Why I Don’t Download Music


I’m against downloading music. While this may not seem like an unusual position, as a college-aged kid, this puts me in the minority. Most of my friends have fairly large unpaid-for music libraries. Unfortunately, I see the trend expanding as many of my middle-aged friends are getting iPods and jumping on the free-music bandwagon.

I’m not going to preach why downloading music is unethical. I don’t feel it is ethical, but I’m sure we’ve all seen enough of the “downloading is theft” public service ads that the message doesn’t need repeating. Instead, I’d like to focus on my completely selfish motives for avoiding free entertainment, free software or other forms of copyright infringement.

The Artist Sets the Price

Every artist, whether it is a Linus Torvalds building the next Windows-crushing operating system or Eminem, sets the price for his or her creations. Most of us are trained to see the word “price” and think “money.” But a price doesn’t need to have a cash amount, the price is whatever tradeoff the artist wanted when he or she decided to create.

I have set completely different prices for the work I have created. This article is completely free for you to view as many times as you want. But I still retain the copyrights, meaning I don’t approve of people distributing the article online without my permission. In this case, the price for my work is that I want to increase the visibility of my website and my writing. By reading this article for free, you have paid the price I set for my work.

I also have a free e-book on this website detailing the basics of my holistic learning concept. As I explain the e-book, I don’t care whether you put the book up for download or even if you link back to this website. The price I set for that book was seeing the holistic learning concept spread. Even by taking my e-book and putting it for download on your site with no link back, you have paid the price I set for my work.

I have an e-book for sale on this website at just under $15. Although my price for this book is monetary, it is no different than any price I set. I set the price for my own work.

Open-Source Has a Price

Even something as free as open-source has a price determined by the artist. The countless contributors to programs such as Firefox and Linux might be setting the price of their work as simply seeing their creation in the world. The cost of their services is the joy they get from seeing a better browser or operating system.

In the book, The Fountainhead, Howard Roark decides to create a building even though he will receive no payment and the building will be made under another man’s name. His selfish motive is simply that he wants to see the building created. He sets the price for his work, even though he doesn’t get a single penny.

Only some artists set a price in dollars and cents. But every artist still sets a price.

Downloading is Only Cheating Yourself

You always have the right to refuse the price set by an artist. But in that case, you must also refuse accepting the artist’s creation. Two things happen when you break this principle:

  1. You essentially declare the stolen creation valueless.
  2. You devalue the price you set for your own work.

Stolen Goods and Valueless Creations

In violating the price set by any creator, you have just declared that this creation is valueless. Although the creation will still function properly and give benefits, you’ve stripped it of all value. As a result, what you have now is just a hollow collection of bits and bytes.

Music doesn’t have many functional properties. The source of value with music comes entirely from the vision and work of the artist. By stripping that value by refusing to pay the artist’s price, you’re just left with carefully arranged noise. The music may sound the same, but it has lost what was most important.

Degrading Yourself

You are an artist too. By declaring the creations of others meaningless, you devalue your own work. Would you like to be wealthy, share your ideas and creations across the world and truly help people? How can you do that if everything you produce is valueless?

Every act of copyright-infringement is making a small statement that all creations are valueless. There is no dividing line in which you can say that some creations are valueless and can be taken without paying a price and some are valuable and need the artist’s consent. Either creations have value or they don’t. You make the decision with each creation you pay for and with each creation take by force.

How Do You Apply This Principle in the Real World?

Unfortunately, accepting the principle that creations do have value isn’t enough to change your behavior. I strive to be as good as possible with respecting the creator’s price, but I can’t claim perfection.

There are also many gray areas for this principle. I’m not against borrowing physical books, but I’m against copying digital books (unless this conforms to the authors price, of course). I’m not against borrowing a CD from a friend to listen to, but I am against borrowing one from a stranger via Kazaa. Where do you draw the line?

The fact that some gray areas exist doesn’t mean there isn’t places of mostly-black and mostly-white. Some people would argue that because you can’t uphold a principle 100% of the time that you shouldn’t bother with it at all.

I’m a vegetarian, but I still eat eggs and I’m wearing a leather belt. If I believe in the benefits of rising early, but sleep in late one day, does that mean my entire belief system is faulty? I believe in making slow steps to align yourself instead of expecting perfection.

The Music Industry is Broken

As a business student and passive observer, I feel that the music industry is broken. But the fact that this industry doesn’t work in today’s world doesn’t mean copyrights are old-fashioned and should be ignored. It just means that the industry will need to adapt to the internet and a changing world.

It’s easy to see the music industry (or Microsoft, movie studios or any other artist conglomerate) as being greedy. But couldn’t the same be said of Linux developers? Their price is to create the best operating system in the world. Just because one organization sets their price in dollars doesn’t mean that their work warrants theft.

As for my own creations I’m entirely selfish and greedy. I’m greedy even when I give things away for free with no credit back to myself. The problem isn’t my motivation, it’s your associations to the word “greed”.


I honestly expect not to convince anyone who is already set in their ways. I write not to convince other people to adopt my philosophy of life, but to expose a different viewpoint. As an early-rising, atheist, pro-choice, productivity-focused vegetarian, I’m comfortable being in the extreme minority of public opinion.

