Is recording live performances morally wrong?

Is it Immoral to Download Music Illegally?


For several decades I've paid the music industry many times more than the average consumer, but in recent years I've got my recordings almost entirely through "illegal" use of P2P and torrents on the Internet.

I don't view my current behavior as immoral, nor do I think the fact that I've paid a lot in the past or that I've had no income (and dwindling savings) recently has any real impact on the moral issue Has.

Most professional musicians earn no big sums of money, but what they earn comes mostly from performing live. When I go to a gig, I'm grateful if I know someone from the band and can boast a free ticket - but that expect not me; I respect a person's right to get paid for working while I'm only there to enjoy myself.

There are always enough people in the world willing to pay for a first-class album, which covers the (relatively) low cost of recording and mastering. Distribution over the internet is almost free anyway, and if people still want the physical medium they obviously have to pay for it.

The people who lose to music piracy are primarily the ones in the music distribution business, not the musicians themselves. I would be happy if their entire business went away as I think they are dinosaurs at best and leeches at worst.

Returning to the moral question, just because a relatively small number of top entertainers (including some musicians) actually get amazingly rich, doesn't mean that an aspiring musician should feel like they are being "robbed" unless he is all the max Income gets its way through its upward journey (which in most cases it will never achieve). In particular, I see no moral justification for repeatedly paying musicians to re-sell a recording that does not require any further effort after completion.


Interesting point in the last paragraph, but isn't it the same for every product? Once you have the factory built, there is no real hassle in making another t-shirt or car or whatever - basically everything is automatic. Why shouldn't it be profitable for them any longer?


@stoicfury: A factory is not the same at all - you have to keep buying materials, paying workers and selling bills, etc. Wonder if Michael Jackson's family should keep raking in tens of millions of dollars - not only from things dead did themselves, but also from the fact that he bought the rights to the Beatles songs? IMHO, it's not just about saying that it is "not immoral" to acquire such music without paying for it - it would be absolute immoral if they could get their hands on more of this totally undeserved wealth.


I get what you mean, but somebody has to work somewhere to make those Beatles CDs and Michael Jackson t-shirts. In either case, most of the money goes to the people at the top, but just because they don't crouch doesn't mean it doesn't take an effort to make the good you are getting. But yeah, I see what you're getting at. :) :)


I don't get the point of CDs - I gave away my entire collection years ago. I ripped most of them to the computer first, but all that I missed (in both senses) I just replaced from P2P sources. The distribution of music via P2P does not cause any significant costs. Burn your own CD if you want. Buy a jewelry box and print out the label if you want to own a physical product. I'm not - I just want to hear the music.

Joseph Weissman ♦

[A number of comments deleted] Let's get the comments politely and to the point. If you have a longer discussion, please take it with you to chat.


Is it immoral to negatively affect someone's potential wealth?

This is actually a very good question when we replace "wealth" with "income".

The answer is as follows:

  1. In a free market economy, high profits (and thus income) can only be achieved by meeting the urgent demand for very scarce things. For example, while water is vital, its price is usually quite low (at least outside of deserts). In certain regions, water is actually a free commodity. OTOH, diamonds, and gold, while useless per se, or at least not necessary to sustain life, have high prices and those who dig and sell them make big profits.
  2. One way to "negatively influence" potentially high profits in a free market economy would therefore be to convince people not to demand what is in short supply. As long as this happens without violence or threats of violence, there is nothing against it.
  3. Another option would be to actually reduce the scarcity of the item in question. For example, in a city that is starving, one that sells grain will make big profits. These profits will drop dramatically once fresh grain supplies are brought in and sold from outside.

But (3) is actually the definition of increasing prosperity! By producing something that people need and want, you create wealth and inevitably reduce the future profits of all manufacturers of comparable products.

So the answer to your question is "no, it's not immoral".

If so, the following activities would be immoral: smoking cessation (reducing the income of the tobacco industry); build one house next to the other (if detached houses with better views fetch higher prices); bake your own bread (think of the poor baker, old man!); Invent, build, sell and use cars / computers / washing machines; do not use cars / computers / washing machines; ... you get the picture.

