Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Free Music?

-- You Don’t Need a Patch to be a Pirate --

It’s one of those issues we don’t like to think about. It’s not like we’re walking into a store and taking something off the shelf without paying for it. It’s only one mouse click away – and we’re not even leaving the comfort of our home to do it. Plus, it’s usually Christian music. That has to make a difference, right?

Justin Daniels certainly thought so. “I mean, I was downloading and burning like ten or twelve songs a week at one point to give to some of my unsaved friends. One of the guys liked the Christian music so much that he quit listening to his secular stuff. Seriously, if I’d had to buy all those CDs to give my friend, I could have easily spent a couple hundred dollars. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”

Imagine his surprise when his youth pastor called it a sin to download songs from file-sharing sites. “I mean, I went home feeling so guilty,” Justin admitted. “Here I’d turned my friends onto some great Christian music, but I’d done it by stealing from the artists that made the music!”

So what did Justin do about it? Something many of us would probably never have the guts to do. He purchased some compilation CDs that showcased some of his favorite songs and artists and gave them to his friends – along with an apology. “They looked at me a little funny,” he confessed, “but I really think they had more respect for me as a fellow Christian when I explained why I was doing it.”

Justin is not alone. He is one of millions of other Christian teens who download songs illegally on a regular basis. According to a survey done by the Los Angeles Times, Christian teens are just as active in stealing and swapping music as their secular peers. Justin says he had always assumed artists were making hundreds of thousands of dollars anyway and he didn’t think it would make any difference if he downloaded a couple of their songs because “it wasn’t like they were going to lose money over it or something”.

Christian writer and musician, Mark Pettigrew says, “People who rip musicians off often justify their theft by saying that the musicians are already filthy rich anyway. That just shows their ignorance and the need to more effectively educate non-musicians about the realities of the music business. Yes, there are a few musicians who are extremely wealthy, but for every musician in that category, there are thousands of musicians, maybe even tens of thousands, who are forced to work at day jobs for which they are poorly suited because they cannot make a living doing what they love to do the most.“

Besides, even if it were true that all musicians were rich and that stealing from musicians made no appreciable difference [in record sales], the bottom line is still that stealing is stealing. There's nothing in the Ten Commandments to suggest that there's an exemption from the command "Thou Shalt Not Steal" in cases where one's victims are rich: Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world. He probably makes more money in one hour than I make in one year. But it would still be wrong for me to steal from him.”

There is also a very practical side to this issue. As Christian singing group ZOEgirl put it, "The availability of copying, uploading, and downloading CDs has severely affected the funds that are available to record, market and package the music we now make. People need to be educated on the fact that if piracy continues at the current rate, very soon there will simply not be the amazing music that is out there now."

Pettigrew continues, “When a musician asks for remuneration or requires it, he or she is not "charging people for the gospel" [as some seem to think]. He or she is charging money in order to recoup the costs of all the expensive music equipment people have come to expect during such performances. He or she is receiving reimbursement for the countless hours of unpaid hard work and practice which enable that musician to do what he or she does.”

Los Angeles Times columnist, Geoff Boucher reports, “In a Times entertainment poll this summer, teens were asked about downloading songs from an unauthorized file-sharing network. Among those who identified themselves as religious (of any faith), 63% said they would never do it. Among teens who did not describe themselves as religious, it was a similar proportion at 61%.”

“It’s sad to me that we’re not being the City on a Hill we were called to be. What kind of example is that anyway?” 16-year-old Sarah Clark asked in an online survey. “They think it’s somehow okay because it’s Christian music or because they’re giving good music to their unsaved friends---”

Which was Justin’s excuse exactly. “In my mind, it was like, ‘It’s Christian music anyway, and it made my friend quit listening to the secular stuff.’ It wasn’t just like I was giving away Christian music to unsaved friends and it was just sitting there. It was like, I gave this music to my friend and he completely quit listening to secular music because of it. I wasn’t just hoping for good results – I was getting them. But the fact that some good came out of it still can’t detract from the fact that I was stealing and that it was wrong.”

But does it feel like stealing? That does seem to be the question. For some reason, teens have a hard time making the issue of music piracy a moral issue – especially because the music is right there: it’s easily accessible, and... everybody else is doing it.“I have to admit, sometimes it’s really hard to buy songs off of iTunes when I know some friends who just downloaded the same song from Limewire for free or something,” Justin confesses. “And when I confront them about it, they always seem to have an armload of excuses about why it’s okay – it’s just crazy.”

23-year-old Nathan elaborated, “I've heard so many excuses from Christians saying why it's okay for them to download music online. Honestly, it doesn't matter whether you’re doing it to help a friend or if you wouldn't buy the CD anyway. And it doesn’t matter if you were thinking about buying the CD, but weren't sure, or if you downloaded the songs because you didn't have the money to buy them. Would you steal from a normal store for those reasons? There's no difference. It seems different because it's in the privacy of your home and because so many other people are doing it but the fact is -- between you and God -- it's wrong.”

“But sometimes it’s just plain hard to do the right thing,” Justin adds.

However, the fact still remains: as Christians we are called to live lives that are holy and blameless before God—and men. If it can start out with something as simple as paying for your music instead of just taking it, it’s still a baby step in the right direction.But baby-stepping is not always an easy task. “What difference is it going to make anyway?” we ask. I’m not sure. But, beyond the scope of making a difference, we will still be called to give an answer for the things we’ve done. If we want to be faithful in the big things, we need to be faithful in the small things too. Even if it means a few extra dollars spent.

So, the next time you’re online, consider stopping by iTunes or Napster and glancing through their music. Or, if you’re not able to spend the money, maybe you could stop by the MySpace pages of some of your favorite artists: they always give a great preview of their music – and it doesn’t cost anything just to listen. And, in the meantime, maybe you could also encourage your friends to think through the issue of music piracy.

Justin concludes, “It’s a lot of stuff to work through and conviction doesn’t always come overnight, but if we are true followers of Christ, we need to listen to His Spirit’s leading and do what we know is right – whether someone’s watching us or not.”

My thoughts exactly.


Margarite said...

This is such a important issue one that people try to ignore but it must be addressed. I do not like iTunes so well, but we have to be blameless in God's sight.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...that made me think a bit.

We'll have to chat about this. ;)

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