For me, the reasons not to violate an artist’s price are obvious. Downloading music strips that music of all intrinsic worth, making it a collection of sounds rather than the creative expression of another human being. Worse, it slowly erodes the value of your own creations. How can you set a price for your own work if through each download you declare all creations to be valueless?

  • seasbut@yahoo.com

    nah,your just saying that because you want people to buy your ebook!And not put it up on bit-torrent.

  • alexie

    what a useless article ..so you think you are better than anyone else for not downloading music. I can see that you are the type of person who will pay full retail for everything. what a sucker…go ahead and pay lots of money for dvds,cds, games where we can everything for free on the net. let me help you. http://www.torrentspy.com.

    anything can be found on the net for free. i dont believe the material that people create are really of value anyways, look at the material you write, it can also be found at wiki or some other tip site..so if u decide to record a audiobook and charge $7 a download

    i will buy it and share it the world after.

  • Bjørn

    Dear Scott,

    until now I followed your very well written blog, but by reading this post I’m deeply disappointed.

    First, the terminus you’re using is not correct: there is a big difference between “downloading music” and “illegally downloading music”! There is endless music in the internet, which can be downloaded for free, just as everybody can read your blog. You can’t subsumize both, “legally downloading music” and “illegally downloading music” under the term “downloading music”. This is just window-dressing, or is it sponsored by a music company?
    So, if one shouldn’t download free music, why should someone read your free blog? What is the difference between your creation and the one of a musician?
    As I can’t see any reason, why one should not download/copy something, which he is allowed to by the creator, the following will refer to illegal downloads.
    You state, that downloading only cheats one self in two ways:
    In my opinion, it doesn’t declare the creation valueless. Also a illegally downloaded song can for example cause happiness, tears, emotions. This is also a value – just not measured in money.
    Second, you say, that it devalues the price for your own work, but you don’t explain, why that’s the cause!

    Have you ever thought, that the “downloading is theft” public service ad could just be bullshit? What means the word “theft”? Taking away something from someone. But by downloading or copying something, you don’t take away / steal anything. You just don’t pay the price. And, if something can be acquired for free, it has no value, one would pay for. It still has values different of money, such as meaningsfullness, emotional influences.
    Thus, this ad is only a creation of people, who want to earn even more money.

    (Physical) Items are valueable (in monetary senses), because they can’t be copied or duplicated for free. But music (in the form of mp3s), texts, and ideas (nonphysical “things”), can be duplicated without loss for free! Thus it has no value.

    The music- and other avaricious industries just want to create value out of nowhere. On the other side, a ticket for a concert has a value: there are not infinite places where you can experience the concert.

    I don’t want to invite anybody to illegally download or copy something, but I want to state, that the current copyright politics have nothing to do with real value and are not justified.
    Every year millions of people have to die in the third world, because the medicine they need is too expensive, because they are under copyright.
    These medicines have a value in monetary senses for the pharma industry, but they are of no value to the people who need them.
    By the way, I hope Scott, that you are not going to sing “Happy Birthday” anymore, because it is under copyright! Don’t steal this song from the author, create your own. And if you do so, your blog will be rendered valueless. *gg*

    Summary: something you can have for free without taking it away from someone else has no value in monetary senses.

  • Thomas

    “The artist sets the price”

    No. The record company sets the price. By far the largest part of the money you pay never reaches the artist.

    “You devalue the price you set for your own work.”

    Why? I do not see how this follows from anything.

    I agree pirating is unethical, but “sponsoring” the music industry which — as you rightfully say — is broken, is also bad. So the only correct course for all of us to follow is to stop listening to music altogether! 😛

  • Chrissy – The Executive Assist

    I’m really interested in what you’re saying here and I think I agree. I don’t copy music from others or use share programs, but I do download from I-tunes which charges me a $1 (a portion of which I assume gets back to the artist at some point).

    I find this article fascinating and a very nice defense of your position. I would love to read an equally eloquent and well thought-out response from someone on the other side of the coin. Unfortunately, I don’t think music poachers really think about the consequences of what they’re doing and if they did, I don’t know that they could find a way to defend it.

    Great article – I can tell you put some thought into this. Very nice to read.

  • Elliott

    Scott, one thing I think you can add to this is the fact that a lot of people are able to use what they’ve done for free – writing, software creation, etc – and parlay that into huge careers because they became “famous” doing something for free to start out with.

    Musicians are no different. There are a lot of young artists independently pushing for their music to be available for free, build a base of fanatics who will then pay to see or hear them play again.

    If people weren’t so greedy in the first place, many of them would make money 10-fold down the line.

    Let’s all focus on giving instead of receiving.

  • Ben

    I’m not a student or an artist. My response to this article are the following thoughts.

    Nearly two decades ago I worked at a venue that had bands playing every weekend. The bands had varying degrees of success and the bands in the early stage of their careers had a limited choice of record companies so they were in the weak position as far as recording contracts went. Many of these artists don’t have music careers now, but some who are no longer beholden to the record companies have found alternative methods to continue playing music and be fairly renumerated for their artistry.

    I expect to be paid for the skills and knowledge that I bring to my employer – I wouldn’t work for free – I don’t expect artists to work for nothing and downloading non-paid for music ultimately reduces any royalty payments that the creator would receive from the record company.

    I’m not a Radiohead fan, and not every musical act is in their financial position, but they are a great example of an artist setting their own price.

