Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Swapping Music

What to do when you're down?

Well, there's compulsive eating until you feel like you're going to explode.


Then there's always the treadmill. That's productive! Yeah!


Then there's music swapping.

I've already talked ad infinitum about how much I love music. One of my dirty little secrets is that I have a small group of friends with excellent taste with whom I swap stuff. I just send an email saying "I need tunes, please." I get the latest and the greatest in their collections. And if they ask for it, they get mine. (Parenthetically, my friends include a lawyer, a rebbitzen and someone who works in the rock music industry. Not that that means anything.)

I am definitely a little guilt-ridden about the morality of keeping and enjoying songs that I didn't purchase. I wonder if it is truly stealing. I did a little research a few years ago about the halachic consequences of this, and it seemed so gray. No one had anything conclusive to say about when you can share and when it is stealing. I wonder if that has changed since Ipods became popular.

For example, if my spouse buys a cd, can I listen to it too? I know, ishto k'gufo. But what about if my brother buys a cd? My Mom? My cousin? Can I put it on my Ipod? If I do, does that mean they can't listen to the cd anymore?

Can I share an mp3 with my friends or is that stealing as well? What about if I take it off of YouTube? I can download and strip out the audio of any YouTube video (and probably half of all internet users can as well). What is the morality behind that? If it's out on YouTube, does that make it public domain?

What about LimeWire? Is it so different from Itunes? Yes, I know, the artists get paid on Itunes, presumably. And what if it's an old song or a dead artist? What if it's not in distribution anymore? Is it any different from sharing it with a relative or friend? Is it any different from recording it from the radio? Is that wrong too?

I struggle with this stuff. I mean, it's not like I don't buy music all the time anyway. I do. That doesn't change the fact that I still enjoy music I didn't pay for. But there are so many gray areas and so many different levels to this...the halachic consequences and the legal aspect.

I'm not distributing this stuff for profit, just enjoying it and sharing it with my friends. But does that make it right? I'm not sure.

In my move back to NY last year, a whole box of cd's that I had purchased got lost in the shuffle. They are either somewhere in my storage space or somewhere in my Ex's house. So, does that mean I have to go out and buy them again if I want to listen to them on my Ipod, or can I just use my friends' copies?

I feel guilty. But, honestly, not overwhelmingly guilty. I should probably write to the Freakonomics guys for their take on this. And I know: I should probably ask my Rav. But I'm not prepared to hear no.

It's funny: I would never walk into Borders and put a cd in my bag and walk out with it. That is shoplifting and it's wrong wrong wrong. I'm very clear on that. But isn't sharing music pretty much the same thing?

I hope not.


YM said...

Its stealing. Certainly you can borrow a CD from your mom, but if you make a copy of it, it is stealing. So is swapping music files. If you don't agree, write to the copyright holder and ask them if what you are doing is ok.

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Not so poshut. Ever make a mixtape? Ever record a song off the radio (back when it was possible to do that)? Ever record a movie from TV onto tape? You can go online and listen to just about anything you want, anytime, on demand. You might as well be downloading it. So what's the difference? Clearly this is a gray area.

abandoning eden said...

recording a song off the radio is different. According to the digital millenium copyright act (I think that's what it's called) the stealing part is making a copy of a copy. I'm not sure how ipods got around that, cause technically if you copy a cd to your computer and then copy the computer song to your ipod, that's a copy of a copy....i think there was some kind of lawsuit involved, and now the computer doesn't count as a copy? I know the original Mp3 players were put out of business as a result of that act.....anyways, I wrote a paper about it for a class in 2003, but the laws have probably changed since then.

WebGirl said...

YM, I'm not sure it's all that black and white. I'm not saying you're not right, but I'm considering other possibilities. I understand the idea of intellectual property, but it is so hard to enforce this in so many areas. For example, can I xerox a book? Can I borrow it from a friend? What's the difference? What about shiurim where the speakers give out source sheets composed of meforshim? Did the speakers call the publishers of the seforim to ask for permission to copy their work? Does it make a difference if people keep the sheets (instead of buying the seforim) or dispose of them in shaimus?

AE, this is an interesting legal twist that seems inconsistent with halacha, or, respecting your point of view, with secular morality. After all, copying an original seems to be as wrong as copying a copy, doesn't it?

NJG, I do agree...this is a very gray area, only further confused by the ongoing development of technology.

Why is Limewire any worse than YouTube? Because it's not as simple to download the files on YouTube? But it's becoming easier and easier. Where does social networking cross over into P2P?

What happens when the artist is no longer around and there is no estate? For example, can I xerox a copy of a Shakespeare play? Can I download a copy of a Beethoven symphony?

Finally, here's an interesting article that I found on one of my favorite blogs, TechDirt. It's about a potential deal to bundle music on an Iphone. As long as you own the device, you have unlimited access to the music. Once you get rid of the device, you lose ownership of the music.

Interesting, huh? It brings into question the whole idea of music ownership: when you buy music, what exactly do you own? Not much it seems.

Then there's this interesting article on file sharing as well.

I still think it's a very murky area.

YM said...

There is no question that if someone takes a CD, burns it to their hard drive and then shares the files or burns a CD for someone else, it is stealing. Downloading a CD to one's own MP3 player is different, but if you download it and then give away the CD to someone else, that is also stealing. Recording off TV or the radio is legal and always was. If the original file was free (for example,, it is also not a problem. Making a mixtape or mixcd, etc is perhaps more of a grey area.

WebGirl said...


I'm trying to understand. What does "There is no question..." mean? I think that there are many questions. While you are definitive in what you say, I'd like to understand what it is based on. Halacha? Law? Personal morality?

Why is recording off the tv ok, but recording off of YouTube not ok? Is there a distinction between what is legal and what is halachically ok (I think there is.)?

Why wouldn't making a mixtape be totally wrong?

I'm not trying to be difficult or obnoxious, just to challenge you to defend your reasoning in what I think is a very complex, thorny issue. Do you have halachic or legal sources for this? I'd be curious to read them. Thanks.


YM said...

Recording off YouTube is the same as recording off TV - assuming that the material was legally put on You Tube to begin with, which is often not the case. Making a mix-tape (for other people) is a grey area, as I mentioned, because on one hand, the artist is trying to sell the music and the person who is receiving the tape isn't paying for the music, but on the other hand a mix-tape in-itself is an artistic creation at a certain level.

I can't quote you the chapter and verse from Chosen Mishpat where this topic is discussed, but I know that halacha doesn't allow it. Recently, I learned a case in Choshen Mishpat where a merchant is not allowed to sell something for an artificially low price if the sole goal is to harm other local merchants or push them out of business. Giving something away for free that the creator is trying to sell seems to me to be a Kal V'homer, although it is not exactly the same thing.

WebGirl said...

Well, then using Choshen Mishpat as a base, why is copying from the radio, tv and Youtube ok? I would think that is not okay at all. Remember, just because you might think something is legal doesn't mean that it's halachically okay. And many times, when record companies put videos on YouTube, they disable embedding. Am I supposed to take that as I don't have permission to copy the video? But then why put it out there on the Internet at all?

I just don't think any of this is as clear cut as you seem to be making it. Choshen Hamishpat never had to tackle the idea of downloading and the Internet and how that affects our idea of what stealing is. I'm not saying it can't be "learned out" from C.H'M.; I'm saying it's far from simple.