There is a certain caste of rent seekers who want us to believe that "their" future profits are indeed already there now are their property, so to take away is to "steal". They have a natural alley that helps them pursue their particular interests by force - the state.


+1 That was my thinking too; I like how you later set out the economic logic and examples that show how ridiculous it would be to believe otherwise.


I think it is clear that reducing potential wealth cannot in itself be morally wrong. But the question is whether the act that leads to it is morally wrong ...


I think you oversimplified it. It is clear that not all cases of interference with a person's potential income are false. However, this does not automatically mean that every possible way to harm a person's potential income is wrong. It all comes down to how one conceptualizes property rights - what constitutes property and what constitutes property? You only mentioned that tangentially. A good answer should address this.


@ErikE I didn't say it was wrong to harm someone's potential income. On the contrary, assuming one such interference does not violate that person's real rights. For example, cutting off a person's hand is likely to have a negative impact on the individual's future income, and that is not why it is a barbaric, criminal act.


Nowhere in your post I can see that you are addressing how we determine a person's real rights in the context of morality. you to have for example, argued analogously: If baking your own bread reduces the baker's income, this corresponds to illegal copying of music (therefore illegal copying is fine). The problem with this analogy is exactly what I was commenting on: there is no reason to believe that they are the same. You made the bread with your own materials, following a recipe that you rightly own. It just seems like sloppy logic and I would like to see more rigor in your answer.

Joseph Weissman

I don't realize that the phrase "lost sales" is coherent. How is that supposed to be quantified? Even if we were forced to allocate a certain percentage of the downloads that almost certainly would have been purchased, it would have to be tiny - dwarfed by the amount of content shared in violation of what the copyright owner wanted in this regard.

As an aside, as I hinted at in my comments above, there is at least some disagreement over the idea that an illegal download is morally meaningful (at least when compared to implicitly supporting the arguably immoral behavior of for-profit music industry executives, the underlying capitalist framework with its tendency to relentlessly exploit artists, and so on.)

From a broader perspective, illegal downloads appear to be a relatively minor "problem" compared to the revolutionary changes we are seeing in the social and economic order today, due in part to the increasing connectivity of people on the internet and increasing numbers Effects of globalization on everyday life. I suggest that artists need to focus on creating products with inherent or intrinsic value and giving people a reason to buy. Fighting piracy is ultimately an enormous waste of time.

You can read about a recent presentation by the creator of Minecraft in which he more or less does this case. He emphasizes the difference between piracy and theft and the incoherence of the "lost sale" concept and the importance of giving people a reason to buy. From there:

Piracy is not theft. If you steal a car, the original is lost. If you copy a game, there will simply be more of it in the world ... There is no such thing as a "lost sale" ... Is a bad review a lost sale? What about a missed shipping date?


One concept that I thought worth mentioning comes from Judaism. The idea is that there is a separation between cases where "you enjoy and you have not lost" (זה נהנה וזה לא לא) and cases where "you enjoy and you have lost" (זה נהנה וזה חסר). If you are downloading copyrighted material, you can argue that it falls under the first category, as you are not making them actually lose something they already have, all you have to do is prevent them from receiving any additional payments that they may have To have a demand. In this case, it is often considered not immoral to do (or take) the thing, as we like it when people enjoy things. The original example is in the Baba Kama tract of the Babylonian Talmud, pp. 20-21, which discusses whether a man who has slept on another man's property without the owner knowing (or actually losing something) is ), is obliged to pay in arrears and they conclude that in general it is not (I oversimplify it, it depends on the circumstances). On this basis, the rabbis would also sometimes say that the owner might be required to allow the action in cases where he does not lose anything, as they do not like it when people enforce their rights in a way that hurts someone (i.e. if you didn't want to rent this property out anyway, it seems unfair to prevent me from living there.


In your post you implicitly took the position that property can only be tangible things, not information (which has the unique attribute that it can be faithfully copied from one representation to another without destroying the original representation). But you have said nothing to support such a claim. Your no loss argument is interesting, but that is the question that is being questioned: does illegal piracy cause the kind of loss that is immoral? And you just did accepted, that this is not without explanation.