    Those who create “art” are just as entitled as those who work for employer to be paid for their work, knowledge and skills.

  • Kali

    I’m interested in knowing what indicators there are if someone “lowers” their price that another will not exploit that price. Changes from one price to another require courage, but the change is foolhardy if the new price is distorted in a way that others lower it.

  • Carlos

    Thomas, the (music) artist still sets their own price.

    They sold their art to the record company when they signed a contract in exchange for an advance and a record deal. The record company owns the rights to their art at that point. Now, as the rightful owner, the record company can set a price of its own.

    Whether most of what you pay for music goes to the artist or not, the artist has been paid the initial price they set. If you want to enjoy the art, the record company deserves to be paid the price they set as well.

  • Chris O’Donnell

    I don’t think you can have a true entrepeneur spirit if you are not prepared to pay for services and goods. It is hypocritical to expect people to pay for your goods and services yet take others’ good and services for zero payment. However, I must confess I am not perfect on this front but try to make an effort to pay for what I use.

  • Eamon

    You fallaciously equate price with value. The two concepts are by no means identical.

    The value of a item depends on the circumstance. A particular piece of work – such as music – for example has a far, far higher value to its creator than to other individuals, which is why an artist will need to duplicate the work many times in order to generate a net gain. Such duplication might come in the form of performing for not just one person, but many (i.e., a concert), or of selling many copied recordings of the song, or by performing the same song multiple times.

    Setting the price of a piece of art is a difficult calculus. The price you ask is far far lower than it’s value to you, intrinsically. The price ideally would be a fair compromise depending on the circumstance of each transaction – but that’s impossible.

    Ignoring details such as bandwidth and attention, common gratis open source software has a price, and it is zero (0). Despite its low, low price (buy now!), it nevertheless can provide very high value.

    Ask Asus, who benefit by selling their attractive eee PC’s by leveraging the low price but high value (to them) of open source software.

    Price is a tool, but value is inherent. It is possible to create value without a price, and even possible to encourage the creation of value without using price.

    Not just is confusing value and price is a mistake, it’s misleading to believe that there is moral imperative which should lead us to pay where it is not necessary: The entire functioning of the free market and entrepreneurship within it depends in essence on sellers providing, for as high a price as the market will bear that which buyers will consumer for as low a price as possible.

    All information markets face the fundamental quandary of how to price the (valuable) duplication and modification of existing information when its cost is neigh nothing and no scarcity is involved. A functioning market should price duplication near its cost. We intentionally distort the market based on the belief that the value to society lost by limiting duplication and modification is less than the value gained by encouraging creation. This entails a trade-off, and it is not the case that there is an obvious best choice.

  • Greg

    If an artist makes music for their passion of making music as does Roark with his architecture then I’d pay a million dollars if I had to. I live in NYC and I’m a proud supporter of the live music scene here, especially when bands are still playing music for themselves or as they’ll tell you, “trying to make it”. However, as soon as an artist starts making music for the man, they’ve handed over their values and it has become the man’s music. Supporting that is a different story.

    You might say, “Good, Greg, and since you don’t support that you wouldn’t download it.” Well, I might, because, damnit, I’ll be the first to admit that the man can make some really catchy tunes.

  • Scott Young

    I was hoping this post would get some good discussions going, seems I was right. Thanks for all the comments everyone:


    I figured the difference between legally downloading music and illegally downloading music was too obvious to waste space in my article discussing. Both downloading music with the owners consent and downloading music through services like iTunes or Rhapsody wouldn’t apply.

    Did I say downloading was theft? If I did, forgive my slip. Copyright infringement is not theft. But the fact that it isn’t the same as stealing, doesn’t immediately give it the thumbs-up from an ethical position.

    As for “Happy Birthday” and Big-Pharma, you bring up a good contrast between patents and copyright. Those are areas that are more grey, as I alluded to in my article. The question is when a product of your mind becomes sufficiently complex to be considered “yours”. I’m against software patents primarily because most of them don’t (in my opinion) reach this threshold.

    Another argument could be made that when a song, such as “Happy Birthday” reaches a certain point of ubiquity, that others should be allowed to expand on the same idea (as I would be singing it myself). Copyright laws in the United States have an expiry date, but with the increasing pace of intellectual property creation and transmission, this may be overreaching.

    Modern society is built on intellectual property. The fact that it is easy to copy large pieces of complex information easily, does not mean that information is valueless.


    Forgive me for confusing the issue by using the word “price”. “Price” in this sense is whatever I, as an artist, expect to receive from other people enjoying my creation. That price doesn’t need to be in dollars, but anything I feel is valuable enough to spend my time creating.

    I use OpenOffice.org (a free open-source software) instead of Microsoft Office. Does that mean Microsoft Office has value and OO doesn’t? No. It simply means that the authors of the two programs set a different price.

    The only way you can declare a creation valueless if you refuse to pay the artists price, and still consume the product. Whether that price is extremely high or extremely low is another issue.


    Giving away for free is an excellent marketing strategy. 90% of my writing is completely free, and I had written over 200 articles before I decided to sell even a small portion of my writing.

    My point isn’t that artists should begin charging immediately for their services. Free is a good strategy. But it is up to the artist to decide whether he/she wants to pursue that strategy.


