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Music "piracy" is the act of copying music in breach of copyright law. Copyright law is broken. It is morally bankrupt, economically unsound, and the result of political corruption.

Therefore, practice DirectAction and PirateMusic. Where the law and ethics are at variance, follow morality, not legality. The suppression of the GreyAlbum and the ensuing protests should be your role model.

Compare LicensingMusic.

Economic justifications

Economics can't effectively be used to justify breaking copyright law, because that is a question of "what should I do?" - a question in the domain of ethics, not economics. However, economics can help tell us of the economic consequences of the abolition or modification of copyright law.

Here's an example of an economic justification for abolishing copyright law: The economic purpose of property and money is to efficiently distribute scarce resources. However, in a world of six billion people, where the cost of copying music is very low, music is no longer a scarce resource. As a result, property is likely to be an inefficient means of distribution.

Observations back this up. The widespread breaking of copyright law with the advent of file-sharing networks proved a significant boost to the distribution of music - resulting in more people listening to more music than under the property-based system. By contrast, the attempts by the RIAA to enforce copyright law reduced the efficiency of this distribution mechanism.

The chief economic counter-argument is that copyright is a useful incentive for the creation of new music. Thus, economically, we can weigh the cost of copyright in hindering free distribution, against the benefit of copyright as an incentive for creating new music. Again, this is something that can be determined in part by observation - determining whether the decline in music company profits has been matched by a decline in the amount of new music.

Of course, property is not entirely economic in nature. It is partially moral. Property also protects the person. For instance, as humans are territorial, people have a human right to a home they can call their own. Sentimentality is also an important measure of property. My teddy bear as a resource is valueless, but to me is invaluable. Property provides societial protections to these concepts that would otherwise require personal protection (i.e. violence) to enforce.

Of course there are moral arguments for property and for copyright law - but this section should be about the economics, no?

Finally, copyright law is already fully capable of distributing music for free. There is no legal reason to dismantle it.

It is not possible to release genuinely free music under current copyright law, because:

Moral justifications

It is wrong to pirate music from the Internet. There is no moral justification for this, only economic ones (anon)

There are plenty of moral justifications for copying music (and more widely, for not respecting copyright law). One may believe that such moral justifications are flawed or self-serving, but they do exist, just as do moral arguments against copying music. Examples:

  1. Assume: Illegally copying music causes no harm
  2. Belief: An it harm none, do as ye will (Wicca)
  3. Conclude: It is morally acceptable to copy music

  1. Assume: Illegally copying music increases the sum of human happiness
  2. Belief: One must act so as to maximise the sum of human happiness (Utilitarianism)
  3. Conclude: It is morally imperative to copy music

  1. Assume: Illegally copying music is in my self-interest
  2. Belief: It is ethical to act in my self-interest (Egoism)
  3. Conclude: It is ethical to copy music

  1. Assume: The wishes of the author would permit illegal copying, though the wishes of the copyright holder do not
  2. Belief: such property is theft (various ethical systems)
  3. Conclude: the wishes of the author are paramount, and copying is permitted

  1. Assume: I am happy for people to illegally copy my content
  2. Belief: Act towards others as you wish them to act towards you (Golden Rule)
  3. Conclude: I may copy music

  1. Assume: It would be possible to abolish copyright law
  2. Belief: Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law (Categorical Imperative)
  3. Conclude: I may act as if copyright law had been abolished.

  1. Belief: There is no moral right to control distribution of one's music
  2. Belief: Everything that is not forbidden is permitted
  3. Conclude: Copying music is morally permissable

  1. Belief: redistribution of music is part of the right to free speech
  2. Belief: the right to free speech outweighs any moral rights of the author
  3. Conclude: Copying music is morally permissable

"Copying music increases the sum of human happiness," really is a deeper moral question. However, others describe responses to the situation where art either has no intrinsic cost or that the existing purchase costs and economic infrastructure for the production and dissemination of art are unjustified based on their perceived value. To be more specific

Copying music causes no harm : Harm is either moral or economic. There is potential for moral harm, sure, but the main economic harm here is that it does not devalue the author's position to dilute their music throughout their audience market.

Copying music is in my self-interest : Because paying for the music is not in my self-interest. Copying music increases my net assets.

the wishes of the author would permit copying, though the wishes of the copyright holder do not. : The separation of the author and copyright holder is purely economically motivated. Suggesting that the separation is no longer salient either undervalues the production and distribution chain for the music or claims that it is obsolete.

I don't claim that music is properly priced. I claim that the issues are within the power of capitalism to solve provided it isn't hampered by protectionism. I also claim people don't get this.

If you believe that these arguments are economic ones, then I claim that you don't get them! For example, the belief that "property is theft" is a fundamentally moral assertion - it parallels the belief that "slavery is murder". Even if music was "properly priced", the belief that property is theft could be used to justify abolishing copyright law.

This is not to say that they are divorced from economics. In Utilitarianism, economic wealth is a useful first approximation to the sum of human happiness. The Wiccan moral prohibition against causing harm applies to economic harm as well as to physical and spiritual harm. But they are moral arguments, not economic ones, in my view. Perhaps providing some economic justifications for contrast would clear this up?

Property can't be theft; that is logically meaningless, even if it sounds rhetorically interesting. See Dictionary:theft. Dismantling the notion of property is still an economic argument, as you necessarily claiming there exists a better economic model as long as you consider property economic.

I don't think Utilitarianism is really very useful, especially in the 21st century. Needs theories may suggest that wealth is a necessary precursor condition to happiness, but money by itself cannot bring happiness. For instance, Hofstaeder would claim that money is a hygiene factor. I think it is fair to claim that some people will always produce music for the altruistic purpose of making other people smile as long as they themselves had no other economic needs left unsatisfied. If so, then copyright law still does not need to be dismantled as it is still legal, moral, and justifiable to release music for free. This makes no claim, of course, that free music is or would be good music. --SunirShah

All arguments about copyrights, both for and against, are arguments about economics, because copyright is a feature of economics. However, many of them, both for and against, are moral arguments, not economic arguments. When a supporter of copyright claims that authors have a moral right to control distribution, that's a moral argument, and when an opponent of copyright claims that the ability of authors to legally control distribution is immoral (IE, that such property is theft), then that is also a moral argument.

I believe the barriers to the creation of free music are a major justificaiton for PirateMusic. Artists, venues, composers, are all hindered from creating free music by record company and union entanglements. A recording artist cannot issue a few free songs even if they should so choose, because the labels won't allow it and prohibit it contractually. And even if they could themselves, they would find that their usual collaborators are stuck in similar entanglements. --Steve

CategoryCopyright CategoryArt CategoryLaw


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