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Downloading music you legally purchased (and consequently had stolen from you) -- dead wrong, somewhat wrong, acceptable, or totally okay?
May 10, 2004 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Downloading music you legally purchased (and consequently had stolen from you) -- dead wrong, somewhat wrong, acceptable, or totally okay? Not talking about iTunes here, download as in free.. [more inside]

I had quite a few cds that I had purchased stolen from my truck. I'd already purchased these discs and have things like the jewel case with original cover art still in my possession, but I'm missing the actual disc.

Is it considered acceptable to download these from the internet? If so, are services like Kazaa still a good option, or has that ship sailed (I haven't had a copy of the program on my computer for a year or so)?

Please, no opinions about how I should have ripped them all prior to the theft.
posted by jmevius to Technology (38 answers total)
 
did you claim on insurance?
if you don't have insurance, why did you decide it wasn't worth it?
do two wrongs make a right?
would you go down the pub and buy a "cheap" car radio from a stranger if someone has smashed your car window and stolen yours?
posted by andrew cooke at 12:55 PM on May 10, 2004


I have quite a bit of music on vinyl, and sometimes I want MP3 versions of them. It's a hassle digitising vinyl, so if there's a CD version available, and I can find it for download, I'll grab it. I don't see any problem with that -- I've bought my license to use the music.

In a similar vein, you've bought your license to use that music, so I don't see anything morally wrong with going and downloading a copy of it. (The RIAA might disagree with me here, but I think most geeks would agree with me.)
posted by chrismear at 12:55 PM on May 10, 2004


Depends, if you filed an insurance claim and got cash to replace them then it'd be of pretty questionable ethics if you downloaded replacements for free and purchased a fistful new CDs. Otherwise it's completely ethical. You purchased the music, it was stolen, you've decided you want the music but not necessarily the shiny pieces of plastic. Download away.

This doesn't mean that it's legal, but I don't see anything ethically wrong with it.
posted by substrate at 12:57 PM on May 10, 2004


Andrew, what do you think of this scenario?

Let's say I've bought a load of CDs, and I've ripped them all to MP3. I never listen to the music from the CDs; they just sit on my shelf. Instead, I listen to them all from the MP3s on my computer.

Then one day, someone breaks into my house and steals all my CDs.

Is it okay for me to keep listening to the music that I've ripped as MP3s? If not, why not?
posted by chrismear at 12:59 PM on May 10, 2004


(P.S. I agree with substrate that, if you claim on insurance and use that money to buy new, different CDs, then it's ethically dodgy for you to go and download the original music as well.)
posted by chrismear at 1:00 PM on May 10, 2004


Do you mean legally, or morally? If the former, I think it's wrong - I'm not a lawyer or anything, but I believe that the RIAA's claim is that fair use covers making copies of your own stuff, but not getting copies of stuff that you own from somebody else, because that somebody else shouldn't be sharing it in the first place. I seem to remember that the MP3.com court case touched on this point.

If we're talking about morals, though, IMHO it is totally OK. You bought the stuff, and you still have the art to prove it, so you ought to be able to listen to it. There's no reason for you to hesitate, here, unless you'd really like to have another pressed CD instead.

On preview, I personally think you're OK even if you use the hypothetical insurance money to buy something else... but then again, I have no moral problems with downloading any mp3, regardless of previous ownership, so your mileage may vary.

Stay far, far away from Kazaa. It's full of spyware.
posted by vorfeed at 1:05 PM on May 10, 2004


Legally or morally?

Legally, dead wrong. If the RIAA comes after you, "I owned the disc at one point, and it was stolen from me" will be no defense at all. (IANAL)

Morally... well, let's just say that, considering my screenname, you probably shouldn't be taking moral advice from me anyway.

In a similar vein, you've bought your license to use that music, so I don't see anything morally wrong with going and downloading a copy of it. (The RIAA might disagree with me here, but I think most geeks would agree with me.)

The RIAA might disagree with you; a bunch of geeks might agree with you. Neither of those are as important as the fact that the courts would vehemently disagree with you.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:05 PM on May 10, 2004


I think jmevius obviously means morally.