    Would you like to elaborate on what you mean by an artist losing their values by handing their music “over to the man”. I enjoy independent and non-MTV music as well, but that is reflected in my tastes for the music I purchase.

    And for those of you who see downloading music as protesting the music industry, stop. A better protest would be to not download, listen to or spread word of mouth advertising for big music and focus your purchases on independent music, or music that is freely available on the internet (with the authors consent).

  • Graham

    Eh, I tune out whenever someone starts quoting the Fountainhead in philosophical sympathy to their argument. Rand’s hopelessly romanticized views make for great stories about selfish jerks who pout until they get their way under some great banner of heroism and long-winded courtroom diatribes, but they don’t hold a candle to the real world where ~6.49999 billion other people need to get along. Sorry mate.

    I like most of your articles, but in this one you seem to be trying to apply that wonderfully analytical brain of yours to matters of business ethnics and human nature that just aren’t as black and white as GTD and productivity.

    I tried to follow your reasoning, but it seems like you’ve made up your mind on the downloading issue and have written this essay backwards in an attempt to rationalize it. I don’t buy it. If you don’t want to download, don’t; but you can’t claim I am failing to find value in the works that I do, because you have no basis beyond your own for my what experience of it is. Maybe I download so much music because I have actually have an abnormally massive appreciation for it (rather than what seems to be your implied lack of appreciation) and couldn’t afford all the wonderful music I currently experience and still pay my rent.

    I agree with you that theft isn’t OK. In a crime-free world, I should have to always pay the artist’s price, and it should be tough cookies for me if I can’t – but hey, it’s also part of human nature to take what we can get. The music is there, so I download it. I know it’s stealing. I just don’t care enough to not do it. Same is true of most people. You might not agree with that, but it’s how it is. Keep it up and we might just start calling you Lars 🙂

    The consequences of this fundamental human tendency has changed the face of music distribution. It might seem like stealing, but thanks to downloading, we now have MP3 blogs of unsigned artists, streaming Myspace profiles, and the Apple store, among many other legit forms of downloading.

    No offense, but your position seems a little outdated and naive, like some fear-mongering record exec pundit from 2001 in a huff about the “evils” of MP3s. Have we not all seen by now that downloading music (even illegal downloading) is not killing the music industry, but actually evolving it?

  • kaley

    you are such a hypocrite. you think you are righteous because you dont download music, yet you charge money for your little e-books. why arent your e-books FREE? are u greedy or just selfish? thats really low

  • Ilham Hafizovic

    I enjoyed reading the article as I have started sharing similar ideas. I was an (illegal) downloader or many things, including music. But recently, actually since I started university I just took it upon myself to stop. I didn’t stop with full force but slowly, currently everything I have downloaded is being deleted and I am downloading less and less (illegal things).

    But one of the reasons that I don’t wish to download anymore is because like you said that is someone else’s work. I always forget who said it, but “If you want respect from someone, then respect others.”

    In other words if you all want to download, that is fine but don’t think people will not take things for free from you even though you put a copyright sign and price tag on your product (this is if you ever make something or write a book).

    On the other hand I do agree that the article displays a lot of what seems to be a business-like mind which is fine because as I can remember that is what Scott is studying. Also the article does express his own ideas, so what it is his blog and his ideas no one else’s. The comment section is for others to add their own ideas.

  • rottie

    Hi Scott,

    Great post.

    I wished more people had your opinion. Like you said, the artist decides the price for his works. If we like the music (or other type of works) we should respect the artist.

    However, this does not mean that you should not download music. Plenty of good artists release their work under creative commons.
    And you can listen to, and sometimes download their music, without disrespecting the artist. In fact, you do them a favor by listening. If you like it, you can buy it at fair prices.

    You can find a lot of great work at:

    And many others… 🙂

    Happy listening.

  • Kabir

    Some old songs are hard to find in stores, and then you have to end up buying the whole album. Way more convenient to download them.

  • Scott Young

    More great comments. Thanks for the thoughts!


    I agree with you:

    1) My decision to stop downloading music was from thinking through my beliefs on the issue. I had never been a large music downloader, but occasionally I didn’t really take a firm stance against it. I’d listen to unlicensed songs on YouTube and a friend would lend me music that they didn’t pay for.

    Instead of taking a passive stance against the issue, I took a deeper look at my beliefs. The arguments I lay out in the article were what I came up with.

    Is this a black or white issue? Of course not. I already mention in the article that there is plenty of gray. My point is that the fact that these sorts of decisions are hard, doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Life is full of gray decisions, you can’t quit just because the answer isn’t immediately obvious.

    And I’m using the terms “download” and “illegally download” synonymously. That’s incorrect and I’m well aware of it. I have plenty of legal downloads of music from artists whose price wasn’t in monetary terms. I didn’t think it was necessary to explain this distinction in the article.


    Your argument doesn’t make sense. Not downloading music and charging for information products would be consistent, not inconsistent beliefs. If I downloading music without paying for it and still expected people to not pirate my works–that would be hypocritical.

    As I said in the article, I don’t expect to change anyone’s beliefs. I’m a vegetarian, but I’m fine if people eat meat around me. I’m an atheist, but I’m fine if people prefer to believe in God.

    My articles explain my reasoning on a subject. That’s the whole point of this entire website. Not to convert people into becoming productive, habit-changing, vegetarian, goal-setting atheists. But rather to explain why I do what I do, and why I feel it works for me. Whether you decide to agree with me and change your own behaviors, or ignore me is completely up to you.

