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Well, Now That You Asked: What Really is Piracy? (pt 2)

Well, Now That You Asked: What Really is Piracy? (pt 2)

Whenever I discuss piracy the same question always comes up: what really is piracy? Is it downloading music from the internet through a Peer to Peer (P2P) program? Or is it buying a burned copy of a CD? Or is it simply burning the CD? Every person asked will have a different view on what piracy is and if it is moral or not. But the final question always is: what is it?

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, piracy is “the unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted or patented material.” By that very broad definition, every time a CD is burned or a song is uploaded to a blog, an act of piracy has been perpetuated. This would mean the FBI has the right to fine you the market price of every song you have ever burned to a CD, used in a PowerPoint presentation, or used on the internet. In reality we all know there is no chance of that happening; the FBI is far to busy trying to find the phone number for the CIA to bother itself with a trivial matter like legality.

The common definition of piracy is far broader than even American Heritage’s definition. To the average person, piracy is simply the theft of music or movies, which of course, they will claim, they do not participate in. But then you will point to their CD collection, in which a few burned CDs stick out. They will most likely claim these as gifts. When pressed they will admit they may have dabbled in piracy but are really not sure of what piracy is. And every conversation will end up at this same point. And inevitably the question will be raised “How am I going to avoid engaging in music piracy when I really don’t know what it is?” It’s a valid point, but I believe it is the music listeners’ responsibility to know what piracy is and how to avoid it. Here is a quick rundown of simple rules to avoid piracy:

1. Don’t use P2P programs. Yes, they are legal, if, and only if, they are being used to share music that has not been copyrighted. If you don’t want to risk getting pirated material, don’t use them.

2. Don’t burn CDs for anyone other than yourself. If you own the music, you can make duplicates for your own listening only.

3. Don’t upload any music other than your own to the internet. If you don’t own the public copyrights to the music, don’t post it. (If you got permission from a band or label to use the music online, get it in writing, for your own good)

After reading those rules, a lot of young, poor artists and music lovers (basically the bulk of Independent Clauses readership) are going to ask: why should I care? The FBI is too busy fumbling over their own problems to catch me and I’m too poor to buy the CDs. Why should I not burn copies from friends or download from the internet? The answer is that you wouldn’t want it to happen to you. When your band releases an album, you will want to make money off that album, but if everyone burns it, you will make nothing. Remember, even though they stand on stage and look pretty while they play music doesn’t mean they aren’t humans. In our society, you will fail without the public support. If you don’t like a band enough to buy the album, you don’t like the band. Help the bands you like by buying their albums.

Next month: Piracy and iTunes.

-Scott Landis