There’s a lot of confusion these days about copyrights, sharing digital media, and the like. The laws are constantly being challenged and changed, and no one seems to know for sure what’s legal and what’s not. But some things are clear. One of those is that piracy is legally and morally wrong. What’s piracy? Piracy is “the copying of works without the permission of the rights holders and outside the scope of ‘fair use’ rights” (more). Basically, piracy means copying music, movies, or software for purposes other than your personal use (such as making a backup or transferring a CD to MP3’s for your iPod). It also includes the use of works copied by someone else.
This brings us to file sharing, which has brought piracy to a whole new level. It’s ironic that they call it file sharing. So kind, so generous…it would make your mother proud, right? In most cases…wrong. Let’s not beat around the bush, here. “File sharing,” in the way it is most commonly used today, is really “file stealing.” When you rip your latest CD purchase, put it up on Kazaa, and “share” it with the world, you’re giving people something that you don’t have the right to give them. You might argue that copying a digital file isn’t really stealing, since the original file hasn’t been moved at all, but you are denying the creator of that digital work the right they have to make a profit on that work.
Now, I’m not saying that file sharing is inherently bad. In fact, peer-to-peer file sharing is a great way to share music you write and record, funny video’s you make with your friends (make sure your friends know you’re sharing the video’s, or you might get sued), and just about anything else you create that you want to spread around. But the key here is that you create the works you share-giving others the freedom to pass it along as well. (If you’re interested, check out creativecommons.org for more information on sharing and licensing your own creative work.)
If you are a Christian and you are “sharing” files that you don’t own, hopefully you are experiencing some inner conflict. That inner conflict is most likely the Holy Spirit prompting you to come clean. (If you haven’t had any inner conflict, either you are ignoring the issue altogether or you don’t care-both of which are bigger issues.) In any case, something you believe is keeping you from stopping, and it’s probably one, or a combination, of the following.
- You don’t have the money to buy all the music, movies, or software you want or need.
- You tell yourself that you are just sampling, with the intent to buy later.
- You don’t think the law is very clear, so you think it’s not your responsibility to know it.
- You don’t think you’ll get caught.
- You know lots of people, including Christians, do it.
- You think the music, movie and software industries are greedy and don’t deserve payment.
- You believe the artists and creators aren’t affected.
All of these are excuses. Many of them seem like good arguments, but let’s see how they stack up against the truth.
- God promises to provide all your needs. “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) If you aren’t content with the music, movies, and software the Lord has blessed you with, you need to pray and examine yourself for the reason why.
- Telling yourself you are just sampling, with the intent to buy later, is as good an excuse as eating a box of cereal at the grocery store and deciding if you’ll pay for it a few weeks later.
- Since piracy is stealing, it is against God’s law. “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) And since piracy is illegal, it is against our country’s laws. And breaking the laws of our country is also against God’s law. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:13-15)
- If you’ve paid attention to the news lately, you’ve probably noticed that the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has filed suits not only against major offenders of music sharing, but also against 12-year old girls. So, if you think there’s safety in numbers (or age), think again.
- Just because file sharing is common doesn’t mean it’s suddenly acceptable behavior. As Christians, we cannot take our cues from other people, whether they are Christians or not. Plenty of Christians speed, gossip, and get divorced. Does that mean those things are okay?
- The music, movie and software industries may or may not be greedy. Most likely, it’s not that simple. Certainly some people (maybe lots, maybe only a few) in these industries are greedy. But there are plenty of computer programmers, sound mixers, technicians, makeup artists, grips, and gaffers who are just trying to make a living, and those are the people you are stealing from.
- The artists and creators behind the music, movies, and software you like are always affected when you steal from them. They have every right to expect that their creations are paid for, and you do a disservice to them when you “share” their work.
What You Can Do
So, what’s a Christian to do? First, stop pirating. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28) If that means uninstalling Kazaa or your other peer-to-peer software, so be it. Second, it’s time to get creative. Here are some ideas:
- Short on cash? Get your music, movies, and software used. Go to thrift stores and used music stores, look online, or try CD swapping. (Make sure that you don’t keep a copy when you swap-that’s the same as piracy.) This may mean that you have to hold off for a little while on getting the newest music and movies, but in my experience, they hit the used racks pretty quick anyway. You just have to be on the lookout.
- No cash? There’s still Internet radio. If you have a decent connection, there are a ton of streams out there you can listen to. As for movies, do you have to have a copy of Shawshank Redemption? Do you know how many people have that movie? Just borrow it.
- If you must have the latest in music, try iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes/) or something similar. 99 cents a song isn’t so bad if you didn’t want the whole album to begin with.
- Look for the freebies. There are free and legal MP3’s out there-I have quite a few, myself. You can also find a lot of band sites with whole songs free for the stream. (Now, don’t rip the stream…that’s stealing, too.)
If you have a ton of music, movies, or software, it’s going to be hard to part with. And if you’ve enjoyed the ease with which you’ve collected your favorite media up to this point, you’ll probably hate stopping. But, the truth remains: pirating dishonors God, hurts your walk with Jesus, and damages your witness with others. As a Christian, nothing should be worth that to you.