    Great comments, keep them coming. Is there any other counter-arguments I haven’t responded to?

  • kaley

    you never answered why you charge people money for your e-books. if you are actually trying to improve peoples lives, then you shouldnt be taking money out of their pockets. if you are truly benevolent, then you would share your e-book information for free to improve society. since your books are not printed or published, you dont have a reason to charge the extra money, except for your own greediness.

  • Iair

    I appreciate your point, but I just disagree. some of the arguments mentioned above are enough. But maybe it’s a matter of culture. Here, in Argentina, there is no “copyright culture”. Over than 95% of the software are ilegal copies, there are many reasons for that, but the main is the cultural one. In General, people here thinks it’s ok, so they do pirate software, music, and everything they can. I heard that in Canada there is some difference to this. People maybe think more about being fair with software producers and artist.
    In my particular case, I know everyone can download a popular e-book for free without paying. But I wanted to support you and your interest of receiving what you planned to. So I bought your book. And if it’s Rational for me and my reality in Argentina to buy your next e-book or material, I will pay for it. And Honestly, If not, I will try NOT to read it by the “other ways”.
    So continue doing what you do, and let the users valuate and support your work. I think you won’t be dissapointed.
    BTW, FeedBlitz its great for me! I can read your posts while on my commute time over my mobile phone Gmail Client!

  • Stefan

    I see some potential flaws in your reasoning:

    First the artist doesn’t always set the price. Often the price is set by the firm that manages the artist.

    Second: Price does not equal value.

    Third: By stealing you refuse to pay the set price, but it doesn’t follow from this that you “declare the stolen creation valueless” – just that you value the creation below the set price.

    Fourth: You do not thereby “devalue the price you set for your own work” if that price is “free” (and your value are joy from creating, giving etc.).

  • Scott Young


    I charge money for my e-books because I would like to live off the income generated by this website. If I can live off the income from this blog it means I don’t need to split my time between this and a full time job. Earning more income also gives me more flexibility in my own personal development, so I have more to share with you.

    My purpose in this blog is both selfish and altruistic. In an ideal world, you are both selfish and altruistic at the same time.


    My issue isn’t a cultural one. As I mentioned (and you can see from the comments) many people disagree with my stance on copyrights even in my own culture. My stance is a personal one, so I don’t think cultural relativism is a good argument in defense or against copyrights.


    Good points.

    I think most of the confusion is with how I used the word “price”. When I talk about an artists “price” I’m not referring specifically to the money they charge for the product. I should have thought of a better word to describe the concept of an artist’s price, but my vocabulary is limited.

    A better way to think of it is in a job. If I worked at McDonalds (I don’t, but humor me) then my price for creating burgers and fries is the wages I earn. I wouldn’t create the burgers and fries if I didn’t get paid a wage. In this case my minimum wage paycheck is my “artist’s price.”

    In order for that price to be satisfied, people need to pay for burgers and fries. If they stole burgers without paying for them, McDonalds would be (eventually) unable to pay my price in the form of wages. McDonalds, in this sense, is an organization that makes it easier for my price (in hourly wages) to be converted into a customer price (2$ for a burger).

    If you download a CD, the artist can’t receive royalties, which (if they decided to sell their music) was a component of the artist’s price. The actual physical price charged by Universal or Virgin is irrelevant.

    2 & 3) Price does not equal value.

    True. What I’m suggesting is that if you violate a fair transaction, the loss of value works both ways.

    If you work at McDonalds and customers start stealing burgers, McDonalds will eventually be unable to pay your wages (or go bankrupt). The value I receive from working there is in the form of a paycheck. The value you receive is in enjoying a Big Mac.

    My point is that if you steal the Big Mac, the McDonalds worker (in the long-run) cannot receive any value from the transaction. I’m arguing from a philosophical perspective that this also impacts the value of what you receive, since it undermines fair transactions.

    4) What do you do for a living?

    Creating for free is nice, but last time I checked you still had to pay for food. You are a creator, whether you work at McDonalds or write beautiful music. When you violate the price set by other artists, you declare that it isn’t necessary to engage in fair transactions with other people.

    Making this statement means that you are fine if people refuse to pay the price you set for your work. This essentially strips the value of what you’re doing.

    As for whether it is not okay to steal something physical (like a burger) but okay to steal something intangible (like a song), I think the physicalness of a product is besides the point.

    The movie industry is a great example. The cost of distributing a single movie is almost free. But the cost of producing the first movie is in the millions of dollars. Unless the first customer is expected to pay a few million dollars for his copy of the movie, the total “costs” of production need to be spread over all units.

    Even if you are arguing that people shouldn’t make a profit (which I’m not), then you can’t say a song is “free” because it costs nothing to copy.

  • Maxine

    Scott, while I appreciate the motivation behind your article and do think it is a topic of consideration in this bit-torrent world, I’m not sure your article hit the spot.

    To be honest, I’m left with the primary impression that your opinions arise from now being resource provider with something to sell as opposed to a pure resource consumer.

    I’m sure people downloading music would have a significant impact on the recording industry artists. It would be interesting to know what this has been, realistically, not the doomsday predictions from the RIAA. It would be interesting to speculate on what a better model would be.

