Sharing Your Digital Music, Movies and Books is Not Stealing (Maybe)

A few weeks ago, Logan convinced me to read the The Hunger Games (I did not enjoy it as much as she did), and offered to “lend” me her e-book, so that we could both watch the film as informed moviegoers. I hesitated. A voice in my head whispered, “Is this okay?” I gave Logan a look, and she instantly knew what it meant.

“Dude, if I had a copy of the physical book with me, you’d have no problem borrowing it, right?”

And yes —this is true and totally reasonable! But my tiger parents raised me to be the sort of person who feels guilty whenever I do something that barely hints at breaking the law. My heart told me to just buy the book, so that’s what I did. 

I had not always known that’d I’d feel this way about “free” digital media. My freshman year of college was also the year that Napster was the thing, and I downloaded my fair share of illegal music until the site shut down. I don’t download music illegally anymore. With programs like Grooveshark, Pandora, and Spotify available on our computers and mobile devices, you don’t need to do that anymore. And Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube has more than satisfied my need to zone out on something after a long day of working (blogging). I’ll still buy the occasional song (Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” is so good), and pay to see the occasional movie (The Hunger Games was not so good), but these things are just a blip in the money I spend each month.

But Stuart P. Green, a professor at Rutgers Law School, would tell me that I’m taking this “illegal downloading” thing too seriously. He would probably send me this video that Freakonomics posted:

He would tell me, like he did in an op-ed in The New York Times, that sharing your music files with your friends isn’t really stealing. He would say, if your friend stole your bike, you would no longer have a bike. But if your friend copied your music collection onto a flash drive, you would still have all your music, but now so would he. Is it stealing if you still have your stuff?

I’ll leave it to the smart legal people to figure that out, but if I had to choose a side, I’d go with paying money to support the people (and yes the record companies and movie execs) who put in the time and effort to create something I’d enjoy. Thank you, whoever wrote that Justin Bieber song. I hope you saw a penny from that digital download.


Photo Credit: The Creative Penn/Flickr



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