I don't see anything wrong with it. The issue of right and wrong when it comes to copyright and music is arguably so distorted by the huge increases in the length of time copyright terms have been extended to, the music and media corporations' buying of punitive and stifling legislation, evil artist contracts, obscene and unjust fines for breaches of copyright, the subversion of the term "gain" within a certain piracy act, the ongoing attack on fair usage, and the rape and starvation of the public domain, that until real fairness is enacted in legislation, rebalancing society's and artists' interests to something that is just and fair to all parties, pretty much anything short of selling pirated media seems fair enough to me.

All that said, downloading your ex-CDs from wherever, seems no more or less dubious to me than making a copy of CDs you checked out of your local library or borrowed from a friend.
posted by Blue Stone at 1:31 PM on May 10, 2004


To answer andrew cooke's question, I do have insurance, but a claim was never filed.

I would agree with the claim that it would be very dodgy to collect insurance money for stolen cds, download the previously stolen cds, and then spend the insurance money on new cds (or even just pocketing the money). That would be pushing things a little too far.

I was mainly looking for a few opinions on the moral issue at stake here. And, if there was a consensus towards it being morally okay, what would be the best way to go about it?

I'd heard poor things about Kazaa before, but never found another avenue worth trying. Usenet? Any ideas?
posted by jmevius at 1:58 PM on May 10, 2004


my questions were meant to be answered here - they were just suggestions for what might give appropriate moral guidelines.

i take the point about music not being the same as a car radio, in that you can copy it. that led me to think about what the world would be like if you could do the same to car radios. i would guess that you would end up either being able to buy a licence to own a copy, or copying would be illegal. in that case, the question becomes - when you paid for your music, did you buy a licence or just "the" product?

i believe you technically bought a product, but one that gives you rights that function something like a licence in that you can make personal copies from it. so if you were splitting hairs, i think it would be correct that you have the right to make copies before losing the music, but not taking copies from someone else afterwards.

however, i may be wrong or you may feel that such fine distinctions are irrelevant.

personally, i'd probably buy the music again, because i can afford a reasonable lifestyle either way and it doesn't seem like there's any strong moral case for me to break the law. but i don't think it's a big deal (i guess maybe i care less than most about having more stuff, so the money i've got might as well be used on that) (nor do i advocate always taking the law as a moral guideline - but it seems reasonable to follow it if there's no pressing reason otherwise).

sorry to write so much. feel that as i'm in the minority i should explain myself.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:15 PM on May 10, 2004


NOT meant. sheesh.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:16 PM on May 10, 2004


usenet is ideal, but you have to pay for premium newsgroup access (or be one of the lucky few whose isp offers a newsgroup package).

if you go this route, i recommend easynews. They have a searchable db of posts, which will make it easy to find the tracks you need, and they offer an http interface, which will make it easy for you to download binaries if you don't have any familarity with newsreaders.

it's ten or twelve dollars for 6 gigs.
posted by fishfucker at 2:16 PM on May 10, 2004


if there was a consensus towards it being morally okay

Are you looking for permission or co-conspirators? Don't borrow other people's morals. Make your own choice and be prepared to defend it with something other than "everyone else is doing it".

For the technical part of your question, take a look at allofmp3.com. It's not free, but you can get an entire CD for less than a buck. It seems to be able to operate through some loopholes in Russian copyright law, so it's perfect for someone wrestling with the question you posed.

andrew cooke: you're still in the minority, but you're not alone.
posted by joaquim at 2:33 PM on May 10, 2004


or be one of the lucky few whose isp offers a newsgroup package

Lucky few? I thought every ISP offered Usenet access. It's a basic service, like email -- or at least it was.
posted by jjg at 2:44 PM on May 10, 2004


If you are going peer to peer for entire CDs, I recommend SoulSeek. It doesn't do multipoint downloading so it is a bit slower than Kazaa, but you can download an entire CD with a right-click.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 2:46 PM on May 10, 2004


Interesting....
If you don't download copies of the music, then the thieves will have stolen the music from you. If you do download copies of the music, then the theft will actually be from the record company. Andrew Cooke is right on this one, but the logic's a little convuluted.

