The music industry has been stealing from musicians since its inception. Yet, the act of recording music should be regarded as stealing music if the performers don’t own those recordings. A business person (or lawyer) can argue that musicians get paid in exchange for the rights to those recordings, however when a contract cheats a composer out of the rights to royalties for their work, this is stealing. If record companies are to make an argument that downloading music is stealing, then the definition of stealing needs to be re-examined. When computer users, particularly college students refer to downloading music, they call it “sharing.”
Perhaps it is better to use the word “cheating.” since it effectively gives listeners a chance to preview an album before buying it. This is how I have always regarded downloads. When I find something I really like, I buy it. This is partly to support the artist, even though more than 90% of my purchase is going to the retailer and record company. Also because the music sounds better on CD or vinyl than it would in watered-down MP3 format or even “lossless” quality compression encoding, I would still buy music I downloaded (not stole!) However, if the music sucks than should I have to buy it? Have you heard of a record store that will refund your money if the music is crap?
I can probably count the number of times I’ve been cheated by a record company who sells me 10 songs so I can listen to two good ones. However, no one can count all the brilliant and creative music that have never been recorded, released or properly distributed by record companies who would rather produce soulless music with mass appeal than challenging music. Record companies would rather give you what they want you to listen to than what people really want to hear. That’s why sales are down — not because of downloads.
My understanding of “stealing” is to take something away that belongs to someone else. What if I already have owned a copy of something, and want to download it out of convenience. This happens often as I live abroad and don’t have access to my collection of CD, vinyl and tapes. I’m already paying the communications provider for the covenience of internet access. On top of that, why should I have to pay a record vendor for the convenience of downloading when someone who shares my taste is willing to “lend” me his copy digitally?
What record companies call stealing is really denied opportunities for sales. In other words, record companies are loosing the opportunity to make MORE money on their investment, and blaming it on P2P networks, rather than their own inability to make marketable products and exploit channels for distributing it.