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21. What do you think about "ripping" CDs, where people take recorded music from their private collection and "share" them with others who don't pay for it? Everybody seems to be doing it. Is it wrong?

It seems a day doesn't go by where the news doesn't carry some story about an Internet program or service which finds itself in some courtroom over the issue of copyright and the "ripping" of CDs into mp3 files for "file sharing."

It's in the news because it's important. It's important to people who like to get something for nothing and don't understand why they should have to pay for recordings if someone will give recordings to them for free, and it's important for artists, composers, arrangers and copyright holders who feel they are being cheated when someone downloads a music file without paying for it. I see both sides of the issue but come down squarely on the side of the artists and copyright holders. There are three reasons I have for this:

Let's start with the basics.

When you purchase a CD at a store, whether a physical store or a store "on" the Internet, you pay, say, $15.00. In return for your $15.00, you receive a CD. The disc itself is yours. But copyright law says that while the actual disc is yours (the metal and plastic you hold in your hand), you do not own the music which is contained on the disc. That is owned by the copyright holders and performers whose performance and music are on the disc.

Take a look at a CD. You'll usually see one or two little symbols somewhere on it. The common one you see is the copyright symbol, the letter "C" in a circle, something like this: ©

Less common, but appearing more frequently is the letter "P" in a circle, like this: (P)

The © means that the music on the disc is copyrighted. Someone owns it, and they own the rights to it. When you buy the CD, by exchanging your money for the disc, you are agreeing to abide by the copyright laws which govern the use of copyrighted music on sound recordings.

The (P) means that the performance of the music by the artists on the disc is copyrighted. The performer owns the rights to his performance, and when you buy the CD, by exchanging your money for the disc, you are agreeing to abide by the copyright laws which govern the use of copyrighted performances on sound recordings.

You purchased the actual CD in your hand, but you have also effectively purchased a license from the copyright holders - the performers and the composers, arrangers and or publishers - to listen to the music. You are allowed to listen to your CD all you want without paying any additional fees or royalties to the copyright holders. But you cannot copy the CD and either give it to someone else or sell it to someone else. Because once you do that, you have illegally deprived the copyright holders of their rights as the owners of the music and the performance on the CD.

As long as you listen to the the CD you bought, or play your CD for your friends to hear, you're just grooving with the copyright law. But if you copy a disc to give to some else or to sell it to someone else, you're in violation of the law.

You're a thief.

You're stealing.

And that's not only illegal, it's not nice.

The Internet has caused a revolution in our time. The Internet, by its nature, is all about sharing information. Websites, by and large, provide information to people at no point of delivery cost. Sure, you have the cost of buying a computer and you pay an ISP (Internet service provider) to give you access to the Internet. You pay for the electricity which powers your computer and so on. But you don't pay a fee for the information you view on a website unless it requires you to register, pay, and enter a password to do so. 99% of the Internet consists of websites which do not charge for their content.

Email is the same way. The "free" exchange of messages from person to person. You don't have to lick a stamp. You just type away and click "send" and - POOF - your message is off to the recipient.

We have gotten accustomed to all of this "free" sharing of information. When computers began to routinely be equipped with CD burners, it was only a matter of time before people would figure out that sound files could be duplicated and distributed quickly and easily. And for "free."

Of course, anyone spending a second of thought about the issue realizes that on its face, duplicating a CD and sending it to someone else without their paying for it is really quite equivalent to walking into a CD store (like, say, Tower Records), putting a CD in your pocket and walking out of the store. It's also self-evident, in the case of Tower Records, when you try to do that, a security alarm might go off or you may be caught on a remote camera - and you could be arrested. When you do the same thing with your own personal computer, you do it in secret and it seems like it's OK. "If nobody knows," you say, "then nobody's really getting hurt."

Time for a story.

Suppose you're in a band that decides to make a CD of original compositions. You think your band has a chance to make it. You're a new group, so you don't have a big label behind you, but you think that "gumbo-funk" is the next great thing that will be bigger than the Beatles. You decide to self-produce an album. So, you rent a studio for two days at $750 a day, get a recording engineer for two days at $750 a day. You spend 10 hours editing the recording with an engineer who does it at $75 an hour. You press 1000 CDs with four page booklets for about $3000. Since the material on the album is all original, you don't pay royalties to anyone. You take out a few ads in trade magazines and print up a few thousand flyers to distribute. The discs get shipped to you. The band all chips in so you have the $8000 or so you need to make 1000 discs. You figure if you can sell them all at $15.00, you'll have a tidy profit, and can then make the next 1000 for a lot less (since you don't have to pay the recording costs, the price per disc drops from $8.00 to $3.00). You can buy that new equipment you wanted to move your sound up a notch and you could be on the way to something happening for your group.

