Is Music Piracy Stealing?

Despite inroads made by on-demand services such as Spotify and Apple Music that require users to pay for tunes, 38 percent of listeners download music illegally, according to a recent report conducted by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. These illegal downloads not only infringe on copyrights, they also deprive musicians, composers, and production companies of royalties.The majority of illegal downloads are committed through a technology called “stream ripping,” which allows users to create an audio file from practically any streaming platform, including YouTube. Yet despite efforts to curb such practices, the piracy continues.

Those who perform these downloads say intellectual property such as copyrighted music should be in the public domain, and that stream ripping is a victimless crime. Downloading a digital file is not the same as stealing a car or a smartphone because the original property remains intact and may be used by its original owner, they allege. In fact, piracy can even enhance the creators’ gain by exposing their music to a larger audience, advocates of illegal downloading say.

On the other side are those who look at music piracy as pure theft, depriving the original owners of reaping the financial benefits of their creative work. This argument revolves around the notion that piracy removes the incentive to create, similar to the way in which a drug company would have little reason to develop new vaccines and medicines if it could not then sell those products for a profit. Others point out that not protecting musicians ends up costing everyone more, including those who pay to legally obtain the work.

Both sides make a point, but which is the most ethical side of this ongoing debate?

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it true that stream ripping is a victimless crime?
  2. Should sites that provide stream ripping be shut down? Why or why not?
  3. Can music piracy be compared to outright theft? Explain your answer.



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