The New York Times Upfront asked me to contribute a short piece to a point/counterpoint they were having on download. (I would defend downloading, of course.) I thought I managed to write a pretty good piece, especially for its size and audience, in a couple days. But then I found out my piece was cut because the Times had decided not to tell kids to break the law. So, from the graveyard, here it is.Footnotes and lots of comments on Aaron's site.
Stealing is wrong. But downloading isn’t stealing. If I shoplift an album from my local record store, no one else can buy it. But when I download a song, no one loses it and another person gets it. There’s no ethical problem.
Music companies blame a fifteen percent drop in sales since 2000 on downloading. But over the same period, there was a recession, a price hike, a 25% cut in new releases, and a lack of popular new artists. Factoring all that in, maybe downloading increases sales. And 90% of the catalog of the major labels isn’t for sale anymore. The Internet is the only way to hear this music.
Even if downloading did hurt sales, that doesn’t make it unethical. Libraries and video stores (neither of which pay per rental) hurt sales too. Is it unethical to use them?
Downloading may be illegal. But 60 million people used Napster and only 50 million voted for Bush or Gore. We live in a democracy. If the people want to share files then the law should be changed to let them.
And there’s a fair way to change it. A Harvard professor found that a $60/yr. charge for broadband users would make up for all lost revenues. The government would give it to the affected artists and, in return, make downloading legal, sparking easier-to-use systems and more shared music. The artists get more money and you get more music. What’s unethical about that?