Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Legal, Economic, and Moral Dilemma

I decided to write this article after conducting conversations with many of this blog’s readers. Not surprisingly, many people believe that there are no inherent problems to downloading copyrighted material for free (music piracy). This is a response (or, more accurately, a plea) to those who hold this viewpoint. This is not meant to be a judgmental piece: first, because I have “file swapped” before; and second, this article was written as much to outline my own beliefs on the subject as it was to put forth my views to others.

The prime reason that every person in the United States should refrain from downloading copyrighted music for free is that it is illegal. There is no difference between downloading music from a peer-to-peer network, or directly from a music database. In the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of MGM v. Grokster in 2005, the Court unanimously ruled that peer-to-peer networks which allow for copyrighted material to be transferred between two or more parties can be held liable for copyright infringement. Thus, in the eyes of the law, using a peer-to-peer network to download music for free is no different from downloading music from a database of pirated music.

Second, “file swapping” is indeed illegal in and of itself. In 1997, the No Electronic Theft Act (NETA) was passed which makes it a federal felony to file swap, even through peer-to-peer networks. Furthermore, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an additional law through which music pirates can be held to account.

Third, though some individuals claim that the government’s and music industry’s non-enforcement of these legal provisions is tacit assent to download, this is logically incorrect. Most Americans (including myself) drive over the speed limit. In fact, in a majority of cases were a police officer is visible, the officer is actually driving faster than I am. Merely because law enforcement agents do not adequately enforce the speed limit does not give me (or anyone else) liberty to go whatever speed we want and disregard the law by traveling 100 mph. Our society simply does not work that way. In the same way, even if the government or the music industry is not adequately enforcing the law, this does not in any way give us an excuse to flout the law.

Fourth, whether you agree with intellectual property rights (IP) or not is irrelevant. If you are against upholding IP you can work to change the existing laws. However, just because we as American may not agree with a certain law does not give us an excuse to radically disregard it. If I do not agree with our country’s laws regarding murder, I am not free to kill someone.

Now that we have established the more than questionable legality of downloading copyrighted material from sources such as Kazaa, Grokster, or Limewire, let us look at several other points which are applicable to this discussion. In addition to the legal reasons against illegally downloading copyrighted material, there are also economic concerns. The following is an example from usinfo.state.gov:

“A good example is Hong Kong, where a thriving movie industry was so hurt by rampant piracy that, just a few years ago, observers were predicting it would disappear from the filmmaking map. Similar developments have taken place in the world of music. Ethiopian musicians went on a seven-month strike in 2003 to press for better anti-piracy measures from the government. These artists all understood the importance of protecting their works from pirates.”

Though some artists may have no problems with downloading music illegally, empirical evidence suggests that the majority of musicians and music companies are working hard to mount a defense against the problems of music piracy. Music piracy also works to stifle creativity. When there is no incentive for invention, our economy will suffer. Once again from usinfo.state.gov:

“Many new musical voices, new authors, and new stories on film around the world have never been made available, simply because the incentives were not there for these artists to take a risk. They have known that whatever they produce will be immediately pirated -- stolen -- and they will not be provided the means to develop their talent.”

Rampant piracy will have the effect of discouraging innovation and the development of new talent. In actuality, “file swapping” works counter-intuitively. The same people who download the music will be harmed by the decrease in music available for sale. After all, why would artists and studios continue to produce if there music is readily available to the public for free?

Most importantly, however, we must also see what the Bible has to say on this issue. I believe I can say most assuredly that we are not given any example in the Bible regarding “file swapping”. However, we are given many passages which shed light on this issue.

First, the Bible mandates that we submit to those in authority over us. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” (Romans 13: 1-2) God has called us to subject ourselves to the laws and rulers of our government. To disobey this decree is a direct violation of God’s command. The only time this earthly law should be disobeyed is when it contravenes God’s law. I am unconvinced that laws against “file swapping” violate God’s law.

Second, we are not to use our Christian liberty as an excuse for illegal (or even unethical) actions. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with welldoing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As fee, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” (1 Peter 2: 13-14) Even though Christ has taken the penalty of our sin, He has called us to obey not only his law but the law of the land.

And third, we also need to exemplify Christ-like behavior. When non-Christians look at our lives they should see a stark contrast between the world and us. Obeying not only God’s law but also the laws of this country is a shining example to others of the difference that Christ makes in the lives of those who follow him.

“File swapping” is more than just downloading music to listen to: it is a legal, economic, and moral dilemma. I hope that I have helped to bring clarity to this debate and challenged many longstanding assumptions to music piracy. Please post comments to let me know what you think.

Levi W. Swank

Monday, February 5, 2007

Coming Soon...

Though this blog rarely delves into issues of morality and religion, I will be suspending this injunction for an upcoming post. Due to the relevance and applicability of this topic to everyday life, I am currently working on an article entitled, "A Moral Dilemma: The Illegality of File Sharing" which will deal with the issue of file sharing from a legal and Christian standpoint. Though some individuals' views on this issue are rooted in dogmatism, I am nonetheless hoping that I will sway some of you to my side. Though this article will not be finished until sometime next week, feel free to enjoy the archives (especially my personal favorite: "The Conservative Majority":)


Sunday, February 4, 2007

More Flip-Flops than a House of Pancakes

At the Davos economic summit this past week, former Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Kerry announced that America is an "international pariah". Senator Kerry believes that the United States's refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty and its lackluster campaign against the spread of HIV/AIDS has harmed its image and led to it being an outcast. The Washington Times astutely pointed out several aspects of John Kerry's hypocrisy.

First, President Bush was not the first politician to reject the Kyoto global warming treaty, which would cap carbon emissions and institute a carbon trading system among developed countries such as the United States. But as the New York Times pointed out last month, Chinese emission will surpass those of the United States by the year 2009. However, the Kyoto Treaty would not cap the carbon emissions of developing countries such as China and India. In fact, President Clinton first saw the futility of the Treaty when he refused to submit it to Congress in 1997. In addition, the Senate voted unanimously to reject the treaty. One of the Senators who voted against the Kyoto Treaty was none other than John Kerry.

As for fighting AIDS, "Mr. Kerry's criticisms are hauntingly similar to al Qaeda's own talking points." The Bush administration has devoted three times the capital to fighting AIDS overseas than the Clinton administration did during the 1990s. And yet, Senator Kerry joins with Al Qaeda in blaming the US (and the Bush administration) rather than applauding its devotion to halting this disease's spread.

John Kerry still hasn't learned his lesson from the 2004 Presidential campaign. Some political analysts have suggested that the Bush campaign's characterization of John Kerry as a "flip flopper" was merely political rhetoric. Events since Kerry's failed Presidential bid reveal the truth behind this characterization.

Levi W. Swank