At first glance, it appears to me to be pretty clear-cut. If I take a chair or a car that someone has worked hard to create and don't pay for it that's obviously wrong. If I take a song that someone has worked hard to create and don't pay for it, it's still just as wrong. Stealing is stealing, whether you're absconding with physical property or intellectual-artistic property.
Some artists don't mind their fans downloading their music; they in fact encourage it. Sometimes I need to listen to a song to complete an article and it's out of print; if I pay big collector bucks to buy an LP on eBay the artist gets the same nothing she gets if I download it for free on the web. Besides, you're not really ripping off the artists anyway; they've already been ripped off by the record companies. You're just ripping off the rich rip-off artists. Kinda like Robin Hood.
Okay, so maybe it's not so clear-cut.
But the other night, in my continuing efforts to educate my daughter in the wonders that have gone before, I played her an old Marty Robbins song I'd downloaded. She thought the song was all right, but she wanted to know how come I had Kazaa on my puter after I'd made her erase it off hers. I had some excuses - the aforementioned research thing, the fact that I wasn't downloading whole CDs and entire episodes of "The Simpsons" nor was I downloading any music I was likely to buy, and Marty's dead anyway, et cetera, et cetera - but all of them made me feel like a hypocrite. And I don't like that feeling.
So I've erased Kazaa from my hard drive. But that doesn't mean I think you should do the same. It doesn't mean I think file sharing is necessarily wrong for everybody. It's just not right for me right now.
I wish I could give you a more definite solution to this ethical dilemma, but I can't. And maybe that's the point. Maybe like so many things these days, the file-sharing issue is not black or white. Maybe everyone is going to have to do the hard work of searching their own consciences and figuring out for themselves what is right for them.
The viewpoints expressed by Robert Loy are not necessarily those of CST.