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Is Pirating Immoral?

Updated on March 24, 2013
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A Question.

Each year, millions of movies, books, and songs are illegally downloaded from the internet using peer-to-peer and other avenues of file-sharing. Such practices have had, understandably, a significant effect on the profits of artists and recording/distribution companies. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) campaigned in the form of lawsuits against supposed law-breakers, to much criticism. Though they officially ended their efforts on that front, as someone must have figured out that people aren't intimidated, other methods are utilized in order to prevent violations of artists' "intellectual property rights."

In this Hub, I'd like to address and discuss the morality, not legality, of file-sharing. Specifically the kind that illegally transfers files that would otherwise need to be purchased. Do illegal downloads significantly hurt all artists, or does it hurt small, struggling artists the most? Does it matter if a multimillionaire loses thousands of dollars by these practices, or is theft, theft, plain and simple?

An Interesting Perspective

The Discussion.

In the above video, the overly-sarcastic young man brings up an interesting fact; could piracy be called "stealing" if the original is still in existence and in possession of the original holder? This is worthwhile distinction to make, that piracy is copying, in that there are now more than one copies of whatever is being copied. While that might not be an excuse concerning the morality and affect that piracy has, it is a factor to acknowledge.

Undeniably, artists lose some measurable amount of money from piracy. As the above video clarifies, not all people who download illegally would have bought the product they are receiving, but does that justify their actions? Many think not. When searching for the exact numbers of lost profit, lost jobs, lost this-and-that and everything else, I couldn't find anything definitive. This article at Freakonomics states the numbers given by supporters of the ill-fated SOPA and PIPA are blatantly false (they claimed $250 billion and 750,000 jobs lost!). So that's not surprising (who doesn't expect these movie and music businessmen to be pushing highly-exaggerated numbers?), but what are the real figures?

Directly from the RIAA FAQ section:

In the decade since peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing site Napster emerged in 1999, music sales in the U.S. have dropped 47 percent, from $14.6 billion to $7.7 billion.

From 2004 through 2009 alone, approximately 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded on file-sharing networks.

NPD reports that only 37 percent of music acquired by U.S. consumers in 2009 was paid for.

Frontier Economics recently estimated that U.S. Internet users annually consume between $7 and $20 billion worth of digitally pirated recorded music.

One credible analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation concludes that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year, 71,060 U.S. jobs lost, a loss of $2.7 billion in workers' earnings, and a loss of $422 million in tax revenues, $291 million in personal income tax and $131 million in lost corporate income and production taxes.

So, with these presumably-pumped up figures, we know what anti-piracy people think, and we know that there is some sort of economic loss attributed to online piracy. We also know that the numbers are largely up for debate, and that piracy with always exist, no matter the measures taken.

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    • Mini Man Me profile image

      Mini Man Me 5 years ago

      Fair enough I suppose, but it is always immoral, and wrong, it just can be more immoral depending on who you steal from.

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      Ok, I certainly see and agree with your point. But I wouldn't agree with your comment before that stealing ten pounds is always equally immoral no matter who you steal it from. Would you say so?

    • Mini Man Me profile image

      Mini Man Me 5 years ago

      I think that stealing money from anyone is wrong but if lots of people think that way about the millionaire then he would be affected a lot because if ten thousand people think that way then that is him lost one hundred thousand pounds.

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      @Mini Man Me

      You think stealing a set amount from a millionaire is the same as stealing it from, say, an impoverished family?

    • Mini Man Me profile image

      Mini Man Me 5 years ago

      I would say that there is no difference because stealing £10, because that is what it is, from anyone is still stealing £10 doesn't matter who it is. Would you walk up to some millionaire company owner and steal £10 from them? Because that is, essentially, what you are doing if you pirate.

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      @Josak

      Good point and I agree. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      @xanzacow

      You mean a restriction on how much people can do online? Possible, yes. Plausible, no. I think if this type of sharing is allowed, in full, there would be no limit or anything like that beyond bandwidth limitations.

    • Josak profile image

      Josak 5 years ago from variable

      Yeah I definitely think there is difference, I am a pragmatist, if you take ten dollars revenue from a multi billion dollar company they won't suffer, the same is not necessarily true about a smaller group, I guess another point is, if it was not free would you actually go out and buy it? Usually the answer to that is no.

    • xanzacow profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from North Myrtle Beach, SC

      No. I do not think there is a difference. Both are counting on revenue from sales. Stealing is stealing. Sharing on the other hand I guess is ok. Maybe there should be some kind of restrictor plate so to speak to limit sharing. Could this be possible?

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      What do you think about piracy? Is there a moral difference in downloading an album from a multi-platinum artist compared to an independent and brand new, struggling artist?