    Your article needs to expand beyond ‘downloading stuff for free is bad’ which, no offense, is what it largely is. I think we expect better from you in terms of actually exploring the issue in all aspects, good & bad, shade & light.

    Ah, ‘constructive’ criticism. I’m sure you’re loving it.

  • Kat

    I was very surprised when I read this article. You churn out all this great stuff then all of sudden publish this absurd piece of I don’t know what.

    “You essentially declare the stolen creation valueless.”

    “By stripping that value by refusing to pay the artist’s price, you’re just left with carefully arranged noise.”

    “Downloading music strips that music of all intrinsic worth, making it a collection of sounds rather than the creative expression of another human being.”

    I’m just dumbfounded by your article, it’s one ridiculous statement after the other. I really don’t know how to respond to it, it’s wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. My jaw just dropped to see that you wrote this, but no intelligent words are coming out.

  • Morgan


    I think you would appreciate the Buddhist definition of stealing: Taking what is not given. According to this definition, downloading music illegally is morally wrong, because the music in question wasn’t given freely to download. I like this definition because it can include intangibles as well as tangible objects. Perhaps you’ll like it, too.

  • Nico


    – artists don’t set price, Sony or whoever does
    – artists make money from concerts/merchandise
    – if music free, more people access it, more people go to concerts thus artists make more money.

    I totally support downloading

  • Scott Young


    Free is a strategy. The question is whether it should be the artists decision or yours, in whether they like to pursue it.

    If I give away an article for free it is because I set that as my price.

    If you read an article I set up a fee for reading, without paying that fee, you’ve undermined my ability to decide what to do with my own works.

    If you don’t like Sony, or don’t believe they add any value to the artists work, don’t listen to music from Sony.

    Imagine if I was an artist and I didn’t want to set up any concerts or merchandise. Or a movie producer that didn’t want to go to movie theaters. Does this mean I shouldn’t be allowed to receive any return on my works?


    My point, which unfortunately I didn’t make clear in the article, is simple:

    We are all “resource-providers”. If you earn a living, you do work as an artist. Unless you live in the forest by yourself and don’t use human currency, you buy into the system of creation and trade.

    The only selfish reason to say “downloading is bad” is because it undermines your own work.


    You feel strongly about the article, but I haven’t read much of a rebuttal. Care to share?

  • Richard

    While it may be true that we cannot escape the hugely powerful effects of a society driven by capitalism, when we are offered the opportunity to do so, as is the case with illegal downloading, there can be little wonder as to why people celebrate this opportunity. I cannot think of a single person who would actually want to pay for any product, especially when the price being asked far exceeds the so called ‘value’ of the product.
    The simple reality is that we pay far too much for just about everything we buy, and as a result spend huge portions of our lives working boring jobs (exactly what you are doing at the moment Scott) to satisfy the cost of living.

  • Scott Young


    I’m not sure where you get the idea that most products are overpriced? Given the deflationary effects of increased competition on prices and the division of labor, most products have been driven down in price greatly. I’m sure if you tried to make your own car, it would cost more (counting your labor) than buying one from Honda. Same for trying to grow your own wheat for bread or building a superconductor.

    And who said I find this job boring?


  • Su

    LOL i think Scott has a good opinion, never the less i think i’ll stick to downloading music until i get a job to pay for soundtracks..lol

    Hey Scott i read in one of your posts your a vegetarian..really since when?..was it hard making the transition?..that’s cool

  • Scott Young


    The transition was much easier than I expected. I’ve been a vegetarian for over two years now.


  • echoplex


    overall i support your sentiments. however, as an argument, i saw loopholes in language and reasoning for people to jump through right away, as they have in the comments above.

    still, it’s excellent for anyone to take a stand on this issue these days. illegal downloading is insanely prevalent in pretty much every culture.

    i have strived to come up with a proper analogy to make people understand what is being stolen, to put other people in the shoes of the artist. unfortunately, most analogies fail due to the nature of digital copies.

    i think part of the problem is that because recorded music has traditionally been commodified as a physical product, we tend to counter with a similar story centering around another physical product (such as the “burger analogy”). we lost the ability to make that direct connection once recorded music became able to be removed from a physical carrier. an analogy involving stealing other physical items can be immediately dismissed by anyone on the other side of the argument.

    this is fitting, since any musician copyrighting their work has probably learned that music is not considered to be a commodity (product) but a service by US copyright law. this is why a band or label’s name is not a trademark but a service mark.

    a better analogy would appeal to people whose jobs are to provide a service for their paycheck. if their job was somehow duplicated or removed of value, they may eventually find it difficult or impossible to continue providing the service, whether they do it on their own or under the umbrella of an employer. your refinement of the “burger analogy” in your february 10 2008 comment made more sense of this.

    here’s a service-based analogy maybe more people can understand.

