Note: I wrote this essay length reply to thenewgreens post on my smallest laptop in the world workaround, currently my window into the cyberverse. My eyes will take their vengeance on me presently. Meanwhile, I see there is much more discussion here, probably much of which refers to that which I refer, and much more. Hopefully, someday, I'll catch up. Realistically, I won't. Cheers to all nonetheless!
Well, thanks for looking out for my interests, my friend, and I hate to do any injury to my theoretically possible future self/career, but at a moment like this, it would be simply perverse not to adduce the following:
Copying is Not Theft
The fact that it doesn't serve my personal economic interests would be no worthy excuse not to confess the following: the foundational problem here is that ownership (the basis by which theft can be assessed) is itself nothing more than a contingently necessary mass-hallucination. It has no self-evident qualities, no a priori claim upon being. It might as well have been a dozen other ways, and in fact, it has. Even among societies which have participated in the belief in ownership, modern western notions of ownership remain distinct, the most highly augmented and elaborate. This distinction reveals primarily the importance of ownership, i.e., the regulation of access to stuff as a means of controlling reality, to our society. The most fantastical of these notions, the furthest abstracted from any basis or grounds in material reality, is that of intellectual property. The above video does a brilliant job of illustrating this fact, along with a hilariously nursery rhyme-esque ditty and animation to boot, which is why I love it so much, and am so delighted to share it. The laws that protect intellectual property serve to reward and thereby fuel visionaries (and any of those legally capable of appropriating said-visionaries breakthroughs), and as such, we must regard it as a powerful tool for discovery and progress. This rationale is, however, entirely utilitarian, and therefore contingent. It has no basis in reality, and is in fact contrary to what we see in the natural world, wherein discoveries, developments, evolutions, etc., are distributed, disseminated, inherited, etc., equally, and without any thought for compensation or establishment of paternity.
I ought to say that the difference between taking bread and taking files of music/what have you does demonstrate something significant about different kinds of ownership, as defined. While the taking of bread for the hungry is palpably more urgent, it also deprives the former bread-holder of actual calories. Dude now needs another loaf. On the digital download side of things, we see no urgency of acquisition, but also no deprivation of anything previously held. The mp3 is the digital equivalent of Jesus Christ's loaves and fishes, broken 5,000 times and still remaining entirely whole.
I do believe it is important to support our artists, and I am incredibly grateful to all those who have, and who will, support my own artistic endeavors. However, I would argue that to protect my own wellbeing, and indeed the vitality of our culture, we must take a different tack than that which our production/consumption based society would offer us. Instead of regarding our art as units of production, which are expected to go out into the market and return us ducats from faceless consumers in whereverland, as would a pair of tennis shoes or a smartphone or a spool of floss, we might regard it as a vital medium which connects us all, and in which we all are welcomed to have ownership, not the ownership of exclusive access, but the ownership of active participation, of engagement, and of the enfranchisement which attends active engagement.
Someone once said (and I think it was Billy Corgan, though I can't track it down ... any help?) that the music industry had basically invited the scourge of illegal downloading by pushing its artists for so long to make songs which were ever more disposable. The pop song is meant to hook you on the first listen, infect you on the second, and sicken you on the third. That way you'll be ready to welcome the next one. So what if we instead create work that is meant to outlast us, and welcome a community of listeners to be as actively engaged as were any of Shakespeare's rambunctious penny audiences?
I'd like people not to download music illegally, but not because I think it's theft, or because I think it's wrong. Rather, I'd like them to consider what they are cheating themselves out of by not committing to the works of art they are consuming, and how much more rich will their experience of it become once they show up and participate in the experience, and contribute, not just financially, which is an expression of what we value, but also with their focus, their thoughts, and their vital life energy. We don't have to swallow the modern Western faux-divides of audience/performer, connoiseur/virtuoso. This is something we're meant to do together.