490822_ipod_videoI love music.  It brightens my working day, it inspires my leisure time, it gives me an outlet for my passion and creativity.  No surprise, then, that I have a fair amount of music.  Not on the scale of some people, admittedly, but that’s probably because as a university student I was probably a little more honest than most and thus didn’t end up with a secondary hard disk filled with torrents and downloads.

When we were at camp just over a week ago my wife gave one of the talks, which was loosely based around the story of King Ahab and the vineyard – Ahab wanted it, the owner refused to sell it, Ahab sulked, his wife had the owner murdered and Ahab claimed the vineyard.  The point of the talk was that sin by association is still sin; God still condemned Ahab for his actions, even though it was Jezebel actually doing the deed.  He didn’t object to the sin, and benefited from it, so was held culpable by God.  Ellie used the illustration that “sharing” music is effectively the same thing – sure, someone else has ripped the music off the CD, but we’ve still accepted the MP3 files and are therefore benefiting from it.  So in God’s eyes, as well as the law’s, we are guilty.

Of course, I sat there and immediately thought about how difficult that message would be for some people, and it came as a shock and surprise when I realised that actually I ought to be applying it to myself as well.  I don’t have huge quantities of downloaded music, but it’s still there, trying to look innocent in the corner, trying not to be noticed by my conscience.  A few I have downloaded, some from the authors’ web sites (though probably still not legally), a few from ‘sharing’ web sites and links, and quite a number that I have ‘borrowed’ from friends and family over the years.  Sure, it’s outweighed by the amount of music I do own, but that’s beside the point.  I have illegal music on my computer.  And I’m now doing something about it.

I’ve opted for a two-stage approach to my music cleansing.  The first step was to open iTunes and untick all the songs I don’t own; that means the MP3 files are still there, but iTunes won’t play them.  The idea behind that is that I’ll be able to more easily see how many songs I don’t own, and be able to judge which I can live without.  I don’t miss them, they can go.  If I do, I’ll add them to the list of albums or music to buy.  The second stage will be actually physically deleting the files.  And getting rid of the backup CDs I have containing those illegal files.  Painful, but necessary.

It does raise an interesting question about ownership though, which I’m still undecided on.  You see, I have music on my computer that belongs to the family.  When the original CD was purchased (legally, I might add), I was living at home and the CD was purchased for the benefit of the entire household.  By that definition, I (at least in part) owned that music, and therefore have every right to have a copy of it on my computer.  However, although I am still part of the family, I am no longer living at home.  So can I still claim ownership of that music?  Is ownership restricted to your physical location?  Or, to put it another way, is the family unit a strong enough bond to permit the bending of the rules?  Where do you draw the line?

I never thought I would find myself in this situation.  I was always happy with the music I had, and had no qualms about having music even though I hadn’t paid for it.  I also thought that getting rid of my illegal music would be a really difficult and painful operation, but I’ve also found it quite liberating – I’ve got a really good feeling from cleaning out the closet of all those cobwebs, owning up to my transgressions and turning over a shiny new leaf.  It also gives me more pleasure in the music I do own.  I’m currently listening to an a cappella group called Glad, from a CD I’ve had for several years – being legal is far more comfortable than teetering on the edge of guilt.


Dad · 7 August 2009 at 12:22 pm

Bravo. That’s a very noble thing to do. I bet most Christians (the net-literate ones anyway) have a similar closet. A tough lesson. I guess I should go and inspect my (rather minimal) collection of downloaded/ripped music also.

Phill · 7 August 2009 at 2:11 pm

Hi Matthew, although it’s a brave thing to do and I commend you for it, it’s not a black and white issue.

I’ve downloaded some MP3s in my time (although, like you, these days my music collection is almost entirely legal).

Some of those illegally downloaded MP3s I’ve gone on to buy. Some I’d already purchased in other formats (i.e., downloading an MP3 copy of a tape or record).

But I think there’s a wider issue about record companies and the like. I read an article a while back (I might be able to find it if you’re interested) about record companies from the perspective of a song writer, saying how badly the record companies treat people. It is terrible, unless you’re in a big band…

Phill · 7 August 2009 at 2:13 pm

…apparently your comment field has a max length on it!

Anyway, I think it could be argued that downloading albums rather than buying CDs sends a clear message to the recording industry that people don’t want to pay ridiculous, inflated prices for CDs – but they do want to support the artists by e.g. buying songs directly or using online stores where artists might get a better deal.

I’m not saying this is right, but I think that’s one way of seeing it! Record labels are actually not good for artists.

Matthew · 7 August 2009 at 3:52 pm

True, record labels are famous for being unfair and greedy when it comes to the way they deal with their clients, but that’s perhaps a side issue for me. Whether the industry is corrupt or not, I know I have been dishonest about the legality of my music collection, and I’m seeking to put that right. It’s arguably just as much up to the artists to fight the record labels as it is the consumer – if they want to be paid more fairly, maybe they shouldn’t go through a corrupt agent.

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