Friday, August 31, 2012

The March of Progress III: Are You A Parasite?

Greedy PandaThis guy called David Lowery wrote a piece ("Letter to Emily White", on the Wordpress blog Trichordist) about music downloading (by which I mean downloading music and not paying for it) and file sharing and stuff like that. It was a response to a piece on an NPR blog by an intern called Emily White who said that they never bought CDs and never paid for downloads but loved music and listened to it all the time. The piece was then widely read and triggered a lot of discussion about the ethics of downloading and all that. Lowery constructs a strong argument that free downloaders and file-sharers are leeching off the creative efforts of others and are contributing to the impoverishment of artists.

It is a good piece, though like most things it has its flaws. He mentions two artists who topped themselves, blaming financial concerns, but I thought this was an over-egging of the argument. The musicians he mentions had mental health issues and would hardly have been the first musicians to meet untimely ends. And if financial problems really were such a problem for them then even without downloading they were in the wrong career, as niche music has never guaranteed a secure income for its makers. He also seems implicitly to tag the file sharing and downloading as some unique vice of the current generation of young folk. I do not agree with this. People have always liked free stuff, and the current young folk are just lucky in that there is plenty of it available to them. I think my generation would have availed itself of free music if it had been available, and plenty of my age cohort have switched to free music once downloading became an option (where they have retained an interest in music).

But the overall point is clear and it is one with which I am broadly in agreement. People who download and file share may say they like music, but their behaviour is parasitic on those creating what they purport to love. I cannot tell people how to live their lives, but downloaders should examine the moral consequences of their actions.

You can read David Lowery's letter here. And here is the original post by Emily White, with a link off to a piece on the controversy triggered by the article, which mentions that David Lowery was a the songwriter in Camper Van Beethoven. I suppose everyone else knew this already.

An inuit panda production

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