— especially for Christians
By Kirk Noonan (3/14/04)
With a few clicks of
the mouse and a couple of keystrokes on a keyboard, a computer
user can obtain virtually everything he or she needs for personal
entertainment: music, movies, games, audio books, computer programs
and much more. The best part is, it’s free for the taking
as long as one has Internet access, a hard drive and — some
would say — a willingness to sideline one’s morals,
ethics, integrity and Christian witness.
Each month an estimated
2.6 billion music files are downloaded off the Internet. Many
are illegal because the files are copyrighted and permission to
download them has not been granted. Some experts say downloading
copyrighted material without permission is akin to walking into
Best Buy, pocketing a couple of compact discs and leaving without
“The motive for
each person is unique and complex,” says Christian counselor
Richard Dobbins, 75, founder of EMERGE Ministries in Akron, Ohio,
of what has become known as cyberpirating. “But there is
a mark of sin on us that tends to identify the sin with being
caught and not with what has been done.”
The Record Industry
Association of America, a trade group tied closely to major secular
labels such as BMG, EMI, Sony, Warner and Universal, contends
that persons smart enough to know how to download copyrighted
material must know they are breaking, or at the very least, bending
To combat cyberpirating
the RIAA has been suing everyone from adolescents to grandparents.
by assisting in criminal trials and initiating civil litigation,
RIAA wins hundreds of guilty pleas from, or convictions of, music
pirates, plus scores of settlements and judgments,” proclaims
the RIAA’s Web site. “The online infringement of copyrighted
music can be punished by up to 3 years in prison and $250,000
Despite the suits and
an RIAA-led campaign to educate consumers on what is legal and
illegal to download, there is still much confusion.
“I am under the
impression that it’s not illegal,” says Scott (who
asked that his surname not be used), 31, about downloading music
and more from the Internet. “I’ve always thought of
it as borrowing rather than stealing because I am just duplicating
something. There’s a big difference between duplicating
a gray area,” he contends. “I am not really sure where
the copyright laws start or end.”
According to musicunited.net,
a group determined to protect copyrighted music, there are several
ways Internet users can break the law such as when they:
music from pirate sites or Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks.
• Make unauthorized
copies of music available to others on P2P networks.
• Pass along
copyrighted songs via e-mail.
• Make MP3s available
through P2P networks, even if the sharer owns the CD.
According to Jeff Jackson,
label director at Gotee Records in Nashville, Tenn., cyberpirating
has hurt the Christian music industry.
“You can tie
some of it to the economy,” says Jackson, 32, of record
company profits that have sagged at times over the past three
years. “But when you see how many downloads there are —
it’s definitely got to be the downloads, too.”
Derrick, 38, a Christian
who admits he is a cyberpirate, says the main reason he downloads
material is so that he can “test-drive” it to see
if it is worth buying. In many ways, he reasons, he is just being
a good steward of his money.
like going to Borders and listening to it at a listening station,”
says Derrick (a pseudonym). “I download and listen to it
to see if I like it. If I do, I’ll buy it.”
Many people don’t
buy that logic.
“The record industry
doesn’t care what our reasons are for downloading songs,”
says James Christian, 34, who has become an expert on Internet
piracy because of his position as the director of information
technologies at Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo. “The
fact is, unless the record company is giving it away, the person
downloaded something that took money out of someone else’s
pocket. If you haven’t [bought it] then more than likely
you are ethically, morally and legally in the wrong — no
matter how you rationalize it.”
Christian notes there
is material that is OK to download from the Internet. But knowing
what is legal to download can be tricky business because much
material is not labeled as such.
up to the music, software, film or publishing industries to tell
us whether it’s OK to download something,” Christian
says. “That’s our responsibility. Ignorance is not
Besides the possibility
of getting sued by the RIAA, there are other costs.
Hours may be spent
downloading a file that supposedly contains a full-length feature
film, but when opened it contains a pornographic video. Some music
files are also only “spoof files,” which are nothing
more than an unplayable version of a song. There are also viruses
to consider. Perhaps the biggest risk is to a person’s integrity
and Christian testimony.
“Are you any
less of a thief if you steal $10 or $1,000?” asks Dobbins,
adding that when Christians cheat or steal, even in instances
when everyone else seems to be doing it, they erase the line of
demarcation that separates how Christians and non-Christians live.
“The unbeliever feels that the Christian is no different
than they are, so why should they become a Christian?”
Internet pirating also
takes a toll on the one who participates, says Dobbins, and that
cost is simply not worth paying.
on your conscience in this area of your life is likely to desensitize
your conscience in other areas too,” he says. “Anytime
we override our conscience we lessen the intensity of its voice
to our spirit.”
There are several legal
ways to download music off the Internet. Last year Apple introduced
its economical and user-friendly iTunes Music Store, which had
more than 1 million downloads during its first week in business.
Since then other companies have followed suit.
The success of Apple’s
store and others like it has signaled to many people that the
record (or in this case the computer) industry is catching on
to the demands and needs of it consumers. It also made clear that
there is a growing coalition of Internet users who are willing
to forgo pirating and pay for their entertainment.