Home taping is killing music

Shiver me timbers, slap me eyepatch with a bottle of rum and, um, arrr…or something. No, you haven’t missed International Talk Like a Pirate Day (it’s 19 September as I’m sure you are well aware). But a certain buccaneer tone is required. The Pirate Bay is attempting to buy its own island. ThePirateBay.org is a website based in Sweden that facilitates file-sharing on the internet using cutting-edge technology called torrent-tracking. Because of Swedish law, what they do is not technically illegal. But the Pirate Bay is, to use professional IT jargon, cocky. Appropriating the negative term ‘piracy’ rather than the more popular term ‘file-sharing’ and making their logo a pirate ship whose main sail bears the old ‘home taping is killing music’ tape and crossbones symbol are manifestations. Posting the legal threats they receive from large music corporations on their website (along with less than polite replies) and making a documentary about themselves (entitled ‘Steal This Film,’ available for free on their site) has just made them famous. Now they want to get into government.

The Pirate Bay is in negotiations to buy Sealand, a WWII naval platform in the North Sea that was granted the status of an independent principality in 1968 by a British court. The ‘island’ is seen by The Pirate Bay as the perfect, copyright-free nation base, and two weeks ago they started a campaign asking for donations to buy Sealand. So far they have raised over $18,000. Many Christians will see this as a disgrace. If it is because that money would be better spent on missionaries and poverty-alleviation, I’m with them. If it is because file-sharing is wrong, I’m not so sure. We’re constantly hearing about how new technologies are killing, if not music, then the music industry. We’ve been hearing it since LPs were invented, then with the advent of the tape-recorder, the CD, the writable CD, the internet itself and now file-sharing. The recording industry is like my granddad: suspicious of new technologies and constantly bitching. Yet last week we read that it enjoyed an 89% growth in (legal) digital downloads, bringing home $2billion worth of what business types like to call ‘the bacon’. That’s bacon with no duplication or manufacturing costs. Mmm… pure profit tastes good. Yet still the industry complained it was not enough to make up for the loss in CD sales, that a decline in sales might mean the end of the age of diva-superstars like Britney Spears. Boo hoo.

The idea that file-sharing might destroy the music industry leaving only bands and consumers without the middlemen is just wishful thinking. The capitalist spirit is ingenious and I suspect artists and those who introduce us to them will continue to make money, if perhaps in new ways and perhaps a little less. But file sharing is a threat to certain multinational interests. As Christians we need to ask ourselves whether we will believe the press releases of a litigious industry (last week they were attacking DJs, internet service providers and the technology behind Sky Plus and some digital radio), notorious for mistreating artists as well as consumers, or those of admittedly anarchic loons and subversive communities where nothing is paid for and everything is shared, for good or ill. It comes down to the question: is copying something without paying for it stealing? Does the originator of an idea or piece of art have the right to make an infinite amount of profit from it? Do we have a duty to maintain an industry in its current state of profitability? I imagine the baker who made the bread that Jesus ‘copied’ seemingly endlessly to feed the five thousand could legitimately have sued for loss of income. But then Jesus never was particularly concerned with ownership or personal profit.

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