You have a website and sell your disc. Sales are slow, but steady. But then they drop off. You wonder why.

A friend across the country emails you to tell you that your album is awesome, but since you keep the books for your group, you know he never bought one from you. So, you ask him how he heard your "gumbo-funk" and he says, "KAZAA!"

And your band begins to wonder whether they will ever get back their costs for the disc, never mind a profit which would be turned into making more discs, recording the next project, or buying that new amp the group hoped to finance with the profit of the recording.

See, this is not a hypothetical situation. It is real. Very real. It is happening every day.

Of course pirates have always existed and always will, and there is nothing that can stop a person from pirating a CD. I often hear from people who email to say, "I really liked the tape of your new album." One problem: I never sold tapes of my recordings, I've only made CDs. There is no way to "police" the world to keep this from happening. Artists rely on the good will of the public to "do the right thing" and not steal their work. The problem with so called "file sharing services" is that they are so "in your face," and by their nature, they encourage the wide scale theft of property. Most problematic to me (and other artists) is that many people seem to think this is just fine. But it's not fine. Theft is theft. Stealing is stealing. Sin is sin. Wrong is wrong. Not very popular concepts, I agree, but that doesn't diminish their truth.

It's interesting that I never hear any defense of theft and piracy from an artist who has been robbed. The defense of such "file sharing" comes from people who want something for nothing. "File sharing" isn't about "fair use" or other lofty concepts. It's about taking something for nothing. Theft is still theft. Many have tried to sugar coat it by calling it "sharing." But it's still theft and theft is wrong.

Working musicians who make their livelihood from publishing or recording should get their due. They get it by heavily investing their own hard earned cash in publishing their music in various formats which people can purchase. When others photocopy it, or tape record it, or "share" it (there's that "nice" word again...) and then distribute it freely or for their OWN profit, it is, simply put, wrong, wrong, wrong. And wrong is still wrong no matter what it's called.

Photocopying music, taping CDs, "sharing ripped CD files," making a recording without paying royalties, downloading or making, and then sending copyrighted music or films without paying for them - it's all the same thing. Theft. We can't find a nice name for it because there isn't one. In the end, it deprives hardworking artists and their agents (copyright holders, publishers, distributors, retailers) of their deserved compensation, deprives the public of an artist's "next release" because he hasn't recouped his investment from a release which has been pirated, and, most importantly, it contributes to a further coarsening of society. When we call "wrong" "right," we know we are well down a slippery slope.

Now some people justify all of this illegal behavior in a variety of ways. For instance, some people think that the record companies are just big conglomerates which are ripping off artists. These people think that it's not unethical to rip off a big company because they're just ripping off the artists in some way.

Others think that companies which sell recordings with performances by artists who are now deceased are just "getting rich" for themselves since they don't have to pay the original artists any more (of course, the original artist's estate often carries the copyright of the original artists's work through the virtue of copyright extension). "What's the harm, " people sometimes say, "if I rip off a big company who's just ripping off someone else?"

Well, for starters, we, as individuals, don't have the right to unilaterally make this kind of decision.

There is a great deal of injustice in the world, and it's also true that for as many people as there are, there are that many interpretations of what is just and unjust. That's why we have laws. Laws are not perfect things, they are simply a societal consensus as to what people should and should not do - what is right and what is wrong. Apart from the "GOD SAID" kinds of laws (which every religious tradition has), society is bound together with a glue called "the rule of law." People often disagree with laws. Sometimes that disagreement may cause the law to be changed, but until it is changed, when a person unilaterally decides to break a law, he is rightfully punished.

The problem with the rational behind stealing a copyrighted music track is that the person who "ripped" and "shared" the file has unilaterally decided that the law is wrong. Because he feels that the record company is unjust in charging money for a CD because he feels the company is just ripping off the artists, he feels perfectly fine about taking it without paying for it. But, of course, this is stealing. Why is it OK to steal a track using Kazaa when you wouldn't think of going into a record store and just putting a CD in your pocket? What is the difference? Is it only that you won't get "caught?" What does that say about our society if any of us would do anything illegal as long as we don't get caught?

It is not for an individual to decide whether or not the record company is "just" in what they legally do. You do, however, have to abide by the law, whether or not you like it.

