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:
- You essentially declare the stolen creation valueless.
- 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.
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?