It seems to me that this debate has a very simple foundation. Thought experiment: wipe "the industry" from the equation. Music distribution is simply a matter of artist-to-consumer distribution. In this world, the ethics of file sharing is dependent on the attitude of the artist himself (I use "himself," vice "himself/herself," because "himself/herself," while technically correct, is ugly and clumsy.) Where he approves of free or dirt-cheap distribution of his music, such sharing is ethically acceptable. Where he does not, it is not.

But the addition of the mediator of "the industry" to the equation complicates things immensely. The companies who own rights to music have a legal right to control how that music is distributed. But besides the ethical good that comes from obeying the law regardless of one's feelings toward it (which is a dubious position…it certainly hindered the civil rights movement in its nascent stages), it does not seem like any real ethical good inheres in abiding by the recording industry's dictates regarding music distribution, given that the industry cannot hope to speak for all the artists it represents (in whom, remember, the music in question originated).

Bottom line: I think I'm probably ethically obligated to abide by the wishes of the musicians in question. The problem there, of course, is that–Metallica aside–no one really knows what any artist thinks of fans trading his music for free. Is it stealing, or is it welcome publicity?

I'm still no closer. And, seeing as how my higher faculties have failed me, I suppose I've no choice but to give in to my hindbrain, which is constantly exhorting me to TAKE AS MUCH AS I CAN.

Please share insights.

Morgan Hubbard

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