Is downloading Justin Beiber a sin?

I was out to dinner on the weekend and the topic of copyright laws and downloading music came up during conversation. A friend asked me if downloading music was a sin in the Catholic Church and I really didn’t know the answer.

“Thou shall not steal” is a pretty powerful statement and its hard to avoid that downloading something on the ‘black market’ internet sites is morally questionable.

So, is it wrong for a Catholic to download music?

Is downloading music really considered stealing? Personally, I think artists and corporations get enough money from concerts, and I’d never download Kiwi music or talent. But that’s besides the point.

In days gone by we used to record our favourite music on cassette tapes, so why is downloading any different?

Is there a difference between theft (you take an item A from a person B. The person B does not have the item A, while you do) and piracy (you take an item A from a person B. Both of you now have the item A)?

The other perspective is:

“Piracy is not raiding and plundering Best Buys and FYEs, smashing the windows and running out with the loot. It’s like being placed in a store full of every DVD in existence. There are no employees, no security guards, and when you take a copy of movie, another one materializes in its place, so you’re not actually taking anything. If you were in such a store, you’d only have your base moral convictions to keep you from cloning every movie in sight. And anyone who knows how to get to this store isn’t going to let their conscience stop them, especially when there is no tangible “loss” to even feel bad about.”

And thus begins the debate…

Saint Peter of Nicomedia, pray for us.

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    Comments: 5

    1. John Jensen March 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      This has been discussed here before. Some, at least, of those downloaded-but-not-purchased bits of music, would otherwise have represented purchases – some portion of which the owner of the copyright (not necessarily the artist) would receive.

      Since, in most cases, the owner of the copyright is going to make sure he gets what he needs to make a profit, what this does is to increase the price of the copy to those who do purchase it.

      It is argued – very plausibly, I think – that at least part of the major rise in the price of printed materials that occurred after the advent of cheap photocopying was because of loss of sales – there were other factors, including the changes in taxation law, at least in the US.

      Bottom line: you are stealing from people who buy the product. It is analogous to people who over-ride on the ‘bus – they are not really stealing from the ‘bus company, because the company will set its prices so that it stays in business – must do so in order to stay in business. They are stealing from the paying riders.

      Specifically downloading Justin Bieber is a sin against good taste, of course – on the other hand, some of the sin, at least, is mitigated by mis-spelling his name as ‘Beiber’ which at least lets him know who is boss.

      jj

    2. Kereopa March 12, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks JJ.

      But that’s still a moral judgement rather than a spiritual one.

      Bottom line: you are stealing from people who buy the product. It is analogous to people who over-ride on the ‘bus – they are not really stealing from the ‘bus company, because the company will set its prices so that it stays in business – must do so in order to stay in business. They are stealing from the paying riders.

      I’d disagree on this, also. You could argue that sitting on a bus is taking up room that a paying customer might otherwise take up and therefore your penalising the company. But imagine taking a seat on a bus and another one appearing in its place.

      Downloading a movie or a song doesn’t prevent someone losing out. Also CDs and DVDs have reduced in price, not increased. Though they’re still heavily overpriced.

      Touche re Bieber

    3. John Jensen March 13, 2012 at 9:35 am

      I’d disagree on this, also. You could argue that sitting on a bus is taking up room that a paying customer might otherwise take up and therefore your penalising the company. But imagine taking a seat on a bus and another one appearing in its place.

      No, that’s not what I argued. It’s not the company that is penalised, unless it chooses to just fail – which it won’t. It’s the paying customers who now have to pay more, so that the company will not fail. It’s not the seat that is being taken; it’s the extra money that I, a paying ‘bus rider have to pay, because you – well, not you, I’m sure :-), but the over-rider – did not pay. Of course, even having to wait for another ‘bus would be a cost, but that is not what I meant.

      Downloading a movie or a song that you were supposed to pay for does prevent someone losing out – the ones who pay for it, who have to pay more.

      One reason, of course, that CDs and DVDs cost as much as they do is precisely because of piracy. Whether they are over-priced in the sense of charging more than a reasonable seller should charge is irrelevant. The alleged sin of the CD seller does not justify my real sin in piracy.

      jj

    4. Opthomistic March 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Ah yes, as JJ mentions some extremely attractive and humble beingfrankers discussed this here: http://www.beingfrank.co.nz/is-intellectual-property-property

      Not sure if we got a conclusion though. Maybe it is another starting point?

      Whether it is sinful or not, it would not be as grave as listening to terrible music like Bieber ;)

    5. John Jensen March 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      Whether it is sinful or not, it would not be as grave as listening to terrible music like Bieber

      This, I think, is the most important point – heed well!

      jj