I downloaded the new Beach Boys album yesterday, for free.
I ‘stole’ it, if you like – I wasn’t supposed to be downloading it for free and the person who shared it wasn’t supposed to be doing that, either (not sure which of us was committing the greater ‘crime”, the sharer or the downloader). Anyway I listened to it and it’s a damn sight better than it ought to be (ok, it’s a bit weird hearing pensioners singing about cruising and picking up girls but hey, it’s a beach boys album, what did you expect?) – the voices are still there on the whole and Brian has created some of his best melodies and arrangements in 40 years.
So my next question is whether to buy it or not, and the answer is – I don’t know yet. If I decide I *really* like it, and would add it to my ipod, and choose to play it from time to time (or feel happy when a random track from it shuffles onto my playlist and appears in my headphones) then yes, i will. But if it’s just ok and I could quite happily never hear it again then no, I won’t. And if i decide that I would never consciously and deliberately choose to play it again (as opposed to not minding the odd track here and there) then I’ll delete it altogether. Life is too short to listen to music that’s just ‘OK’.
So morally, how do I feel?
Well, OK actually. There are certain artists (Amanda Palmer and Kristin Hersh come to mind straightaway) that I have sufficient trust and respect for that I would/will/have immediately paid for any new product from them on spec. I have about a dozen legitimately bought Beach Boys CDs, and about as many vinyl albums, and I paid for the recent SMiLE box set though it was easily downloadable for free.
There will always be ‘thieves’, people who will take something that isn’t theirs without paying for it and without any intention of paying for it.
There will also always be ‘fans’, people who will buy merchandise by artists that they like, irrespective of whether they could have got it for free.
But in the case of digital media (e.g. MP3 files), the ‘owner’ of the copyright/work does not lose anything as a result of a ‘theft’, all that happens is that they don’t *get* anything for it. That’s not like stealing a CD or any other physical media, where they would actually make a material loss.
Artists like Amanda Palmer and Kristin Hersh (and the Grateful Dead before them) understand that it doesn’t matter how much “free” stuff is floating around (legit or pirated) as long as there are enough people who are willing to pay for it. If only 10 people have paid for an album and nobody else has even heard it, isn’t it better if 1,000,000 people download it for free and then 1000 of them pay for it? The other 999,000 people wouldn’t have paid for it anyway so let them have a free copy. Who knows, they may play it to a friend who will then buy it.
For a similar reason, and with similar justification, from time to time I buy MP3s from the semi-legal iron curtain sites like MP3Fiesta, MP3Million, LegalSounds, etc. These sites *claim* to pay the artists what they are legally obliged to and that sort of eases my conscience. But I wouldn’t (for example) “buy” the Beach Boys album from there, if I decide to buy it I’ll go via Amazon or iTunes (and I can show you the receipts from there, and from KickStarter, and CashMusic, to prove that I have paid for music that I could have got – or already had – for free). I’ll reserve my Russian MP3 purchases for albums that I want to tread a middle ground with – normally albums that I already have on vinyl or early (unremastered) CD and don’t want to ‘steal’ but also don’t want to pay full whack for.
On a side (but sorta related) issue, I watched ‘The Secret Millionaire’ last night. Not quite sure why, because I really wasn’t particularly interested and I found the main bloke a bit of a dull and undeserving nobody. I was one of the earliest customers in the original Computer Exchange on Whitfield Street (just like I used to go to the original Virgin records at the back of the shoe shop in Oxford Street) and it was a really unwelcoming place (most of the CEX stores still are). Bored staff smoking dope & listening to music and occasionally serving the odd customer (and that was on the days when they could be bothered to open on time, or at all). But they hit upon a market that was wide open – people like me part exchanging two x 1MB SIMMs for two x 2MB SIMMs or trying to get a cheap VESA local bus sound or video card for less than the retail price. I don’t begrudge him his money, he got lucky and fair enough, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if he went bust and lost it all.