When I was 10 years old, my friend and I discovered Kazaa: an online music library where we could find virtually any song we wanted and have it on our computer within minutes! We immediately began searching for every song we liked just to see how far that scope of Kazaa reached. Along with this first experience though, there was a small part of me that was hesitant. Surely there was something a little bit sketchy, a little bit dirty about enjoying a song that weeks prior I would’ve had to go to the record store and purchase the full album to enjoy. I began to educate myself. What was file sharing? It’s called sharing, what’s wrong with sharing? I watched documentaries such as Steal This Film, and I read all the hilarious comments from the founders of the Pirate Bay. I learned about the legal grey area in Canada (changed in 2012) that tolerated music downloading for personal use. The more I read, the more justified “sharing” became for me. My main arguments were as follows
- “It’s just like listening to music for free on the radio except this radio is curated by the people rather than powerful and controlling corporations;”
- “Did you know that for every $12 album sold in America the label typically takes about $11 of it and the artist gets $1 which in turn they pay back to the label for the cheque that they were given to start up;”
- “It’s not STEALING, stealing removes a physical object causing there to be one less of that particular physical object, with sharing you’re making a digital copy causing no actual loss of sales. There is no difference in sales between downloading the album and not listening to the album at all;”
- “And actually, sharing the album increases the band’s popularity, driving up t-shirt and concert ticket sales for a band you probably wouldn’t have supported at all beforehand.”
When I learned about the massive lawsuits brought about by the RIAA, suing some elderly woman for millions of dollars in damages for downloading 14 songs a fire started inside of me. This was injustice in the highest order and the cronies of the music industry needed to be taken down. With all of this philosophizing and justification there was still something that didn’t sit right with me. There was still a little feeling of guilt lingering somewhere in the back of my heart. I could easily quiet it with some anti-establishment rants to friends but every time I stopped the feeling would return.
I spent a lot time ranting angrily, self-righteously decrying the injustice of the corporations, but eventually came to the discovery that I was using the “music industry” and “corporations” as a scapegoat for the injustice that I had buried deep inside of me. As I began to humble myself and experience grace it became less and less likely that I would download music and movies. There was no more need to take down “the man” because I realized “the man” I was trying to take down this whole time was just the one inside of me. I started to find that so many good artists were willing to share their music for free online (see Noisetrade.com) and with affordable music services like Spotify and Rdio popping up, there was less and less of a reason for me to steal.
Make no mistake, there still much injustice in music industry and I’m not saying that we should be dismissive of it. What I am saying is that perhaps we should take the log out of our own eye before taking the speck out of the music industry’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5) Perhaps God is calling us to pay our taxes to the Caesar of the music industry and just buy the album. Furthermore, it is fine to decry the problem, but it is better to seek to be part of the solution.