Pirating Music Sails New Moral Outlook


by Cathleen Leitch

Pirates are looking for more than just loot.

The age old tales of pirates raiding the seas with only one good leg and one good eye have turned into accounts of modern day teens unlawfully downloading songs behind closed doors. The term pirate is still defined on dictionary.com as “a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea.” However, an alternative definition is now embraced, “a person who uses or reproduces the work or invention of another without authorization.”

            Not as enthralling an idea, but more popular and much easier. When pirates would plunder your ship, it may have been a surprise, but you definitely knew you were being attacked and could potentially thwart their plans. It required work, bombs, usually, and a pride in overpowering and looting the rich. Today, pirating requires knowledge of the Internet (which even the average four year old today has), free time and access to music. Sometimes it’s as easy as copy and pasting a URL and hitting “download.”

            It’s not something the average teen or college student thinks twice about doing, but the controversy surrounding their nonchalant actions runs deep.

            “They’re not thieves, they just have been downloading for so long they think it’s okay to download anything and just use it,” said Professor of Communication and Director of Multicultural Program Dr. Bosah Ebo.

            Here’s the difference. Pirates love what they did because it was wrong; teenagers don’t think anything of what they’re doing. The lines seem to overlap because illegal downloading has been in the news since Napster “opened its doors” in 1999, but that was just the beginning a downloading era.

            This era has inspired new legal bills, new moral standards, new lows in record sales and plenty of new companies and distributors.

The Law and the New Moral System

            The U.S. Copyright Act was created in 2002 in response to the boom of file sharing companies that distribute owned material without giving royalties to the creator. Since then the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has focused its efforts to halt the growth.

            According to the RIAA website, “the association is the trade organization that supports and promotes the creative and financial vitality of the major music companies. RIAA® members create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 85% of all legitimate recorded music produced and sold in the United States.”

            This is the company that monitors distributing websites and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, waiting for someone to download from those sites in moderate numbers. The association fined Jammie Thomas-Rasset in 2009, among thousands of others, for $1.9 million for 24 songs. RIAA also oversees businesses that notify universities about the use of their Internet services.

According to lawyers.com, one Californian company is using evidence found from IP addresses through internet providers to sue pirates $10 per song. In the world of playlists, that can quickly stack up to thousands of dollars.

However, the Association is more concerned with the illegally downloaded material being copied or uploaded for others to steal than the downloading itself. This form of sharing often is unknown to the pirate and is done accidentally.

“I would say the majority of cases are not necessarily intentional, they figure that there’s nothing wrong with sharing that information,” said Keith Kemo, Director of Community Standards at Rider University.  “Sometimes they don’t know that their computer is actually making it available for other students to upload,”

In fall 2010, Rider received over 340 letters reporting cases of illegal music consumption on campus. The school faces fines of $10,000 per song if the student refuses to remove the songs from an uploading forum. Kemo says a student has never refused to comply which according to their policy could lead to expulsion or suspension.

             Facing real consequences may have stopped 300 students, but the Millennial Generation has a code of ethics that doesn’t account for the ramifications.

            “Because it’s becoming a norm and a routine we have a different kind of moral sense about the concept of ownership,” said Ebo. “It’s easy to do, it’s fun to do, you can get away with it, so we don’t think it’s as bad a crime.”

            Ebo continues that downloading is the same as walking into a store and taking a CD, both actions are stealing, just the methods are different. This piracy violates intellectual property, artistic integrity and copyright laws, but piracy happens behind closed doors and many think no one will know.

            The trend for college students to have massive iTunes has become a standard for incoming students to follow.

“Before I went to college, that’s one of the things I knew about college,” said Rider senior Zach Bragg, “[Student’s] music collection grew immensely because they just borrowed music from their friends; they downloaded it online and stuff like that. I already knew it was something that was going on and that everybody kind of did it.”

Alternatives and Musician Decisions:

The pirating industry’s starter Napster, which allowed over 2 million users to file share for free, has now joined with the subscription site Rhapsody. Many legal sites have launched within the past few years that allow anyone to listen to songs, but not download or own them.

