Nazareth crackdown on loaf-sharing

home taping

‘Stop dancing around the issue, it’s not file-sharing, it’s theft.’ That was a listener comment last week as Radio 4’s Today Programme discussed tough new measures to combat illegal file-sharing (where people swap copies of films or songs for free online). Disgusted of wherever he lives continued: “are we going to call shoplifting “grocery-sharing”? Car-theft, “car sharing”?’

Um, no, Mr Disgusted. Because groceries and cars do not yet magically self-replicate like electronic files do. But as soon as the magic pixie-dust that will make this possible is invented, be sure that people will be grocery-sharing a lot and world hunger will fade. Unless people like you decide it’s bad for business. In that case, I wonder how you would have reacted to Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

The consensus seems to be that we’ll never eradicate file-sharing. Like another invention (the printing-press) which infuriated authorities with its easy access to art and information, file-sharing can not be uninvented. Like another technology that the music world denounced as a threat (the LP), file-sharing has forever changed that world.

Forget pragmatism (we’re Christians, after all)! What about the morality? When someone steals a loaf of bread (which should, as I’m sure Mr D would feel, be punished with several years in the Bastille and absolutely no singing) the shopkeeper loses that loaf of bread.

When someone copies a song rather than buying it (as when Jesus multiplied bread), the person they copied it from loses nothing. The owner is still able to sell it. The only loss is in potential earnings. One person is now less likely to buy that product. That’s the same kind of loss that happens every time a preacher convinces you to live simply and buy less. Or when a competitor lowers a price or offers better service. That is the unfortunate way capitalism works. If the industry dislikes that, let’s nationalise it.

What record companies are complaining about is not theft, it is a diminishing of their ability to earn money ad-infinitum for a finite amount of work. A few months in a recording studio (and a few months’ promotion) certainly deserve payment. The worker is worthy of his wages as Paul said. But then, he also says that if you do not work you should not eat. Why should an artist, even one of my favourite artists, be in the privileged position of forever eating off a few weeks’ work 20 years ago? I cannot rest on my laurels like that. Can you?

Ah, says Disgusted, but that’s the way the industry works. Fine. But why should government prop up their archaic business model? More importantly: why should citizens, voters, be punished to protect businesses too lazy to develop alternative income streams and too self-important to accept that maybe their industry might downsize or fold, like so many other outdated ones before it?

I worked for a record company for five years (a small one genuinely at risk of folding, not one of the wolf-crying multi-billion pound behemoths doing most of the whingeing). I have many friends in the industry. But I can’t see the (decidedly unlikely) collapse of Hollywood and Pop music as an entirely bad thing. Can you, Mr Disgusted? Do you like the sex on MTV, the violence in the movies (or vice versa)? Is the Christian music industry so conformed to this world that they would choose profits over more people hearing their message?

Practically, alternative music and film business models are possible. Morally, file-sharing is not stealing anything from anyone. Christians, particularly net-active ones, should be writing to their MPs to complain about government siding against them. Not being once again uncritically convinced by arguments for unlimited profiteering.

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4 Responses

  1. Indeed.

    Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) put forward a very interesting argument: If someone is prepared to make a copy of your work, they were never going to buy it in the first place. Therefore you cannot consider it a lost sale, so stop moaning and focus on creating the sort of quality products that people will *want* to buy.

    He then went on to sell more than $1.5m worth of his new album off his own website with no record company involvement.

    He may have a point.

  2. good points. im going through this same dilemma as a christian wondering what the right thing to do is here. first of all, all of this music is readily available on youtube and music streaming sites for FREE, often uploaded by the creator. this is an infinite amount of an item circled of supposedly to whoever can afford it. and if your worried about it being classified as stealing, in the courts, prosecutors MUST define it as copyright infringement, cause that’s what it is, infringing on copyright. Think about it this way, if you could copy an infinite amount of hoodies from 1 hoodie you bought and distribute them for free you’d do it right? its not a necessity, but you would give them out to cold people. same can be applied to file sharing.. i’ve heard justin beibers net worth is somewhere around 45 million, not bad for a 16-17 year old who gets to travel the world on tour to his loving fans….

  3. I can see how people can’t consider it stealing. Think about it, are they deprived anything? no. Someones purchased that work and now legally owns it, so technically it’s not their property being copied. the only thing they could claim is that their copyrights are being ‘stolen’ , but even then, It’s not being ‘stolen’ it’s been copied, they havent been deprived of anything, So the only thing you could claim unethical is that the copyright have been breached.

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