The music downloading dilemma

By  Dylan Robertson, Youth Speak News
  • December 3, 2007

LimeWire, eMule, Morpheus, BitTorrent and iMesh are all free music downloading sites that young Canadians are all too familiar with.

Piracy.jpgAccording to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada has the highest per capita rate of unauthorized file-swapping of downloaded music in the world and it’s on the rise.

“I don’t have to spend money on music when I can get it for free,” said Ashley Gomes, 16, of Kitchener, Ont. “I save money and it’s a lot easier.”

“If I’m casually checking out a group, then I’ll download their music for free,” agreed Colin Belfast, 16, of Brampton, Ont. “I will use iTunes or buy the disc if I am into the band.”

Some youth say piracy is a form of personal protest against music companies.

“I personally believe that music publishing companies are making an unfair profit off the intellectual property of individual artists,” said Thomas Slabon, 14, of Kitchener. “Do I feel guilty for taking $19.50 out of the hands of music corporations? No. Do I feel guilty for taking five cents from artists? Yes.”

{sidebar id=1} Legally, there isn’t really an easy answer. The Copyright Act of Canada, established in 1921, states that copyright material copied for personal use is legal. But technology has changed and many have demanded an update to laws that deal with the broadness of mass communication on the Internet.

The latest case was in 2004, when BMG Canada tried to force Internet providers to present which users were downloading the most data. The case was thrown out by Justice Konrad von Finckenstein, who compared file-sharing to a library that places a photocopy machine in a room full of copyrighted material, according to a court case document. No one in Canada has ever been prosecuted for downloading music.

In regard to the possibility of changes to these laws, Paul Martin’s former Liberal government proposed tougher copyright laws that were about to be voted on right before the last election was called. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has not commented on this, or any other possible copyright legislation to date.

In terms of Catholic teaching many cite the seventh of the Ten Commandments, “thou shalt not steal,” as a guideline.

“The issues concerned are one’s right to the fruits of his/her labours, the obligation to pay for what we use when we do not have a right to it, and the obligation to the common good to protect what belongs to others,” said Fr. Michael Prieur, a moral theologian at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ont. “Any current ethic suggesting ‘It is all right as long as I do not get caught’ is so dangerous, because it can so easily boomerang back onto us.”

But critics say this is how radio stations, which receive CDs free of charge, promote record sales. Others mention how one can legally download music by paying for it online, and that illegal downloading is good because it leads people to convert to legal downloading.

The band Radiohead made headlines recently when it released its newest album on a “pay what you want” system. Users chose how much, if any, they wanted to pay. More than half decided not to pay anything.

“It’s fun to make people stop for a few seconds and think about what music is worth,” Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood told Rolling Stone magazine. Considering the band had more than 1.2 million copies downloaded in the first two days, perhaps it did get people thinking.

But among all this music piracy going on, some Catholic artists feel at a loss. David Wang, from the Catholic band Critical Mass, spoke about this on the band’s web site: “Some would argue that this is not a concern for Catholic artists as their predominantly Christian audience would surely not steal.”

However, the band experimented with the honour system by giving out CDs for free and taking the phone number and e-mail address of everyone who received one. Everyone was trusted to send in a cheque for the CD’s value.

“Out of the dozens of CDs given out, to date, after over four months, we have received payment for only six CDs,” wrote Wang. “It is hard for me now not to be much more cautious in the future about trusting that Christians should be treated any differently from non-Christians.”

“I personally believe it is wrong. I know it is also wrong to put a price on someone’s talents because they were given them to share,” said Erin-Lynn Keigher, 18, of Thunder Bay, Ont.

“However, when one’s life is their talent, and that is how they are supporting themselves, it is only right to support them as well.”

(Robertson, 16, is a Grade 12 student at All Saints Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, Ont.)

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