Corruption, Conscience, and Copyright:
The Current State of Intellectual Property and the Future of the Music Industry
“Today’s pirates operate not on the high seas but on the Internet, in illegal CD factories, distribution centers, and on the street. The pirate’s credo is still the same--why pay for it when it’s so easy to steal? The credo is as wrong as it ever was. Stealing is still illegal, unethical, and all too frequent in today’s digital age. That is why RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] continues to fight music piracy.” – RIAA.com
The human conscience is a powerful tool. And if you are like most Americans, you probably consider yourself to be a rather moral person, at least based upon your own morality, your own conscience. Chances are, however, that you have engaged in some form of illegal activity during your life: speeding down a familiar road, jaywalking across an empty street, driving with a broken blinker. Assuming you consider yourself to be of high moral stature, how does your conscience reconcile this? The answer: the unlawful does not always imply the unethical, and that which is illegal is not necessarily immoral.
Since the digital revolution in the 1990’s, the downloading of copyrighted music has skyrocketed. The Recording Industry Association of America, RIAA, has denounced music piracy, claiming that it is both illegal and immoral. And they drive a hard bargain, arguing the following:
1. Downloading music is against the law.
2. Downloading music betrays the songwriters and recording artists who create it.
3. Downloading music stifles the careers of new artists and up-and-coming bands.
4. Downloading music threatens the livelihood of the thousands of working people who are employed in the music industry (Music United).
However, music downloads have seen no signs of slowing, as between 300 million and 500 million songs were downloaded every day in 2006 (Holahan). But why, then, do millions of Americans continue to download copyrighted material from the internet? Perhaps, despite legal prohibition, most consciences do not consider it immoral. And perhaps these millions of American consciences are correct.
Let me make it clear, there is no doubt that property rights are a necessary feature of a successful economy. This certainly includes intellectual property rights, which ensure quality and consistency for buyers, and secure incentives for continued production by the sellers. However, intellectual property rights are inherently more abstract than rights concerning physical property, and there has always been a legally interpreted grey area concerning intellectual property.
Intellectual property, unlike physical property, is non-rival. If a good is rival, it means that one person’s use of the object will diminish another person’s use of that object, as in the example of an apple: one person’s eating of an apple will diminish another person’s ability to eat that apple. Intellectual...