The Real Difference Between Sharing and Pirating Music

Have you ever been asked the morality question, “Would you steal a loaf of bread if your family was going hungry?” I’m sure you have, and I’m sure you’ve also gotten into some interesting discussions about whether stealing is stealing no matter what the reason, or if it’s not bad if there is a just cause. While not exactly the same thing, I feel that the argument over whether trading music is really stealing is pretty similar. In my mind it is not, and I will explain why I believe this.

When I was little, around 4 or 5, I was really into The Beatles (I discussed this in the first part of My Favorite Albums by The Beatles), and my father, being the music-loving, super supportive parent that he was, went out and got as much music by The Beatles as possible. Mind you this was back in the late 1980s, so everything was on vinyl or tape, and some things were on CD, though not much. Due to this fact, my dad had to copy several of the albums on vinyl to tape so that I could listen to the music almost anywhere I went. It also meant that he didn’t have to go out and buy copies of albums, but instead could just borrow them from friends to make tapes for me. Fast-forward to today and I presently own every (official) album by The Beatles on CD, some of them twice over.

This is a prime example of why I believe that trading, or giving music, to someone is totally different than stealing music (by illegally downloading). Now, technically both acts are the same thing: gaining possession of a copyrighted piece of music without paying the people who made it. The difference is the intent. Most people pirate music because they want to have it for free. These are people who would normally be consumers, and though many may not be totally into the artist/band, the chances that they would’ve bought the album if they couldn’t pirate it would probably be high. On the other hand when people trade music, make mix CDs, or give others full albums, their reasoning is usually to entice the receiver of the free music to listen to the music, and thus, become a fan, who will want to buy future albums and/or go see those artists live (if possible).  For me, however, there is an added dimension. Like my father, I want to educate people about artists and bands they may have never heard before.

As described in a recent post, I worked at a an arts and music sleep away camp this past summer, and worked there for several summers prior. One of my favorite things to do at camp is to run a workshop called “Underground Tunnel Digging.” A friend/former coworker of mine originally started this workshop, but over time I took the reigns from him, and when he left, it became something I was known for at camp. Essentially, the workshop was a bunch of campers and counselors sitting and listening to music that isn’t well known. Pretty simple and harmless. I, however, brought my computer to the workshop, allowing campers and counselors to connect their iPods and take some of my music, or even allow them to exchange music with each other. By this summer, I had campers asking me to fill their iPods with music that I listened to, sometimes deleting what they already had. I happily, and eagerly, obliged. Why? Because I was giving these campers an education in music, exposing them to artists that may influence and/or impact their musical careers or their lives in general (which I have seen happen). In many cases, campers will become big fans of the artists I show them, eventually buying future albums and/or seeing the artists live.

And there is the big difference. I’m not trying to scam artists or prevent them from making money. What I’m really trying to do is to give them more fans, who will hopefully support them in the future, while trying to educate younger musicians. And in my mind, going out to see a band live, and possibly buying a shirt at the show, is showing them more support than buying an album, because it is saying, “Hey, I like you enough that I came to see you live, and will tell people how awesome you are by buying and wearing this shirt.” What does buying an album really say? For many people it is saying, “I liked that one song, so I bought the album.”

So, maybe you disagree with me on this issue, that’s totally fine. I just believe that there really is a major difference between pirating and sharing music, and that the latter has a much bigger, and more positive, effect on artists and bands. I mean, hell, I became a big fan of The Black Keys because my cousin burned me a copy of thickfreakness; I currently own all but one of their albums, have seen them three times, and have tried, for years, to get others into them.

So, in the end, is what I, or my cousin, or my dad did really that wrong?


One thought on “The Real Difference Between Sharing and Pirating Music

  1. I don’t think what you did was wrong at all. But I do have to disagree on one point: I am not less likely to buy an album if I pirate it. On the contrary, if there is only one single I like from an album and the only way I can listen to the rest of the album is to buy it, I’m not gonna buy it. I’ve been burned too many times by artists that have their “radio single” that is completely different from everything else on their album. If I pirate an album and love it, I’ll buy it to support the musician. And I’m definitely more likely to see them live if I’ve heard their whole album. That being said, I pay for Spotify Premium for that very reason. Now I can listen to almost any artist and not feel guilty about them not getting their dues (although Spotify doesn’t pay much). I think the popularity of sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud prove that if you can listen to album you’re more likely to buy it, IMHO. 🙂

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