What is also left out of this equation is the trickle down effect of all of this. Record companies are the easy scapegoats, seen as the "fat cats" getting rich on the backs of artists. But as I earlier, when someone steals a CD track there is more harm done than just depriving the record company of a sale. There is the whole "food chain" of cause and effect. Sure, when a company re-releases an old disc and the performer is deceased and has no heirs to benefit from the royalty payments, it may SEEM like the record company is getting rich. But the fact is that the profits from selling low overhead discs also go to pay for the production and promotion of new artists. And also other kinds of music which is not as popular (such as classical) music. And don't forget the royalties which go to the composer of the song, and the salaries of the people who manufacture, package and distribute the discs. The circle of influence is huge, and ultimately effects all of us. When you steal, you deprive all of those in the chain of their due.

Some people are uncomfortable with the moralizing I and others are doing with this issue. Framing it in terms of "stealing" and "theft." They complain that the big record companies do not have the moral high ground in this fight since they are seen to be unjustly ripping off artists in some way.

The truth is that some companies DON'T have the moral high ground. But they do have the legal high ground. And once the legal high ground doesn't mean anything, society suffers.

This happens all the time. Take the hottest "hot button" issue around: abortion. Those who oppose abortion feel they have the moral high ground in doing so. But those who think abortion is fine have the legal high ground. The moralists can protest, complain, lobby, write letters, and hold signs in order to get the law changed. But they cannot - they may not - prevent a person from having an abortion. Because the law says abortion is permissible. The law may not be right or just, but it is the law. Until it is changed, it is the law. The situation with stealing audio tracks which are owned by someone else is the same thing. The law says you may not take it without permission. We don't have to like the law, we don't have to agree with the law, but it is the law, and if we break it, we are doing something wrong.

If we do not have the rule of law, we have lawlessness. Pointing out the wrong in someone else is a common rationalization to do wrong ourselves. But, as we have been told since we were children, two wrongs don't make a right.

Another thing has to be kept in mind as well. It's not just the "big record companies" who manufacture and distribute CDs. Lots of "little guys" do it, too. People who by no stretch of the imagination can be seen as "fat cat big record companies who are ripping off artists."

Today anyone with enough time and money can self-produce a CD. I've done it several times. Sometimes a project has low overhead. But other times the project might be very creative, very interesting, and, therefore, very expensive. I have one CD on the market which cost $20,000 to make the first 1000 copies. I have another one released in 2003 that cost more than that.

When a person steals a track from a CD of mine, it hurts me. I feel personally violated. It's not because I'm so sensitive, it's just that it's like someone came up to me and took my wallet. I can't stop it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't make a difference. The creation of my next album depends on the sale of the last one. When I make a recording, I sometimes commission arrangements, I pay royalties, I hire an engineer, I buy DAT tapes to record my sound, I hire a piano tuner, hire an editor, rent a studio or hall, I pay for the studio to turn on the lights, I hire sidemen, I hire a graphic artist, I pay a company to manufacture the CD, I pay FedEx to ship it to me, I buy lunch during the sessions. I tip the guy who brought lunch up to the studio. I sell my discs to several dealers who rely on my sales to them to make THEIR income. Every time a person steals a track or a CD from me, they negatively impact my ability to pay for those things which I did in order to make it. They cheat me, and they cheat everybody else who contributes to what went into making my CD go from concept to market. By stealing tracks from my CD without paying for them, they harm my ability to make my next project.

I think when we think about these issues "personally" rather than thinking about "the big fat cats" we realize that the reasoning breaks down, the logic doesn't hold up, and we end up having to take a long, hard look in the mirror, take a deep breath and say, "Do I want to be part of a lawful or a lawless society, and what will my contribution be?"

How we each answer the question may well determine the destiny of our society. Don't laugh. Every civilization which has ever existed has eventually crumbled. And most have fallen from within, not from without.

We are not perfect people. All of us "fudge" a little here and there, myself included. Rationalization is a potent thing. But if we each do our part minute by minute, issue by issue, temptation by temptation, we might find ourselves gradually moving over to the side of what is right, as difficult as that may be to do sometimes.

Sooner or later in this discussion, someone will raise their hand and say, "But the copyright law is WRONG! It's not RIGHT that people should be prohibited from duplicating CDs and photocopying music! The law should be changed! I'm just one in a long line of people who engage in civil disobedience in order to effect change in an unjust law. I'm a modern day Rosa Parks - she thought segregation was wrong so she broke the law by not giving in to it. She started a movement which brought about great changes. That's my motivation in "ripping" CDs and "sharing" tracks. Rosa Parks and me - we're making changes!"

Well, that IS an argument. But I think it is a bit of a stretch to equate the justification of people who steal property, violate copyright law and deprive artists of their just due in terms of royalties and income with Rosa Parks protesting an unjust law which infringed on her civil rights. Rosa Parks appealed for justice based on HIGHER laws: the founding document of the land, the Declaration of Independence which stated, "All men are created equal," and the Bible which says, "all are equal in the sight of God." Kazaa and those who "share" files illegally, on the other hand, by encouraging theft, seem to appeal to LOWER laws: the laws of selfishness, of "me first," of "who cares about the rights of others."

