Articles about song swapping have filled the newspapers and web sites for years. Song swapping is the practice of recording songs from commercially produced CDs or purchasing them from Internet sites and sending the individual songs to people who did not purchase the music. Some companies developed web sites and software to make it easy and free to swap songs, movies, books, and other commercial (sold) products.
At different times, companies that control the production and distribution of music have filed lawsuits against some of the offenders charging that their activities defrauded the music companies of the profits due them. Some of these suits were filed against families whose children downloaded hundreds, sometimes thousands, of songs. The media immediately focused on the parents, some who had low incomes, who faced stiff fines for their children’s copyright violations. These stories highlighted the shock of the parents receiving notice of the charges against them. The stories I read failed to highlight the parent’s lack of oversight of their children’s online activities. With the proliferation of pornography, stalkers, and improper reading material on the Internet, parents are foolish not to practice oversight of their children’s online activities.
In the whole debate over song swapping, one issue seemed neglected: stealing. In order to produce a commercially available CD, someone must rent a studio, hire people to work in the studio to insure the best sound quality and, after the musicians have finished recording, edit and put together the finished product. Artists must create the artwork for the CD jacket and graphic designers must put together the artwork and words together in the jacket. The CD master copy must be sent to a production facility where teams of people copy the CD, pack and seal the discs, and prepare them for distribution around the world. Software professionals must prepare the music downloadable files that will be sold over the Internet through iTunes and other music stores. Everyone in this process—the musicians, artists, production and distribution crews, and industry executives who take the financial risk of hiring musicians—must be paid for their work. The Bible teaches that “if a man doesn’t work, neither should he eat,” 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and that “the laborer is worthy of his wages,” 1 Timothy 5:18. The only way that these will not be paid is if someone is able to enjoy the product without paying for it.
When I started with computers many years ago, a friend told me about software piracy—copying computer software for your personal use that you did not pay for. He showed me the great difficulty in writing computer software and asked how I would feel if I sacrificed my time to write a computer program or did it full time as my job and found that hundreds or thousands of people were using it without paying me. Not only would I not be paid for my efforts which benefitted these other people (and they obviously appreciated my product), I would have to seek some other way to make money. He reminded me of the important words of Jesus, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them,” Matthew 7:12. I would not want others stealing from me, therefore I will not steal from them by copying software or music that I did not purchase. Yet many people, even Christians, use expensive computer software that they did not pay for or have the right to copy on their computer. Perhaps they justify it by bemoaning the expense of the computer software whose profits will go to already wealthy companies. Maybe they consider that the work that they do using the software for Bible classes, preaching, or teaching justifies their use of software that they did not purchase.
Some prosecuted song swappers and their defenders complained that the record companies made too much money and so they were justified in their activity. Perhaps a socialist or communistic mindset rationalizes stealing because others have so much money. However, would a person be justified in stealing a car because the automakers have so much money? Can I steal a book from the bookstore because the bookseller and the publishers make so much money? Can I leave a restaurant without paying because the owners made a profit the last month? Can I rob a bank because they make so much money? Can I steal money or credit cards from a rich person since they have so much money?
Is it right to walk into the music store and take a CD or DVD without paying? Is it right to shoplift a copy of computer software or a game? Stealing the product—computer software or copyrighted music— using the computer is no different than shoplifting.
We must not rationalize our actions because others are doing it without being caught. The Christian is called to a higher standard – we do right because it is the right thing to do.