someone wants their music to be shared, it can be shared. Legally. But if they don’t want it shared, that’s their right to decide, and theirs only—not yours. Piracy is illegal to protect your rights and freedoms. Under the current law, if you want to record a song and sell it, no matter what it cost you to make and how much you want to sell it for, it is your song, your property, and you can do what you want with it. If somebody violates your right to do that, it’s a crime, and that’s how it should be. Even though somebody taking a digital copy of it doesn’t necessarily hurt you financially (though it could), the point is that if you decide that you only want people that have paid for it to have it, that’s your right. Do you want that right taken away?

Take music out of the equation. You can substitute about any subject in there, and you’d come to the same conclusion that it’s wrong, like the apples analogy. Yes, there are intangibles. But at its very core, if you’re anywhere near a reasonable person, you can recognize that it’s wrong. You might dislike the industry, you may feel they’re greedy and wrong, and you might even hate them and want them to fail. No matter what, you have to realize there’s a right and wrong way to react to something. If some chick is wearing a skimpy outfit and throwing herself at you all night, but then she says no, she doesn’t want to sleep with you, it might piss you off, particularly if she’s been leading you on. No matter how wrong that is or how much it pisses you off, it doesn’t give you the right to sleep with her anyway, does it? That’s an extreme example, but it’s the same point that a person has a right to do what they want with their property, and nobody has a right to dictate that to them, no matter what they did to you.

If you want to send a message to record labels and artists that you think they should do something different, you should boycott them. Don’t buy the music, don’t download it, don’t listen to it on the radio, and don’t go to their shows. Pretend they don’t exist. By simply downloading their music illegally, then doing everything else as if nothing’s different will change nothing except make you a worse person. This industry is based on capitalism, as is every effective industry. If you want instead for everything to be free and to change to socialism or communism (that’s a whole different topic), then the answer isn’t just to steal it. In a system of supply and demand, you have to eliminate demand to enact change. Just stealing the supply while maintaining demand won’t change anything, and I’ll write more about that at a later time.

Despite your reasons and how you feel, if you have any decency and reason, you should realize that stealing is wrong and that pirating music is wrong. Sharing and downloading music is not wrong, unless the owner of that music doesn’t want you to. And as one last plea, even if you recognize it’s wrong but still somehow just don’t care or in some twisted way think it’s justified, I would implore you to please have some sort of honor and respect and don’t steal from unsigned bands.