Piracy is ethical issue

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Every time I hear a song I like, I make a mental note to download it. Even when I’m chatting online with a friend, he will sometimes send me a song he just downloaded. And every now and then my sister buys a CD and burns me a copy.

Is this illegal behavior or just our way of making a statement?

The creators of the music we’re exchanging say there’s something wrong with this free trade of music. But everybody’s doing it. At least, that’s the way our generation has been operating since Napster came out. None of us would have thought we were doing something wrong until Metallica accused us of stealing.

True, the artists do not benefit when we download a song for free. In fact, it makes it more difficult for them to continue creating music because the more music is “pirated,” as such file-sharing is called, the more their profits dwindle.

But this doesn’t affect just the artists – there are also background people who work on a set. For instance, the technicians who help produce the music. It’s like that commercial shown in movie theaters during previews: A stuntman, who has worked in many movies and has a relatively small salary (compared to the actors, director, producer, etc.), says it’s his paycheck that suffers when we copy movies.

Still, our generation sees things differently. We don’t see the art of entertainment as a private possession but as a public one. The art belongs just as much to the creator as it does to the person who appreciates it. We all take something from every movie we watch and every song we hear, and there is no way for anyone to charge us for that. This is the most significant contribution of art – the ability to create in us the drive to dream and to live better.

So, in a sense, being on the receiving side of the production of movies and music can be just as important as being on the creative side because we endow the art with an emotional impact. Truth is, the exchange between audience and art is worth more than just money. For most of us, the ability to escape reality cannot be quantified into a monetary sum.

So then the question becomes: Has technology changed our concept of private property? The fact that a typically moral person who would never dare steal from a store has no qualms in listening to songs online or on a burned CD that she got for free points to a discrepancy between what we believe we are doing and what others perceive we are doing.

I agree that artists are entitled to the monetary profits from their creations, but if sharing their art with the world is as important as they claim it is, then it should be more accessible to young people who are living off weekly allowances or measly part-time jobs.

Perhaps both groups should compromise: We would concede to listen to shared music by paying an annual fee to join special Web sites and, in turn, musicians would agree to have their music displayed there and accept a lesser profit.

Truth is, our generation has had to make ethical judgments on many issues because of new technology.

Our parents never had the option to partake in this level of piracy, so it was never their battle. As technological progress continues, more of these issues will arise and our actions will signal our response.

So when we accept burned copies of CDs or surf the Net for the latest pop hits, we are voicing our opinion.

It is up to us to step back to the halfway mark that we passed so long ago and to make a fair compromise between “piracy” and taking what is rightfully ours.