    you drive a car to a place you can work for 8 hours a day at an internship you hope to become a job. you’re spending money on gas and food every day, as well as your time and effort on your job. at some point, you hope to be told your services are necessary and you will be officially hired. but instead, they just smile, say thank you, and “see you monday”. there is only so long you can keep that up, with money going out and none coming in. all the while, you’re doing something you love, but getting nothing in return to even repay what you’ve put out, much less make anything above that. you have the option of leaving, and using your experience there as a way of proving the service you provide is desired and valuable. except that every job you go to does the same thing. you get praise and requests for more, but no pay. however, sometimes the company offers weekend work, which by law they have to pay for. so, after already working a full week, you can choose to work on the weekends to make money. while you’re there, you’re allowed to bring in your homemade cookies to sell to whoever’s there. of course, when you have time or resources to bake those cookies is a mystery. and you have spent so much money on expenses that you end up having to overcharge for the cookies to make up for everything else.

    just to connect the dots:
    – writing and recording music = daily job (a service that costs time and money to do)
    – concert touring = overtime (a separate undertaking from recording that has its own costs in money)
    – merchandise = cookies (a product you create that has some connection to what you do but is not really essential)

    wouldn’t it make more sense to just get paid a decent wage for your job, work overtime if the demand is there, and make cookies if you have the time and inclination?

    and if someone answers “yes” to that, do you think that makes them “greedy”?

  • Scott Young

    echoplex, thanks for the comment. I agree with you.

  • aussiebear

    I think you’ve made a mis-conception about Linux.

    The goal isn’t to create “the best OS in the world” or to topple Microsoft. Its to create an operating system (Unix-like) that is free to be used by all.

    “Free” (liberty) is defined by the General Public License or GPL. (Which Linux is under).

    The intention of the GPL is to offer 4 freedoms:

    * The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

    * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1).

    * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

    * The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3).

    That’s why the source code for Linux is also available!

    Piracy doesn’t exist in open source software like Linux, because at a fundamental level, the developers have allowed it to be shared. They want it to be shared by all.

    No one cares what you do with it, as long as you comply with the GPL. Heck, even if the Electronic Freedom Foundation takes legal action against you (if you violate the GPL), they will specifically say they don’t want money. They want compliance.

    Microsoft’s problem (like the movie, music, and software industry), is that they’re fundamentally working on a business model that no longer fits into the world. The world has changed thanks to the Internet. (Which has become the optimum medium for distribution).

    I’m not saying pirating is OK. Pirating software also hurts open source software like Linux, as people continue to support some de-facto standard. (Controlled by one company).

    Microsoft understands this, and even deliberately lets people pirate their software (as Bill Gates put it) to get them “addicted”. Then they’ll use things like “Genuine Advantage” anti-piracy schemes to try to turn illegal users into legal ones. (Of course, this scheme fails as people have worked out faking the program).

    Microsoft believes that money should be received for the work they’ve done. So their business model is mainly about software licenses and selling services.

    The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) community doesn’t care much about the money, (well, its not a primary) as its mainly about the code and the ideals behind it. (Freedom as in liberty).

    Its just two different perspectives.

    Personally, I don’t pirate copyright content as I feel its largely a waste of time. I often read books and do other things in life…Learn something new or pick up a new hobby.

  • Scott Young


    I’ve oversimplified the set of values in open-source and the lead to develop Linux.

    Yes, the business model currently being used by large companies might not be the ideal. However, that doesn’t mean the alternatives (forcing them to give it away for free) is suitable either. Some artists are willing to donate their time and energy towards ideals, without material compensation. Most people aren’t. Society can’t hinge itself on the effort of the minority of skilled volunteers. Freedom and open source are fantastic, and important, but they should coexist with systems for developing ideas and intellectual property for money.


  • Miss C

    I sort of get what you mean about some music being valueless when you download it, with me I by and download and I seem to appreciate the music I bought more than I download.

  • Sarah

    Scott, I agree with you 100%.
    Maybe I am a few months off to continue the thread though I seek prolongation.
    I must ask, you agree with the concept of buying music that is meant to be bought, so, hopefully trying not to stray too much from the topic, do you agree with kids, or anyone for that matter, being arrested for doing so?

  • Scott Young


    No, I don’t agree with the arrests/suits.

    I don’t agree with downloading music. I strive whenever possible to compensate artists I make use of. However, the current intellectual property situation is a mess. I don’t agree with arrests because it is creating an unnecessary adversarial relationship between creators and the people that enjoy those creations.


  • Linda Shadow

    Nice new approach to the standard subject. Bravo! =)

    The only right way to fight a pro-copyright war is by creating a culture, not by pursuing everyone who downloads something.

    But nowadays it’s not really an artist who sets the price. Labels do. Artist’s preferences are nothing to them.

    I’d love to see labels drown (all the RIAA, MPAA, etc) and a new, more artist-centered system take their place, allowing everyone to set their own rules for their own creations.

    But I do buy official releases of the artists I love, even though I dislike the system which receives the money.

  • Lee


    I know this comment is maybe two years too late….but illegally downloading music does not affect musicians in any monetary way. They make little TO NO money from CD sales. Read any musicians autobiography and they will have a section in which they didn’t realize how the record companies would screw them in CD and merchandise sales (and of course they never read the contracts fully).
    Musicians make money from live concerts and the merchandise given out at these concerts. Their “music” and names become trademarked by record companies who tend to overcharge (however much it costs to make a CD) to turn a profit (supposedly to continue providing the consumers with a great products).
    Why should anyone support an already rich record company exec? Are we supposed to feel bad for soul-less companies that overcharge us on crap we could get for free?
    Secondly, as for your shades of grey moral dilemma concerning how this may make the artist poor, if you’re so concerned about these artists “obviously” dire financial situations (because record companies want their products poor and miserable with NOTHING to support themselves), why not d/l the music for free and send money (maybe less then the overpriced merchandise the RECORD companies set) to the address of the artist you “stole” (see duplicated, lol) music from. This way your precious starving artist is compensated from the music he will surely notice was taken from him, and u don’t have to feel stupid supporting a company instead of the actual person making the music.

