Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hammerman on Ethics: File Sharing: Kosher or Not?

My latest "Hammerman on Ethics" discusses the controversial notion of file sharing, See File Sharing: Kosher or Not?

Q - Is it ethical to download and share current movies, songs and articles without paying for them?

It's hard to find a justification for the free use of video or music that people should be paying for. There's a reason they call it "piracy." But it all comes down to drawing the line between sharing and stealing. see the rest of my response here.

I tried to present a fairly balanced view, given that these are to a degree uncharted waters. A friend who has been in the music industry responded and made some important points. I share them below:

Hi Rabbi,

I have to comment on your file sharing article.

To start, although "file sharing" is the term used to describe this practice, files are not shared. They are copied and distributed to persons who have not paid for them. And the majority of these files are for entertainment, not to sustain life. We are not speaking about food or clothing or shelter. We are talking about people who choose not to pay for something others do pay for, to save their discretionary income for something they are not able to steal for free.

Fair use, which you mention, only applies to activities that do not harm the copyright owner's market for their work. Thus, use for educational/teaching purposes would be covered, but not allowing the taking of or giving away a work to some one who would otherwise have to pay for it.

Also, the analogy of trading cassettes with friends is flawed in a couple of ways. This activity was always illegal, but not criminal, and not enforced by rights owners as it created a small amount of harm when weighed against the negative pr of enforcing these rights. More importantly, how many cassettes could any one student in a dorm make and give away? A dozen, a hundred even a thousand? That doesn't compare to the literally hundreds of millions of copies made on P2P file sharing sites.

In addition, to question the economics of whether a "mogul" or a company or artist has already made enough is surprising in a free market, even if they were the only ones being harmed, which they are not. Who decides when enough money has been made from a product? The seller, the buying public or someone who doesn't have a stake in the matter and doesn't recognize the value of intangible property or the free market?
Doesn't supply and demand and price elasticity control when enough is enough? Why should BMW, and why can BMW, charge more for a car than Hyundai if they cost the same amount to manufacture? Because enough buyers are willing to pay for the BMW at that price, is why.

File sharing is theft. There is no doubt in any of the court decisions or among any of the rights holders who spend time and money to create a work, decide to sell it and are then deprived of some portion of their potential upside by a person or persons who share it with millions of others (when at least a portion of those other people would pay for the song or movie if they could not get/steal it for free).

If you were a full time free lance author of articles, and that was how you made your living, would you still think "the jury is out" if you could not sell or syndicate the article because it is on a file sharing site available for free?

File sharing is not a romantic Robin Hood activity. It has cost the entertainment industry billions of dollars and resulted in tens of thousands of people (not moguls or stars) losing their jobs as those industries have contracted. Many of my friends and colleagues have lost their jobs as a result of this so it is not an abstract discussion to me. It is a clear and unambiguous violation of the 8th Commandment and children should be taught that.

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