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The (im?)morality of downloading/pirating music

In Uncategorized on October 1, 2010 by mathew4578

Lets use the foundation of morality I outlined in my previous post to determine if downloading music is moral or immoral. If you purchase a song before or after downloading it for free, then clearly the artist does not lose any money from your illegal download, so it is not immoral in that case. So lets consider the other case:  Suppose you download a song without paying for it. Does the musician suffer any harm? Clearly the action does not inflict bodily harm to them. Does it inflict psychological harm? Sure, if they realize you are downloading their song without paying for it, they may be slightly depressed by the fact, though they likely feel more depressed just reading news headlines in the morning, so your action is essentially negligible with respect to psychological harm. This leaves just one category: Does the action of downloading music illegally inflict material harm?

Well, you didn’t decrease the number of material possessions they own, and you did not take any money out of their bank account, so on the surface it may seem like the answer is “No, downloading music for free does not inflict material harm.” However, if you would have bought the song had you not been able to download it, then you could argue that you robbed them of some potential money, in a sense. However even then its hard to say this action is immoral, because you simple elected to do something neutral (give them $0), rather than do something good for them (give them $x). So in this sense, downloading music for free does as much (or as little) harm to the music artist as walking does for taxi drivers. You can give a taxi driver some money to take you to your destination, or you can walk there for free. Either way – you get to your destination in the end, however in one scenario you give the taxi driver $0 (electing to walk instead), and in the other scenario you give the taxi driver $x (however much it costs to bring you to your destination). I don’t think anyone would argue that walking is an immoral action because it robs a taxi driver somewhere of a potential sale. So it looks like robbing people of potential sales is not an immoral action. Does that mean torrenting Stargate SG-1 is a good and moral thing to do? Not exactly, though to see why we’ll need to look at these actions in a larger context, which I’ll save for another blog post.

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One Response to “The (im?)morality of downloading/pirating music”

  1. […] While I was burning Ubuntu 10.10 Beta to a CD this morning listening to some music I downloaded, I had an idea to make a list of my top 10 favorite Matrix […]

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