I'm probably about ten years late on this one. Nevertheless, i keep thinking about it, and must concede that the Lord may want me to address it here. Not that this makes me the expert, or even correct. The main take away should be to examine yourself. I just want to address some of the viewpoints, all of which are good so you examine yourself according to the scriptures.
This is a complex issue, and cannot have an easy answer. Rather than giving a pat answer, i want to raise a few points. After all, i can sympathize with the artist "losing money" and can also relate to the poor schlub who can't afford to buy a CD.
At any point in this article, feel free to exchange CD with movie or DVD and it will be the same. I suppose we could get really crazy and even say that images of artwork, or even novels online may even fall into this, if we consider "file sharing" as an overall "thing." So, feel free to also substitute file sharing with CD as well. But for simplicity we will refer to everything as CD or music.
The other thing, how do we Christians reconcile "thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15) with Acts 4:32-35:
32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
I guess first, what does it mean to steal? That's self explanatory really, but here:
Steal - intransitive verb1 : to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice
2 : to come or go secretly, unobtrusively, gradually, or unexpectedly
3 : to steal or attempt to steal: to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully
This is where it gets tricky. Is downloading music, "file sharing" stealing? In a sense, yes. But of course, some people feel there are exceptions and this can get legalistic very quickly.
Walking into Best Buy, Walmart, or some other establishment then grabbing a CD and walking out without paying is stealing, no question.
What about downloading it from a filesharing site? (BTW, i'm not familiar with any current ones. In my day it was Naptser, so i'm probably dating myself.) How is that different than if my friend loans a CD to me and i copy it? How is that different than when we used to make cassettes of CDs and records? Was it stealing then? How about if I buy the CD, copy it and give the CD to a friend, or sell it to a second hand store?
These all have the same scenario: the company gets paid one time for my purchase of the music, then the music changes hands without the record company seeing a penny. If i loan or copy the CD for a friend, post my files to a filesharing site or sell it to a secondhand store or Amazon, then that same friend buys it, my friend still has the music without paying the record company for it.
Let's extend this out to TV or radio. Let's say there's a TV show i liked. When that show aired originally, it was broadcast, from my perspective for free. Advertisers paid to sponsor it thus paying for me to watch a given show in the hopes i'd buy their crap. This is why i don't watch TV anymore.
Now, that same show is on DVD. Is it then wrong to download it or stream it? I could have recorded it on tape and watched it for free, but now some consider it stealing if i were to download it. But i can also watch it for free at the library (sometimes). For music, the radio, grooveshark and pandora, advertisers foot our bill.
See what I'm getting at? There's little to no consistency in looking at the issue. In one instance, it's deemed OK to bypass the record companies, but in another it's not.
How would God want us to proceed through this wild west of digital media rights and stealing? What would Jesus say about file sharing?
The Bible, of course has nothing to say about downloading music or movies, but it can give us some advice.
1 A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight. 2 When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom. 3 The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them. 4 Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death. 5 The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way: but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness.
35 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. 36 Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. 37 Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the Lord.
How does this apply?
One, perhaps the record companies should produce quality material. Many people support artists they like. I buy albums of artists i like, and the whole thing is usually good. But there are many times i bought a CD for one song i liked, only to get a crap album. They should also in turn make sure their artists are paid for properly for what they do. I interviewed a local rapper once, and he said he makes little off of his album sales, and for him it's a labor of love.
The other thing, we need to make sure we are honest in our dealings with the record companies, no matter how dishonest they are. If we download an album, not only does the record company lose money, but the artist does too. (I'm not privy to how much artists make through what source, so let's pretend an artist makes decent money on the albums they sell.) When we download or share files, that is a loss of sale for hundreds to thousands of albums. That makes a dent.
However, when I loan or borrow to or from a friend, that's the loss of one sale. It's a smaller loss, doesn't impact the artist as much. Often times, if i like an album loaned to me, i will buy it. If i can find it.
So, when looking to get a free album, think about how much it will affect the artist. They should be paid for the work they do.
The only exception to this i can think of is if an album is out of print, an artist is dead, or if there isn't an album. This is me talking, my opinion, so don't think this is necessarily the right reaction. To me, it takes into account the artist and even the company.
1) out of print album.
I love Arthur Verocai's self-title album. I listened to it on grooveshark at work, nearly everyday. It was out of print though. Second hand copies were going for $50 on amazon.
I didn't download it, but in this case, neither arthur or the record label would have lost anything. It was out of print. No one was making money.
Lucky for me, they re-released it and i got it cheap.
2) dead artist.
The only one making money here is the record company. Is Aaliyah, Michael Jackson or Roy Orbison going to miss the money?
On the other hand, if a record company is distributing an album, they should be paid for their troubles.
This one is iffy.
3) there isn't an album
Then, why is there music?
Sean Lennon has on his website a few tracks from a concert he did. No album exists, you can listen to the songs as much as you want. I'm reasonably sure you can download them as well for use in your mp3 player. He could prevent the download if he didn't want them to be.
Also, I am a connoisseur of videogame music. I grew up on videogames, and i play few now, even old ones. But i love the music. But short of playing the game, how can one listen to the music? They don't sell videogame soundtracks much in America. I have gotten lucky and bought a few when i found them, but what if no album exists and someone has the tracks on their site?
The artist was paid long ago, and game players have moved on. Not to mention, is there anyone in the recording industry who would care to press this one?
My final thoughts are that we need to consider the artist and those who are selling this as a service to us, and balance that with our calling to live for Christ and that likely doesn't include wasting alot of time on entertainment.
Should we be wasting time watching and downloading music and movies? Or should we spend time reading God's Word, praying and trying to spread the Gospel?
15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
The days are short, and we continually approach the end. Do we want to stand before Christ and see the time we wasted amassing movie and music files, just to do it? Do we want rip off artists, who God created and gave a talent to?