Three of the most popular programs are: Pandora Radio, Grooveshark and Spotify. Both Grooveshark and Pandora are Internet radios that allow listeners to make playlists or stations, but also add in similar artists they think their users might be interested in. These sites offer their services on the iPhone for free, while Spotify Premium will give the same feature for $9.99 a month.

Spotify, however, is a music database downloaded to a computer, often through Facebook, that plays commercials every few songs which say “Thanks to Spotify and Facebook, you can see and hear what your friends are listening to – just hit play on any music post.” The site allows the user to share playlists with friends and links to iTunes so users have all their digital music in one program.

YouTube is the biggest video alternative and also allows viewers to create playlists. Thousands of musicians have launched their own accounts to stream official music videos. While this site helps artists, it also is easy to pirate from and to repost songs as a user. They have started to crack down by removing posts that take copyrighted music videos and lyrics to draw attention to individual profiles.

Alternative Press, a popular rock-punk music magazine, often has free plays of new songs by well-known or undiscovered artists allowing fans to get a free listen before a new single drops. Some artist’s also offer their CDs a week in advance and with extra gifts if fans preorder on iTunes. This way works for the bands because they know their product is paid for.

While musicians have been partnering with these companies to raise sales, many still see the rock or pop star as rich, famous and without trouble. What is unknown is that artist’s rely on their album sales: on and off the Internet. Artists sell their albums to stores and get the same amount of money no matter how many are purchased; however if no one buys CDs, no stores buy them either.

“In the decade since peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing site Napster emerged in 1999, music sales in the U.S. have dropped 47 percent, from $14.6 billion to $7.7 billion,” according to RIAA.

Perhaps this is why many artists have begun releasing their songs only to iTunes or have begun posting them for free, not expecting to gain much profit anyway. Bragg, a student musician, feels that this method gains respect.

            “You’re gaining your fans approval almost by saying ‘you can have our latest album.’” Bragg also added “So in that case, to me, that’s ok because that is the artist’s choice, but it’d be different if someone had a copy of it and was putting it on the Internet.”

Now that we know all the players, let’s sink into the mind of the most expected perpetrator: the college student. 

The College Student Side:

There may still be a simpler, more individualistic motive: It’s easy, cheap and you can put the music on your iPod.

            Students want music, but they don’t have the money to fill their iTunes legally. Consider the budget of the average student. At least half their cash is dedicated to alcohol and food consumption. The other half goes to clothes, textbooks and more food. That doesn’t leave anything left for buying songs, which are a necessity for partying, procrastinating or [in some cases] stress relief.

College is all about your classes and your social life. Often, students don’t hesitate to borrow friend’s music libraries and reproduce their own. Students strive to build their music libraries and find many means, including burrowing through friend’s CDs to put that music into their computers without cost.

“What’s interesting though is that someone paid for that,” Bragg said. “In my mind it’s like what’s the difference between me uploading on my iTunes a CD that my parents listened to and my roommate giving me some music off of his computer.”

            However, these new music resources allowing free access to songs have not gone unused. A Facebook survey indicated that many students have stopped downloading music relying on Pandora and Spotify to fulfill their music needs. One student replied: “I very occasionally use Pandora, but mostly I listen to music on YouTube.”

            College life is very time consuming and often overwhelming, so students like to take opportunities to unwind and relax. This need for stress relief may reveal an answer to why students having stopped going through the process of pirating.

            “I think people are more inclined to let the server do the work rather than going out and downloading songs one by one,” said preferred nameless female student at Brookdale Community College. “Plus with something like Pandora it’s nice to have that element of surprise.”  

            Rider is an example of this change,  as there were no letters reporting piracy this fall semester. The fun element Dr. Ebo referred to may have changed from the fun of downloading your favorite songs to fun in hearing random tunes online. As new programs are created and become more popular for young adults, teenagers may be the group to focus efforts of changing the norm on.

Still, with freely downloading music so engrained into the cyber culture, education to the younger generation may be the final push to wash the fad out of this societal system.  

            “We’ve got a new concept of media and unless we really teach people ethics and law and how to use [technology] I think it’s going to get worse,” said Ebo.

            Knowing the difference between morally and legally right actions reveals that culture follows moral norms better than it follows governmental laws. If true piracy is what people seek, they may need to look elsewhere than the music downloading game.

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button