Say you download the music, and listen to it, and say the thief sells the music to somebody who also listens to it. In this situation, you've got two people listening to the music, but only one sale from the record company. The record company (having been deprived of a sale) is down the price of one C.D. It's fair to assume that you're actually passing the theft on from yourself to the Record Company.
This is quite analogous to buying a "cheap" car radio from a stranger after yours has been stolen.

This just leaves the rather weak argument that the recipient of the stolen C.D. probably wouldn't have purchased the C.D. anyway. You could say the same about the car radio.

Interestingly enough Chris, your example of downloading tunes you currently own on Vinyl is in conflict with the Record Industries assertion that the reason CD's were so much more expensive than Vinyl was because CD's have a longer life-span than Vinyl. From this, the RIAA can quite easily assert that the licence you have to play your music is tied into the natural lifespan of the media you play it on. By transferring the music onto a longer lasting media, you're actually breaking the terms of your licence.

c.f. this with those ill fortuned DVD's which deliberately stopped working three days after you opened the box.

My personal opinion though... Download away. Vive La Revolution.
posted by seanyboy at 2:56 PM on May 10, 2004


For the ethics, take a look at Downhill Battle.

Kazaa Lite and Kazaa Resurrection don't come with spyware.
posted by muckster at 3:47 PM on May 10, 2004


This same thing happened to me a while back. Left some CD's in the car, somebody broke in and stole them. Some of the albums I have replaced with new copies, some with used copies and some of the tracks from less essential albums I have Limewire'd. I didn't think twice about taking them since I had already bought them, but I also view mp3 downloading in a different light than does the RIAA.

I agree with the people who discourage you from doing so if you got an insurance payout. That would be sketchy.

I don't think you could convince the RIAA that this is right or legal, but...
posted by shotsy at 4:24 PM on May 10, 2004


I'm not trying to pick a fight here -- I honestly want to know:

For those who are saying that it's alright to download the music because it had been paid for before the theft:

1) What would be your opinion if the stolen property had been books? Would it be alright to xerox someone else's copy?

2) If you draw the line at copying books, what leads you to that decision? Is it because the music is so easily distributed via the Internet?

Thanks.
posted by joaquim at 6:28 PM on May 10, 2004


Lucky few? I thought every ISP offered Usenet access. It's a basic service, like email -- or at least it was.


most isps do not carry the binaries newsgroups because of the extreme amount of bandwidth they require, and also because, well, they usually contain software/music/video of, uh, questionable legality.

some ISPs, however, *do* carry the binaries groups (earthlink, for example, did at one time), and some of them contract out with premium newsgroup providers to allow their users to access usenet content through them.

this, however, seems to be pretty rare.

posted by fishfucker at 7:07 PM on May 10, 2004


I wouldn't have a problem copying the books.

But I wouldn't want to read a bunch of xeroxed pages, either.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 7:09 PM on May 10, 2004


joaquim: I think that for a lot of people books are considered to be more of a physical object, rather than the abstracted textual content. With music, you're buying the licence to listen to that particular recording, and the physical medium is no more relevant than packaging.

As Yelling at Nothing pointed out, a stack of xeroxed pages is certainly not the same product as the actual book.

From what Seanyboy says above, this is apparently not the way the RIAA looks at it. Still, I think it's an intuitive feeling a lot of people have, which would underlie a feeling that downloading music that they "own the rights to" is different from photocopying a book that was stolen.
posted by nomis at 7:34 PM on May 10, 2004


Copyrighted work is "licensed," not "sold." When you bought the $15 CD you bought the $1 hardware (the CD itself) and the $14 intellectual property rights.

Legally, I'd think you have a right to replace the work that was stolen from you, subject to two caveats. First, you should be able to make a good case for the proposition that your original CD is either now destroyed or not being put to use. Copyright owners own the right of reproduction. You bought the rights to a single reproduction; you aren't authorized to make two of them.

Second, the channel of delivery needs to be legal. This is your biggest problem. The people who are providing you your second copy of the CD are pirates themselves; the work is not a replacement copy of your lost CD but an unauthorized and unlicensed reproduction of someone else's CD. The channels of distribution matter; you can't justify an illegal taking by claiming that it achieved a legal purpose.

