Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 26, 2004
Moral high ground tune hits too many sour notes
Downloading music is not a black and white matter
On the Other Hand
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
The Gospel Music Association has launched an industry-wide campaign to "educate and inform" Christian music consumers about music downloading, file sharing and CD burning.
The campaign theme is Millions of Wrongs Don't Make It Right and was initiated after a study conducted by The Barna Group, a research firm specializing in analysis of cultural trends and the Christian Church, found that despite the widespread coverage of legal arguments and the music industry's war against unauthorized file copying, most young consumers possess no moral qualms about obtaining music for free.
Barna determined that a large majority of teens (86 per cent) believe that music sharing - including copying CDs for friends or downloading music online - either is morally acceptable or not even a moral issue.
Just eight per cent think such activities are morally wrong, and that the views and behaviours of Christian teens in this matter are nearly the same as those of young people with no Christian profession of faith. "We went into this study wanting to learn more about our young consumers and how their faith intersects with this vital issue," commented GMA president John Styll.
"We were somewhat surprised to find that it does not. This furthers our resolve that we, meaning the industry, parents and spiritual leaders, need to do a better job educating the hearts and minds of young people to the basic biblical principle, 'Thou shalt not steal.'"
"The GMA has been an outspoken supporter of the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) efforts to fight piracy, but we still believe we must make a stronger and more direct appeal to our specific music fan base. With the campaign, we hope to establish the moral argument for our consumers; thereby moving them from wrong behaviour to the many legal alternatives to acquire their music," Styll added.
THE GREY AREAS
As a Christian, I am usually inclined to respect organizations like the GMA, but their implicit black and white presumption of "the moral high ground" in this matter that is nuanced by vast spectrums of grey rubs me the wrong way.
Both the Barna study and the GMA campaign are predicated on an assumption that music file swapping is morally wrong.
But on what basis is that evaluation being made?
Wrong because the GMA and the RIAA say it is? Wrong because it's against the law under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)?
Where does that leave Canadian teenagers after the Copyright Board of Canada ruled in December that the Copyright Act allows for personal, non-commercial copying of music, including downloads from the Internet, and a Federal Court ruling in April reaffirmed that downloading songs or making files available in shared directories does not constitute copyright infringement under current Canadian law?
Is something "immoral" on one side of the border somehow "moral" on the other because a court says so?
If, now that the Martin Liberals have won the election, they with their proposal to make file-swapping illegal, does that make this government (or worse, interest-conflicted industry lobbyists) the arbiters and authors of what is "moral?" (Heaven forbid!) I think not.
This is a legal, political and philosophical dogfight - not a moral issue.
Indeed, I have more difficulty perceiving activities of the RIAA and its fellow-travellers as morally adequate than the behaviour of casual file-swappers.
I also have problems with the general scope of copyright legislation, largely beholden to corporate vested interests rather than promoting the common good. There are such things as unjust and immoral laws, and the DMCA is an excellent example.
Moreover, is an organization that declares itself to be an "outspoken supporter" of the execrable RIAA - an entity that sanguinely sues 12-year-old girls from impoverished families and grandparents of juvenile downloaders, adequately equipped to establish a "moral argument" here?
I'm not sure any "moral high ground" exists in this controversy, but if it does, it doesn't belong to the RIAA.
MILL WORKER SUED
Consider the case of Tammy Lafky, a sugar mill worker and single mother in Bird Island, Minn., sued by the RIAA in May for allegedly downloading copyrighted music illegally. Lafky, 41, who earns $12 an hour, faces penalties up to $540,000, told reporters she can't even afford an offer by the record companies to settle the case for $4,000, or even to hire a lawyer. She has a computer at home, but says she doesn't know how to use it. She does have a 15-year-old daughter. . .
When I see a $12-billion industry monetarily persecuting an impoverished single mother for actions of her minor child, I don't have any difficulty deciding which side to take.
I think the GMA might do some serious soul-searching about whether they as Christians want to be associated with that sort of selective legal persecution and bullying.