Due to technological advancements, many people are now able to listen to or download music over the internet, and even share their favorite songs with their loved ones. Technology has also brought music listening gadgets such as the iPod, which have the capability of storing thousands of songs directly downloaded from the internet. You can either get charged for downloading music from the internet or you can get it for free. In the United States, almost 50 percent, or some 60 million internet users copy movies, music, and other digital goodies for free using online networks such as Morpheus and Kazaa. Such a statistic seems to reveal that a culture of music copying and sharing has already been solidified in the world (Olsen, 2003).
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Sometimes, musicians set up their websites, where their music is made available for free in the hope that such exposure will get people to buy their music (Wolf, 2008). But available research indicates that people who download free music no longer consider buying as an option after listening to the music. The ethical question to be asked therefore is if we should continue to pay for music even after having the knowledge that we can download or reproduce it for free using the latest technology available over the internet.
Arguments of why we should pay for music online
Many ethical considerations have to be made when considering the above issue. It should not be lost in us that some of the musicians depend sorely on the music they produce for survival. Those who support paying for music that we listen to online argue that the activity of downloading, copying, or sharing a music file for free without the express authority of its author is tantamount to stealing or shoplifting the music from a nearby record store. It is tantamount to stealing the livelihoods of music artists. Stealing is an act that is punishable by law and therefore it is ultimately wrong to download music without paying the loyalties (Olsen, 2003).
In many instances, musicians put their music on the internet on the premise that it will expose them to the world. They put downloadable songs on their websites in the hope that people will listen to the music and buy it if it appeals to them. But those who advocate for music paying argues that the artists end up being popular without the real financial translation as people don’t buy the music after listening (Wolf, 2008). This is morally demeaning and therefore must be discouraged at all costs. They, therefore, argue that people should pay for the music they listen to regardless of whether they like it or not.
In most instances, we download music online without really bothering on paying for it since it is convenient to do so. But according to the proponents of paying for music, this argument is morally defeating in that you cannot justify an activity by the fact that it is easy and convenient to achieve that activity (Moore, 2003). The music can be convenient to copy or share but the act is morally wrong.
To understand better why we should pay for music, Proponents of this argument use the concept of file sharing. People who are connected to the internet can use various programs to download music, games, videos, and other copyrighted and non-copyrighted content directly to their computers. Many popular internet sites encourage file sharing, including Ares Galaxy, Gnutella, Kazaa, and e-donkey. In file-sharing, users download a supported program onto their computers that enable them to connect to the file-sharing networks mentioned above. Using the program, users can search the shared media on other computers across the internet and then downloads the media onto their computers. The proponents argue that one song that individual shares can be downloaded by millions of other users thereby cheating the artists out of their monetary incentives to publish their works (“Ethics”, 2008).
Proponents also effectively argue that getting your music from other sources without actually paying for it infringes on the established copyright laws. Look at it way this way; music producers spend millions of dollars to produce the works of the artists. Music distributors also sink in huge chunks of money in their effort to distribute the music worldwide. More so, the artists themselves need to be rewarded financially for their efforts. When people don’t pay for their music preferring to get the music for free over the internet, all these networks are disrupted (Easley, 2007). In 2001, some recording companies in the United States won a legal victory against Napster in their efforts to fight some peer to peer networks that were threatening their survival.
Arguments of why we should not pay for the music
The people who support this line of thought argue that the overriding principle of whether one should download free music should be based on the artists themselves. For one, some artists may choose by themselves to support the shareware, open-source, freeware, or anti-copyright laws to advocate for music sharing as a free promotional tool (“Ethics”, 2008). This is fine in that it is a decision reached by the artists themselves to promote their music labels. Online promotion of artists through offering free music has worked very well in developed nations, especially in the US. Many artists that we know of today were turned into instant celebrities by free online promotions as it helped to expose them to the world.
Secondly, the artists may decide to share their music to enable the music consumers to sample their products before actually spending their money to buy the product. In many instances, these have opened new fan bases as many people discover the artists through sharing their music. Allowing potential customers to sample music for free without first paying for it has been credited with bringing about increased album sales in western countries. (Moore, 2003). But is debatable as to whether it can work in continents such as Africa and Latin America.
Another argument that supports free music is that downloading, sharing, or copying a song online isn’t “stealing” as the owner is still left with the original track (Olsen, 2003). Besides the process is convenient and easy to undertake, there is nowhere in the developed countries that music sales have declined due to illegal music copying. On the contrary, music sales have hit a record high due to the exposure the music industry has received from the latest technological advancements, including the internet.
The argument goes on that it is the music industry that will stand to gain more by embracing the new technology of music sharing for free over the internet. Record companies should never at any given time resist the innovations brought about by the new technologies It is on this premise that Apple’s iPod, Napster, and iTunes have legalized their download services. Apple’s iPod services charge their customers $.99 per music title while Napster charges $ 9.95 per month of music downloads. Other offerings such as Connect from Sony have boosted the growth of legal music download services. Although online sales account for 5 percent of music industry revenues, there is much more room for improvement (Shang et al., 2008).
This essay has effectively reflected some ethical issues which people should consider before downloading or copying music for free. It is a good thing to have the latest technologies that have made our lives easier and enjoyable. The music industry will stand to gain more by embracing the new technology. But technological advancements should never be used to deny others of their rights. Proper mechanisms should therefore be laid out to ensure that those who copy or share music over the internet compensate the artists either financially or through creating exposure. A recent study on the music industry in the US revealed a willingness to pay for internet music via legalized download services. Stakeholders in the music industry need to focus on this theme to make sure that technology increases album sales, not the other way round. Record companies should never at any given time resist the innovations brought about by the new technologies (Olsen, 2003).
- Easley, R.F. (2003). Ethical issues in the music industry response to innovation and piracy.
- Ethics of file sharing. 2008. SCRIBD. Web.
- Moore, C.W. (2003). Is music piracy stealing?
- Olsen, E. (2003). Ethics of sharing Music.
- Shang, R., Chen, Y., & Chen, P. (2008). “Ethical decisions about sharing music files in the P2P environment.” Journal of business ethics, vol. 80 no. 2.
- Wolf, L. (2008). The ethics of downloading music. Web.