Is file-sharing actually stealing?

There’s been oodles of discussion about file-sharing over the years. It’s endemic among the music hounds out there who can’t/won’t pay for music so just download it from whoever. I’ve taken the high horse attitude over this, mostly, where I’ve righteously stated that downloading music over Limeware etc is morally wrong and that people should bloody well pay for it.

I still think that music should be paid for but my thinking has been shifting somewhat. Is downloading actually stealing?

Techdirt has a very interesting article about this very subject.

Jon Healy, whose writing for the LA Times I admire quite a bit, has written up a very balanced discussion concerning whether or not file sharing equals theft. He links to some of my writings on the subject, as well as pointing to the views of two Nobel Prize winning economists, F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, who both point out that copyright is not property, and treating it as such causes problems.

Copyright is not property? Of course it isn’t, and this gives the music industry a bit of a problem. Can you actually steal it? It’s certainly possible to steal ideas but why is it considered theft to download something that someone else has already paid for? The author gives some pretty good ideas why it isn’t, nor should be, illegal:

  • My friend lets me borrow a book, which I read. The book has value. I got it for free, without the permission of the book author or publisher.
  • I get on a train and pick up the newspaper that a passenger left behind. The newspaper has value. I got it for free, without the newspaper company granting

There are others, but these are the two pertinent ones to me. Why are music downloads different to books and newspapers?

This is a tricky subject and I have no doubt, still, that file-sharers are taking something, for nothing, that they should not. However, I have some sympathy with them, especially when paying for music downloads is still too expensive and mostly infested with DRM. At least some music companies are starting to realise that DRM-free files are going to be popular and Amazon seem to be making it a little cheaper. Hopefully the market will continue to improve.

Still, these musical waters are still muddied by an archaic business model that just does not work in the modern music market. Can we get into the 21st century now please?

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