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Sharing Isn’t Bad Unless It’s Not Yours and Then It’s Stealing

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*DISCLAIMER: For the last time, I’m not actually an expert on copyright law. I have opinions on it, but then again I have opinions on lots of things including music, literature, and film. So while it’s nice that I keep getting my opinion asked on matters concerning copyright law, I don’t know what I’m talking about. These are just opinions. And a very sparse smattering of facts.

This is probably going to hurt me in some way later on in life but I have illegally downloaded music. To anyone crying foul I would say this: I don’t anymore and everyone’s a hypocrite. The reason I use to illegally download music was because I use to be so obsessed with certain British bands* that I had to have everything they ever recorded in my collection or I would be sad. I’m no longer at that level of obsession and I have a better understanding of how royalties work so I can no longer argue that I make up for my nefarious ways by purchasing merch and going to their concerts. I “get” illegal downloading. Honestly I do. But just because you understand why someone does something doesn’t make their illegal action any less illegal. I’ve said before that copyright law isn’t perfect and that they way record companies handle enforcing copyright law (amongst other things) isn’t perfect either. But as any elementary teacher can tell you two wrongs does not equal a right. Illegal is still illegal even if it doesn’t conform with how you think the world should work.
So what’s so wrong with sharing? Nothing. If you choose to share an original work, for instance a photograph, and decide to forgo normal copyright protections for Creative Commons then sharing is just jimdandy. Or let’s say you take a photograph and decide that you’re just going to forgo any kind of legal protection for the work. You put it the work into the ether and let whatever happens happen. That’s fine and completely your choice. The problem occurs when you share something that isn’t, legally speaking, yours to share. I own a copy of Lily Allen’s most recent album.** That one copy is mine and mine alone. According to copyright law I don’t have the right to provide copies of Lily Allen’s album to the ether. It doesn’t matter if I don’t make a single penny, it’s not my right to share my copy of Lily Allen’s album with anyone. The fact that Lily Allen (and Lily Allen’s manager and producer and the people who wrote the songs with her and her record labels) lose money is almost beside the point. The only person who has the right to make copies of Lily Allen’s album is Lily Allen.*** Hence copyright. It’s the right to make copies. I don’t have that right. You don’t have that right. My blind dog Rosie doesn’t have that right. Only Lily Allen. So when you share a copy of your favorite artist’s album with someone else over the internet you are, in a very general way, depriving that artist of some money. And that small amount of money amounts to a shit ton of money when millions of people all around the world do it. And that’s when sharing becomes a problem.
Tempestuous Sea (Erin) made a really good point after class about filing sharing, particularly dealing with music but which really applies to all kinds of file sharing. If you really love an artist you should be willing to fund their career by actually purchasing their music. And I think that’s part of the reason I don’t illegally download anything anymore: If I really like something I should be willing to take the time to watch it or spend the money to own it legally. You can say what you want about the big bad record companies and how copyright only benefits the fat cat corporations (and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong) but as I’ve said time and time again copyright came into existence to benefit creators. And for the most part copyright still does what it’s suppose to do. Now please stop asking me to write the same thing over and over again.

*Okay, one British band that will be discussed at length when we get to fanfiction. You guys have no idea what you’re getting into when we get to that section. It’s going to be insane.
**Why Lily Allen? Because I’m listening to her right now. That’s why.
***This is probably not technically true. Based on my class last year, her record label probably actually holds the copyright to the sound recordings and her music publisher probably holds the copyright to the songs. But we’re going to pretend that it’s Lily and only Lily.

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