Another frequent argument use by people who want to steal musical property goes along these lines, "Hey, I don't have a lot of money. I'm just a student. There's no harm in my getting music I didn't pay for. Someday I'll buy CDs but now I just can't afford it. Lighten up and let me have some fun."

Well, I remember what it was to be young and poor. I was poor for a long time. I didn't grow up in a wealthy family. I didn't have a lot of "extras in life" when I was in college. I didn't have two nickels to rub together. I worked five jobs to put myself through college. After college, I worked full time as a secretary - not as a trombone player - to pay my bills. When I wanted to buy something, I worked to pay for it.

I made choices. We all make choices. My choices may or may not have been better choices than someone else's choices. But the truth of the matter is that I could never say, "I can't afford that." What I could say is, "I have CHOSEN not to afford that because I CHOSE to buy something else." Using the "I can't afford it" excuse to justify theft is a way to end up in jail. It doesn't fly. When we make choices, we are not victims of those choices. If you decide to drink a six pack of beer on Friday night, you can't complain you can't afford to buy Norman Bolter's new CD. You spent the money you could have spent on the CD on the beer. The CD may not be a BETTER choice than the beer, but it is a CHOICE you freely made. But what people want is their cake (or beer) AND to eat it, too (that is, the CD as well).

But life isn't like that. When I was young and didn't have much money, I never wanted a handout. I never took something that wasn't mine. I didn't think the world owed me a good job, or an LP, or something I couldn't afford. If I wanted something, I worked for it.

Funny, I look back at some of those treasured LP's I really worked hard and sacrificed for, I get a good feeling about them. Something about having worked hard, sacrificed and given up something in order to get it made it all the more sweet. That's called honest work. It feels good.

I think you get the idea by now. After you invest your life savings in making a recording (as was done in the production of my CD "Proclamation" after commissioning music, paying copyists, hiring a band, having several recording sessions, flying to England to record, buying a DAT machine to edit, paying a conductor, manufacturing company, royalties, shipping company, and much more), or years writing a book (as Edward Kleinhammer and I did with "Mastering the Trombone"), or your lifetime running a distribution house (as David Zimet and Chuck DePaolo of Hickeys Music do), or sweating bullets trying to get a publishing business to work you may feel differently about "ripping", "sharing," and photocopying.

Put the shoe on your foot. When you do, it will squeeze you every time you run to the CD burner to copy that CD you don't want to plop down $15.00 for, or you take that piece of printed music someone paid $30.00 for and you photocopy it for 40 cents.

Who loses?

We all do.

The "Golden Rule," which exists in every religious tradition in the world:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

still is a very good rule for living.

And while it is uncomfortable to be reminded of it, and I may sometimes wince myself to hear it, it is true that every culture the world has ever known has heard, in one way or another, the words:

God says: "Thou shalt not steal."

Now THAT'S a law that's written (literally) in stone. And it seems pretty clear, too.


Having said all this, there is something more. If you are a person who is illegally copying music - either recorded or in print - and your conscience is beginning to bother you, there is something you can do. Perhaps you're beginning to see that protection of concrete and intellectual property is an important issue. Perhaps you're seeing that the copyright law is a law like others that, in order to preserve a just society, must be enforced. Perhaps you're seeing that when the issue is personalized, and you begin to see that ripping a CD is no different than putting you hand into my wallet (or a cash register at your local CD shop) and taking out $15.00, you feel a little uneasy. Maybe, just maybe, you're seeing that what you're doing is wrong and not nice. If so, there is a way out of that itching feeling you're having.

Just stop doing it. Stop ripping CDs and ripping off artists. Now. Resolve not to steal property from others. Begin to make restitution by purchasing legal copies of the CDs you've ripped, or purchase the tracks legally from one of the legal download sites like iTunes. Or simply trash all of your illegal tracks. Repentance and restitution go a long way toward redemption. This is an issue for you to decide yourself. I hope you'll make the right choice - not for my sake, or for the sake of other artists and the huge "trickle down" that is adversely affected when people rip CDs. But for your sake. A clear conscience is a "pearl of great price." It's never too late to do the right thing.

Illegal "sharing" of copyrighted material, which seem to promote a selfishness and a demand for the "right" to get something at someone else's expense, but which at the same time bristles when others work to protect their lawful rights, seems to embody the title of Nat Hentoff's landmark book on freedom of speech,

Free speech for me, but not for thee.

THAT sentiment is exactly the opposite of the "Golden Rule." I guess we each have to choose which "rule" we'll live by. As for me and my house...

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