By Stephen Edwards
A common view among college students is that internet piracy is perfectly acceptable. Our generation has grown up with a very different set of ethics when it comes to consumption of cultural products like music, photographs, and movies. In our internet age, these commodities are instantly and freely available. As a result, we tend to value these items less. A single Beatles album, for example, is less precious when the band’s entire discography is just a few clicks away. The changes in our attitudes, however, have a much bigger impact than offending the nostalgia of our parents, who remember going to record stores and leaving $10 poorer with an album in hand. The pervasive view that stealing intellectual property is a victimless crime undermines the creative process behind those ideas and threatens to bring about their extinction. Intellectual property is fundamental to creative economic success, and rights to intellectual property must be upheld by law.
Intellectual property laws provide security to creators and serve as an incentive for them to create things. A music producer will put in the time and effort necessary to make a good record if he knows that his product will be protected from theft. In an environment where he can expect his record to be stolen before he has made a profit on it, he probably will not go to the trouble of producing the record in the first place. Such an environment is one without the protection of intellectual property rights.
Disrespect for intellectual property law stifles creative activity. A response to this argument might sound something like this: “Musicians may not make as much on record sales because of piracy, but they make plenty of money from touring so stealing from them is okay.” This is true of big Top 40 artists like Katy Perry and One Direction. They make exorbitant amounts of money through outlets other than traditional record sales, like product endorsements and television appearances. But, unless you want the only artists making money in the music business to be Katy Perry and One Direction, intellectual property must be protected. Smaller bands and musicians who lack orchestrated media campaigns, international tours, or other alternative sources of revenue rely on the sale of their music for subsistence. New artists have no chance of continued success if virtual pirates steal their music and spread it across the internet for anyone to access, free of charge.
Opponents of intellectual property rights often argue that ideas, like music, are information that can be spread freely under the protection of the First Amendment right to free speech. This is a disingenuous argument, made only so that those violating copyright and intellectual property rights laws can continue to have free access to the ideas, products, and creations of others. In reality, the creation of an album or film involves just as much work as building a unique car engine or designing an innovative way to harvest solar energy. Just because the result of musicians’ or filmmakers’ work does not have a tangible material form does not mean that it should not be legally protected.
People who oppose intellectual property rights want to experience benefits and pleasures of music and media without taking a responsibility for the cost of making such works of art. They want artists to continue producing quality work without expecting compensation for their work. As a famously unhinged enemy of Batman once said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Musicians and other creators work hard to produce their creations, but they need compensation if they are to continue the work of making good art. Without the economic security of intellectual property law, creative enterprise will collapse and we’ll be stuck listening to Katy Perry and One Direction. Free of charge, of course.