Downloading = stealing?
Why? Why is it okay to illegally download something online but not steal from a store? I am happy to discuss the merits of how the music industry has changed based on this new way of accessing music. I agree it forces musicians to rely more on delivering better live shows than delivering recorded CDs. I agree that change is good, and that we have an interesting opportunity to help our favourite artists by sharing their music and helping them to grow their fan base. I also agree that this change has resulted in a number of artists giving their music away for free, and that is just bloody smart of them.
All of these changes are great. But they are consequences, not reasons. And so they don’t answer the question.
I think we are okay with stealing online for three reasons (that I can think of – there are certainly more):
- Because we’re pretty sure we won’t get caught. There doesn’t seem to be any negative reaction attached to the action, so even though it might be wrong, we are never punished for it. Not even by our peers, because …
- Everyone else does it. We talk about it freely – over dinner, at work, on first dates, etc. And even if you get the rogue thinker who disagrees with it in principle, they won’t shun you or even shame you for it. In fact, they might even make fun of themselves for not stealing, because it’s accepted as the norm, and part of that is because …
- It’s free and easy, and we like free and easy. To choose between free and not free is an easy choice. In fact, in many circles, you’d be called an idiot for paying for something you could have easily grabbed for free.
But it’s still wrong. We’re still stealing. We just happen to have effective arguments as to why we do it and why we think it’s okay. We cling to the idea that artists download music, and we vehemently argue that some artists advocate for this way of sharing and therefore our actions are not only just okay, but approved by the artists themselves. But we ignore the voices of the artists that don’t agree, and the artists that fought and fight against it. Like the act of downloading itself, our pro-downloading arguments sometimes take the cheap way out.
And we’re shockingly wishy-washy on this topic. We’ve not taken a strong stance. We think it’s wrong, and do it anyway; we think it’s wrong, but don’t do anything against it; we think it’s maybe wrong, but not a big deal; we think it’s fine.
Online stealing = shady future?
A good portion of what we do, or in some cases, used to do in our non-online lives, we now do online. And this trend will extend well into the future. It only makes sense. As we become more and more of a global community, we will need to facilitate our communications, interactions, relationships, etc., online.
Which leads me to what I feel is the real issue. We date online, read online, game online, bank online, work online, socialize online, etc. And we also lie about our weight and height on online dating sites. We steal movies, books, art, TV shows and music. We steal identities online. We create false advertisements on sites like Craigslist. Many, many people are behaving badly online, and to little or no consequence.
So if we’re comfortable stealing online, does that mean our ethical boundaries are blurred online, and as we live more and more online, what does that mean for the future of our society?
I really don’t have an answer. But I’m concerned. And don’t get me wrong – not all online behaviour is bad. I am pro-online. I spend an enormous amount of time online. This blog is online, which makes me very happy. But, like much else, there are those that will take advantage, and I think we need to start talking about how to deal with the potential for millions of people doing exactly that today, and doing that more creatively tomorrow.
Bye-bye free Ryan
In the meantime, as much as it pains me to say this, I think I have to give up stealing online. I don’t want to. I want free and easy as much as the next person, but I can’t truly share this point of view without walking the talk. So, as of today, I will no longer ask my friend to steal for me. I already was an iTunes music buyer, so I’m good there, but I further pledge to stop stealing Ryan Gosling movies. It’s for the collective good (she said, hearing her voice echo, not at all sure her stance will make a difference).