Today, almost all written text, music, movies, and software are recorded digitally
and can be easily copied and sent between PCs via the Internet. Millions of people
and companies have taken ...
... advantage of this to make illegal copies of music CDs,
software programs, and DVDs. In 2003, for example, it was estimated that more
than one-third of all CDs and cassettes around the world were recorded illegally.
This is costing the music industry billion of dollars in sales revenues. As you can
imagine, media industries have been doing everything they can to crack down on
this practice, including shutting down Napster.
Shawn Fanning created Napster.com while he was an undergraduate student at
Northeastern University. His roommate had got into the habit of downloading
music from Internet sites using the MP3 format, which compresses digital files,
making them faster to transmit and easier to store. Fanning watched his roommate
search the Internet for new material, and he realized that there was an opportunity
to create a software platform that would allow people to more easily locate and
download digital music files. Fanning created the software needed to do this, and
word about Napster and the enormous volume of music available for free on the
site, quickly spread. Soon, hundreds of thousands of people were swapping and
downloading music. Computer servers at a number of colleges actually shut down,
overwhelmed by people downloading songs from Napster.
Obviously, companies in the music industry became desperate to stop this practice.
Collectively, they sought a legal injunction to shut Napster down. Since it was
clear that Napster was violating copyright laws, the courts stopped Napster from
providing the free service. However, many other Internet sites quickly sprang up
to fill the void. The music industry then successfully sought to have individual
Is swapping songs on the Internet really unethical? Why are so many people
doing it if it is illegal? The obvious answer is that people are doing it for their own
personal gain. Who, goes the argument, suffers anyway? Music companies have
been making billions of dollars from music sales for decades. True, the songs
might be the property of music stars like the Rolling Stones and Eminem, but
these people are fabulously wealthy. Why, then, shouldn’t the average person
benefit from the new technology? After all, the pleasure gained by hundreds of
millions of people is more important than the harm done to only a few thousand
rich musicians and a handful of wealthy music companies. Therefore, copying is
not really unethical. It may be illegal, but it’s not
actually such a bad thing to do—or is it?
Arguments like these may make people feel
that their copying is doing no real harm to others,
but the other side of this ethical dilemma also
needs to be taken into consideration. What about
the rights of artists and companies to profit from
their own property—the songs, books, and movies
that result from their creative endeavors? Those
who claim the practice should be made illegal say
that copiers should think about how they would
react if someone tried to take their property away.
Would they like it if a “poorer” person came along
who believed, “They don’t need all those appliances,
cars, and jewelry? I’ll just help myself;
they’ll never miss it”?
The fact is that those who steal digital media not
only are weakening the rights of musicians and
writers to own property, they are also weakening their own personal rights to own
property. Digital piracy is neither fair nor equitable. And, although each person
that engages in it might argue that the pilferage doesn’t have much of an effect
because he or she is “only one person,” if many people do it, it’s clearly a problem.
And that’s exactly what’s happening.
To illustrate the problem, suppose that by 2010, 75% of all music and movies are
illegally copied rather than bought. What will musicians, music companies, and movie?
Stars, and movie studios do? If these people and companies cannot protect their
property and profit from it, then they are not going to make or sell digital products.
Over time, music and movie companies will cease to operate. Creative people will
find new ways to make money. Musicians will make music only for their own pleasure
or perform only in live concerts (where recording devices are not permitted).
Fewer new songs and movies will be recorded, and the world will become a less
interesting place to live in.
explain how ethics and decision-making affect the individuals involved in this scenario.
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