    Just please inform your future readers, artists do NOT make money from CD sales. Because they do NOT

  • caracal-eyes

    I’ll admit, I’ve downloaded music illegally. But it’s funny; despite what you say about removing the value by doing so, the music retains its value to me. Perhaps this is because my idea of the music’s value has little to no relation to another’s value of it. Certainly, the objective of having one pay for something is that the distributor/creator/whoever can profit in some manner, be it monetarily or otherwise. But if my objective in getting the product is not to give someone money or whatever form of payment was asked, but to obtain the product itself, for my own enjoyment, how then do I devalue it? In this case, my “value” of this object has nothing to do with the “value” set to it. Even getting it illegally, I still reach my goal of obtaining that thing.

    Actually, see, this is how it is: oftentimes, I have to search for some time to find whatever it is I want to get for free rather than paying. So, in a way, there is an exchange, a trade I make which at least partially demonstrates what value I give this item. If I spend the time to find it, then certainly I value it at least as much as I valued that time.

    If I listen to a song over and over, or read a whole book, surely my willingness to expend energy and give my attention for however long this takes also is a demonstration of the value it holds for me. Else, had it no value, I would not have bothered finding, obtaining, and then using the item, and would have instead spent that time, energy, and focus on something else.

    If this loss of value, to anyone who does not hold the same ideals as you do, is otherwise intangible, then what effect would it have for me? You could say the music no longer has value. But I soul politely yet firmly disagree. Despite your opinion, it still is enjoyable to listen to, and useful besides in the sense that it helps block out unpleasant noise. This enjoyment and ability to block out noise alone has value, and by getting the music for free, I have not depleted the resources with which I obtain things I can’t find for free.

    Does this make any sense? Is it comprehensible? I get the feeling that his comment may be too rambling to understand, and if that is the case (assuming anyone has bothered to read it, or cares if they cannot), I am sorry. XD

  • caracal-eyes

    haha..sorry. Fourth line from the top of the fourth paragraph: “soul” was supposed to be “would”. That’s sad…I must have slipped from the ‘w’ to ‘s’, and then somehow left ‘d’ out completely. Grrr.

  • caracal-eyes

    Ah. Damn. Despite the horrific length of my last comment, I forgot something.

    I was going to say–if I was unwilling to give up money for something, at least at the price asked for it, then how would I have, say, listened to that music or read a book if I could not get it any other way but buy purchase or illegal download? At least when I download it for free, I read or listen to it, and if I recommend it to a friend, the artist may benefit from their purchase of it or from a purchase at least somewhere down the line. However, if I did not obtain the item because I didn’t want to pay for it and did not get it illegally, then I could not recommend it, the friend would not buy/recommend it, and so on, resulting in the item getting less publicity and, as a result, that would be at least one sale the artist/distributor/company/etc. would likely not receive otherwise.

    It sounds very logical to me at least, and I have thought it through more than a few times. Hopefully I have not missed any important fault in my logic.

    XD =caracal=

  • Adam The Great

    Hi Scott,

    I think you did an awesome job writing this article as it was exactly the type of responses you were anticipating to hear.

    However, I do agree with what Graham was saying. A lot of artists actually get noticed quicker through mp3 downloads and thus a platform is created for artists to distribute their material for free.

    Also I’d like to add, many mobile app developers have admitted to becoming successful as a result of pirate downloads as opposed to paid downloads so this particular ‘black market’ does have its benefits beyond the music industry


  • Lars

    As a producer of music and mixing/mastering engineer I say all form of music download not approved by artist is theft. Even some “legal” download companies doesn´t have fair rules against the artist. So in the end the artist gets ripped off. Even If you think free music can be good it has severe consequences, apathy for an artist that struggle to get out with his/hers creations. If you put lets say 2-3 month of work and you print 100-500 copies of cds, you market through facebook, youtube, local posters etc. Then you realize no-one of those copies you´ve printed sells how encouraging is that to make another cd? You probably get broke and have to spend time not being the creative person you are. If we go back far back LP/CD sales was every musicians life vein. Cut it off and the music dies or get poorer in some way since lack of budget means lack of equipment/rental space etc. To get a decent income everything has to get “BIG” big tickets sales, big merchandise sells, big, big, big that isn´t really what an artist strive for they want money for the music they produce. I bet cd players might die out also consument hi-fi system (you probably have to pay more money or search harder in the future to get a hi-fi system since its becoming rare that people need one) everybody will listen to music in their headphones and ipods or whatever digital with memory sticks (Cds will die out and be replaced with memory stick players). Where we are now its in the end the music from the greater companies that will be heard and they are nothing but part of a social pyramid structure. So please help the small ones in the bottom pay for their cds and they will be very happy for your contribution. Then maybe they feel that the blood sweat and tears they put into the work was worth it and can go on with their next CD or DVD. So don´t be greedy think of balance that everything you do have consequences. I´m from Sweden btw so sorry for my english.