I'd argue in the alternative (probably unsuccessfully) that it's the artist's (or RIAA's) obligation to provide a mechanism for replacement copies - send them your original store receipt and $5 shipping and handling and get a new CD in the mail - and since this mechanism is nonexistent, you have the right to take a back door approach.

Morally and ethically, you are totally in the clear.

and what nomis said.
posted by PrinceValium at 8:33 PM on May 10, 2004


Kazaa Lite/K++ is clear of spyware, but you can't find it anymore due to the RIAA. Good thing I have a copy :P
posted by abcde at 12:23 AM on May 11, 2004


By the way, I'd feel the right to photocopy a book I had stolen as well, but that's just me &kt;g>

Then again, my main book venue is loitering for days at a time in Barnes & Noble and reading, rarely buying anything. Legally, probably not piracy, but obviously some kind of abuse ;)
posted by abcde at 12:25 AM on May 11, 2004


There are so many ways of looking at this that one can reasonably obtain just about any conclusion, so just for fun, lets narrow it down to the actual injury or benefit accrued by the artist in four various scenarios:

1) You do not download the music, and you do not replace the music: You have purchased once and the artist neither gains nor loses.

2) You re-buy the stolen CDs: You have purchased twice, and the artist enjoys additional income otherwise not forthcoming.

3) You replace the music via download: You have purchased once and the artist does not benefit further.

4) You replace the music via download, and buy new music (that you would not have otherwise bought) by the same artist: You have purchased twice, the artist enjoys additional income that would otherwise not have been forthcoming.

In any of these scenarios the artist does not lose money that would have been forthcoming if your CDs had not been stolen. In two scenarios the artist benefits by the fact of your CDs being stolen. In one scenario you replace your music, assuage your conscience, and get new music.
posted by taz at 12:47 AM on May 11, 2004


hey taz... You read my post?
To paraphrase you.

1) You do not download the music, and you do not replace the music: You have purchased once, the thief does not need to purchase and the artist loses.

2) You re-buy the stolen CDs: You have purchased twice, the thief has not puchased any and the artist neither wins or loses.

3) You replace the music via download: You have purchased once, the thief does not need to purchase and the artist loses.

4) You replace the music via download, and buy new music (that you would not have otherwise bought) by the same artist: You have purchased twice, the thief has stolen once, the artist loses the sale of the first album, recovers the price of the second album.

If you want, we can do it with pebbles.
posted by seanyboy at 8:17 AM on May 11, 2004


ooops.

/snarky.
in preview, that sounded witty, but the act of posting somehow stripped all wit, and replaced it with anger and sarcasm. I do apologise.
It's probably something to do with saving non-Ansi characters in the database.
Sorry.
posted by seanyboy at 8:24 AM on May 11, 2004


on the "political" justifications that some people are mentioning - this seems to me to be pretty much opportunism.

there are a lot of injustices in the world. whether or not record companies are treating artists fairly may be important, but it's nowhere near as important as a bunch of other issues that i'm sure people don't go out of their way to break the law to protest against.

how many of you have shoplifted goods made in sweat-shops in underdeveloped countries to make the point against the appalling working conditions there?

of course, just because there's a worse evil somewhere else doesn't mean we shouldn't ignore evils nearer home. but there's a balance, and choosing your politics just to save yourself the price of a cd is pretty cheap.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:43 AM on May 11, 2004


I honestly can't believe some people would have a problem with downloading music you've already bought!

If i buy a CD, then in my mind i've just bought a license to listen to the tracks when and where i want. I've paid the music industry, and that's all they're going to get from me. This may be illegal in the eyes of someone who's anal, but i have no moral issues with that.

Theoretical situation:
Say if i bought a copy of photoshop. Installer cd snaps in two. Download pirate installer. Install using my legal serial number. Is this illegal? Or morally questionable? I think not, and I don't see the difference between this and downloading music you have paid for.
posted by derbs at 9:16 AM on May 11, 2004


This may be illegal in the eyes of someone who's anal
Like a lawyer maybe.

in my mind i've just bought a license to listen to the tracks when and where i want.
In my mind, Jennifer Aniston is completely naked. Unfortunately, this doesn't make it true.

Your theoretical situation is too theoretical. Here's another "theoretical" situation for you.

