Illegal Downloading Is Wrong, But I Do It Anyway
Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship.
Question: If you were in the middle of a riot, streets overrun with people freaking out, smashing windows in shops and nabbing whatever they can carry by hand, would you partake in the looting?
I'd like to think I wouldn't. Theoretically, my conscience would stop me before I took the physical steps toward the theft; actually, I would likely be more afraid of being trampled than caught. This scenario makes me a hypocrite, because I need only to look at my iTunes library to see the spoils of my looting.
The current wave of debate over the morality and consequence of downloading began with Emily White's article on NPR's All Songs Considered Blog entitled "I Never Owned Any Music To Being With," which inspired a thoughtful reaction from David Lowery from Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. White's article is honest and relatable. Lowery's is so spot-on that it rubs my nose in the mess I've made on my hard drive, although I will say his angle of implicating piracy in Vic Chesnutt's suicide is more than a tad sensationalist. I won't reiterate their articles too much, but I encourage you to read both.
Theoretically, I agree with Lowery's main points -- that the industry is not the evil warlock it's made out to be and that artists rely on compensation for their efforts -- but I find myself more in the Emily White camp in my actions. Here's the difference: I know I am doing something wrong when I download an album from Mediafire, and I know Mediafire is doing something wrong by hosting the file and looking the other way.
What this debate is changing for me is my self-righteousness. I have used every excuse to justify my illegal downloading. "I'm just sampling it before I buy." (I rarely ever buy). "I'll make up for it by seeing the band when it comes to town." (I don't go to as many shows as I'd like to, and when I do, I usually use my RFT Music powers to weasel my way on to the press guest list). "The artist would be okay with it." (I do not know these people and cannot speak for them). Truly, I have the justification of a looting rioter; there are so many of us stealing that the likelihood of getting busted is minimal.
Now, if somebody asks me why I download music illegally, I might respond, "Because I'm a dick, but I'm working on it."
Certainly the system of music delivery and consumption is broken. Labels still haven't mastered digital distribution and the artists' royalty rates for iTunes and similar download services are far too low. The industry side didn't help out by suing its own customers during the Napster scare. But this is no excuse for piracy; if the issue was the artist's cut, I could pull a My Name Is Earl-esque stunt and send $1 per song to every artist I listen to via PayPal in exchange for permission or forgiveness for downloading on the black market.