Christians And Copyright Laws, Is It A Big Deal?

Over the last decade, popular music has both benefited and suffered from the sudden evolution of technology.  MP3 technology has changed the music industry in ways never thought possible, facilitating easy storage and making new music widely available.  With this convenience however, a moral and legal issue concerning the use of these MP3 files has become a common place and heated debate. As believers in Christ, we have a duty to rise above the rest and truly discover where is the right place to stand on this issue.

A few weeks ago, I commented to my family that I was amazed at some of the artists that had broken the top fifty on Billboard Top 100.  Specifically, I was happy to see that Underoath had debuted very high in its first week of sales.  Underoath is not only a heavy screamo band, but they are also a band of Christians.  My brother’s response to Underoath’s chart success  was that it might be because they have a built a fan base of believers.  Could this be that this Christian fan base actually went out and bought the album, instead of just downloading it (illegally)?

My brother’s premise could be true if Christians believe that the the practice of illegally downloading music MP3′s is wrong. I am not so sure.  A few years ago, I wrote a rant on my personal blog site dealing with the issue of Christians and file-sharing.  What stuck in my mind the most was the venomous response I got from fellow students at Dallas Baptist University. I had several friends of mine who were not believers come to me in a spirit of understanding and discussion, but from my fellow believers, accusations of legalism and superiority.

It occurred to me a that many people truly do not believe that file sharing, or the practice of obtaining music without paying or going through legal venues, is wrong.  For many years I was on the fence about it until I took several music business courses in college, and learned that not only was it morally wrong, but illegal.  The practice is so widely accepted, most people just assume that it is not a crime to obtain music in this manner.  I assure you it is, and while I do not agree with the FBI going all S.W.A.T. team on 13 yr olds, believers we have no business getting music this way.

I want you to understand that I am aware that this issue can bring out some heated opinions. So, because of that, I will try to set this up in the best way I can.  This post is meant to spur discussion, so believe me when I say, I know this isn’t a perfectly crafted argument, but I believe it is a sound one.

To start off, I will say that I am mainly addressing other believers on this matter. If you are not a Christian don’t take that to mean that this post has no bearing on you, but my arguments focus on the body of Christ.  So, if we profess to believe in Jesus Christ, and accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we then also believe that His word (the Bible) is the written word of God, and therefore is Truth. A truth that we strive to live by everyday (and fail most times). In that word, we are told to follow two specific things that relate to this issue.

The first is that we not steal: MATTHEW 19: 18-19 ( translation-The Message)

The man asked, “What in particular?”

Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother,       and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”

The second is to follow the laws of the land: TITUS 3:1-2 (translation- The Message)

Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous.

These are the things that as Christians we believe and hold true. The problem is that most people don’t truly believe that they are violating any laws by pirating music.  We will come back to the believer aspect of this argument in a moment, but let’s explore for a moment what makes up copyright laws concerning music.

It would be very easy for to just reference and post a definition for copyright and copyright law in this post, however, the definition is so extensive it would cause this post to far exceed a few pages. Instead, I will give the layman’s definition of what a copyright does for music. A person(s) writes a piece of music.  This person(s) is referred to as the creator, or author of this piece of music, also referred to as a “work”. The author has all rights to this work, also known Exclusive Rights. These Exclusive Rights give the author the ability to not only record and distribute the work, but also the ability to make money off of that work.  The other right that the author has is to sell or assign those rights.  This is how most record labels end up with the rights to songs at the end of the day, because most signing processes include a negotiation of Exclusive Rights between the label and the author.  After the work has been recorded and distributed for sale, the Exclusive Rights holder is STILL the only party with those Exclusive Rights.

This is where the confusion usually sets in. Just because we as consumers are able to purchase the music, we are only buying a copy. The master of these recordings remains the property of whomever owns the Exclusive Rights.  Just because the MP3s are in our computers now, this does not mean that any of these rights have been transferred to us.  Further, because none of these rights have been transferred, we specifically have no right to distribute the MP3s now in our possession.  So, because of this, receiving these distributed files in opposition to the rights held by author, is illegal.

So, since the distribution of works that we do not own the Exclusive Rights to is illegal, and according to the scriptures listed above that tell us to obey the laws of the land and not steal, and if as believers we are bond to the Word of God; then as Christians, we cannot download or obtain music through any means which is not legal and fair.

What is your stance on this subject? Do you believe that there are exceptions? What are they?  Do you think that the issue is even worth debating?

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Then why are u sharing free MP3s on your web and has a link on Blah Blah BLah? :-)

  2. ian says:

    I guess Im confused by your question….

    I believe that ALL the MP3s available on the Blah Blah are approved by the artists themselves. So there is no wrong doing there.

    As for us, every MP3 available on this site is absolutely legal and free. Notice that we are not hosting any of the MP3s, all the links for download take you somewhere else.

    This article is about downloading illegally through services such as Soulseek, or burning all of your buddy’s CDs into your computer..I hope I was able to answer your question..

  3. Michael says:

    ah, i see.:-) thanks.

    i actually download alot from Blah hehehe. i never thought they are legal.:-)

    And noisetrade is great too.

    Hope you could find some bluegrass artists too who legally give away their music.:-)

  4. Matt says:

    If your conscience bothers you, then you should just listen to the songs for free on Imeem, MySpace, Last.Fm, Freenapster, Pandora or YouTube.

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  1. [...] know they call that stealing where I come from. Read Ian’s article a from a few months ago, Christians and Copyright Laws, Is It A Big Deal. You can throw all of the rationalizations at me you [...]

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