Thursday, May 13, 2010


In the Hat came by my place today and gave me a huge amount of music.  He has a tremendous (80+ gig) collection that he carries around with him on a portable drive and I got him to recommend some things to me and then pillaged his collection like a loot crazed buccaneer.  Of course buccaneer might not be the appropriate term here... perhaps pirate is the most apt.

Wendy and I had some very heated discussions about music piracy over the past few years.  She often found stories on the internet about some huge record company that was suing a grandmother for enormous amounts of cash because her grandkid downloaded a few songs on her computer complete with heartbreaking personal details.  I usually responded that if people knowingly break the law in order to secure a luxury then I have very little interest in rescuing them from their plight.  Certainly the grandmother in question may be absolutely innocent but stories on the internet are neither unbiased nor representative.  People who break the law to secure themselves basic rights or necessities need protection or assistance not lawsuits or jail time but music is no such necessity.

To be sure, DRM has been a complete boondoggle by and large and I won't buy anything knowingly if it is DRM protected.  Companies that think that they can charge extremely high prices for DRM protected music while supporting constant legal battles against small scale pirates are foolish.  There are many very lucrative business models in music distribution that do not rely on going after people who download music from illegal sites but just because a company has a business model you do not like is *not* an excuse to break the law.  If you really want to protest the way a company does business then write letters, picket their office, buy from the competition or refuse to use the product at all.  Downloading music illegally isn't a protest.

My main gripe here is with the righteous pirates.  I must fight the evil corporations, and I do this by downloading music for free and listening to it!  When it is impossible to distinguish the actions of a conscientious protester from a heartless opportunist aside from the rhetoric I put little stock in the protest.  Of course, I download music illegally and for free.  I do buy videos and music from time to time as I have no problem supporting artists whose work I enjoy but I am quite willing to copy music from a friend without going out and hunting down the artist in question to give them their just reward.  I am often greatly concerned with ethics in everyday actions and I cannot find a convincing reason to condemn free exchange of music but I do find myself irritated with naked opportunism disguised as righteous indignation.


  1. Thinking that downloading music is a statement is pretty silly, I'll agree, but "stealing" music you want to listen to rather than buying it because you don't like the way the record industry does business seems valid enough to me.

    The record industry is crazy and stupid when it comes to copyrighting, and they wield an equally crazy and stupid amount of power, it seems. The recent Digital Economy Act in the UK made it so that a person, and any residence they occupy, can be permanently cut off from the internet if they are *accused* of illegal downloading three time - no substantiation of allegations needed. It also appoints a position to oversee copyright laws that is filled by an unelected official who can basically just make up laws on the spot without having to run them by parliament. Worse, the UK does not have a codified constitution with rights (i.e, they have nothing like our Charter of Rights or the various rights granted in the U.S. constitution). This law was written, at least in significant part, by record industry lawyers, not by government law makers. In Canada we have the good fortune that such a law would definitely be unconstitutional even if our government is stupid enough to pass it.

    The record industry's rush to punish everyone who distributes music, and the cooperation of democratic governments with them in that quest is also not a good business model. Radiohead released it's In Rainbows through their own website on a pay-what-you-want basis for download before it hit stores. Despite the fact that most downloaders paid nothing, the profits from those downloads exceeded the total sales of their previous album and then the album reached #1 on the charts when the disc was actually released. Many successful bands these days would just be nobodies playing shows in their hometown if their songs were not traded freely on the internet.

    I would say I haven't listened to an illegally obtained song in a long time because I don't download them anymore, but in my collection I do have various songs I've ripped of mixed CDs friends have made for me. I'm pretty sure the record industry would love to sue me for that, and sue my friends who made me mixed CDs, and probably sue me for putting on music that I legally own when I have friends who haven't paid for it over at my house. The most recent copyright law in Canada makes it illegal to burn CDs of music you legally downloaded for *your own use* let alone sharing them with others. It's also comical to remember that the music industry lobbied to outlaw cassette tape recorders when that technology was new, and predicted that they would go bankrupt because of people illegally copying music at that time.

    There is just a lot to be righteously indignant about when it comes to the recording industry, especially when it comes to the ridiculous influence they have over our government. Back in 2000 the movie industry managed to get a teenager in Norway arrested (and have all the computers in his home seized) because he helped to reverse engineer the encryption system that was used to protect DVDs from being copied against regions. He was later released because he hadn't broken any Norwegian, international, or even US laws, but I'm pretty sure some of his computers were never returned. How is it that the American movie industry can have people arrested for doing legal things in Europe?

    I agree that downloading music itself isn't a statement against the recording industry, but I would actually advise against writing letters, picketing or in any other way getting yourself noticed by the recording industry. I’d like to think we don't live in a world like this, but if the recording industry takes notice of you and believes you to be a problem for them, you might end up being sued into bankruptcy, having your property seized by the government, or even being sent to jail, regardless of whether you have done anything illegal at all. It's much better not to make a statement.

  2. CBC "Big Ideas" had a great podcast on copyright history that I listened to while filtering water somewhere on the Appalachian Trail last summer.

    Original copyright law was presented as a method to ensure a small degree of rights to a creator while ensuring the public good in terms of strong access to current culture and ideas.

    We're talking copyright lasting on the scale of a few years (something like 5); long enough for a pamphlet or book writer to make some money, but not so long that people couldn't soon use the ideas in the public domain.

    More recently copyright has swung FAR the other way. Rights to plays are held for 70 year AFTER DEATH! This is why you see so much Shakespeare in community theatre. Nobody wants to pay for "new" stuff (that being 69 years after the death of the author or newer).

    My political instincts (which may be totally wrong) tell me that we need to find a middle ground.

    Another interesting point comes when you look at the current tax on blank cd's that is paid to the recording industry as an "offset" for assumed piracy. A similar tax has been proposed for ipods which, when you really investigate the issue, has some very compelling reasons behind supporting it (I'm still on the fence though).

  3. P.S. the podcast "TVO - Search Engine" does a wonderful job of capturing the latest in Canadian Copyright issues. It's worth a (free and legal) download:)