Say if you bought a copy of an album by nu-metal rock band Osmium. After burning it, you let a friend "steal" your CD. You make another back-up copy, and again, this gets "stolen" by a friend. This happens 50 times.
How many copies of the Album have been stolen?
Who were they ultimately stolen from?
Who stole each of the albums?
posted by seanyboy at 10:57 AM on May 11, 2004


seanyboy: the key word there is "let". You're doing the old reductio ad absurdum. I can accept it would be morally wrong to willingly give someone a CD and make a copy for yourself. It doesn't mean it's wrong to make a copy when the CD has been stolen from you against your will.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:39 AM on May 11, 2004


Thanks for the reply, nomis. A couple more questions:

the physical medium is no more relevant than packaging.

1) If I already own all of a particular artist's works, am I entitled to download for free a copy of the Greatest Hits CD they just put out? The Greatest Hits CD contains only songs that have appeared on previous CDs, so I've already acquired the license to listen to them. Similarly, am I entitled to free tickets to whatever concerts the artist stages?

a stack of xeroxed pages is certainly not the same product as the actual book

2) The quality of a performance varies due to the media (8-track, cassette, vinyl, CD, SACD, DVD-Audio) transporting it. If I own a work on cassette or vinyl, many here (including you, if I'm interpreting correctly) believe I have the right to download that work. Why should I settle for the inferior quality of MP3 when I have the right to an SACD version? Why do the advocates for downloading MP3s stop at MP3 instead of demanding higher quality? Again, is it because MP3 is so easily distributed and handled? (I.e., is it like the inconvenience of xeroxed pages of a book?)
posted by joaquim at 11:41 AM on May 11, 2004


If I already own all of a particular artist's works, am I entitled to download for free a copy of the Greatest Hits CD they just put out?

No. A greatest hits CD is a separately protectable work. There is a very low bar to originality - even a minimal creative input can make a compilation of prior art copyrightable. See Feist v. Rural, 499 U.S. 340 (1991). With the greatest hits album, you have original cover artwork and originality in the selection, ordering, and compilation of songs.
posted by PrinceValium at 12:11 PM on May 11, 2004


Pretty_Generic: It was a deliberately stupid example, meant to follow an equally stupid counter-argument, and probably equivalant to running around shouting "look at me... look at me".

Given my hatred of the Music companies, I'm not exactly sure why I'm arguing the position I am, but my initial position (using a backup copy of stolen music is equivalant to passing the loss of that music without consent onto somebody else) still stands.
posted by seanyboy at 1:16 PM on May 11, 2004


you have original cover artwork and originality in the selection, ordering, and compilation of songs.

If I lost my original CD, would your interpretation of minimal creative input dictate that I have to download every song from the lost CD in order to maintain the artist's intent? Would I also have to download the cover art from somewhere? If I don't have to do either of those things, what would make the Greatest Hits CD different?

Thanks.
posted by joaquim at 4:26 PM on May 11, 2004


If I already own all of a particular artist's works, am I entitled to download for free a copy of the Greatest Hits CD they just put out?

I can't really see this as relevant ... if you already owned the songs on CD, why would you want to download mp3 versions?

However, by the moral standard that says I am allowed to copy my CD's to my computer as mp3 files, then how is downloading the mp3 files different? (morally, not legally).

Similarly, am I entitled to free tickets to whatever concerts the artist stages?

That's a very different issue - what you're purchasing there is a performance of the songs by the artist. In effect, you're paying the artist for their time and effort.

Why should I settle for the inferior quality of MP3 when I have the right to an SACD version?

I agree that this is probably to do with the obtainability of mp3's.

If I believe that I own the rights to a work on vinyl, and am therefore entitled to download mp3 versions, I would think it is also acceptable for me to burn a copy of the CD version that I borrowed from a friend.
posted by nomis at 4:34 PM on May 11, 2004


With the greatest hits album, you have original cover artwork and originality in the selection, ordering, and compilation of songs.

This is interesting. What if I made myself a compilation MD or CD of my favourite tracks by a particular artist, and this turned out to be exactly the same track listing as their Greatest Hits? Is that a copyright violation? Would it be if my compilation had different tracks or a different order?
posted by nomis at 4:37 PM on May 11, 2004


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