I love the movie The Thomas Crown Affair; the key set piece where the painting is stolen from the gallery is an iconic movie moment. However this is where my enjoyment of art theft ends. If you download a song, TV show or film without paying the specified price or you obtain a pirate copy of something, you are stealing. It is that simple. Let me put it another way; you visit a pottery shop and outside the shop the artist has displayed some of their work for sale. If you then help yourself to a particular piece and make off with it without paying, then you would in all liklihood, be arrested for theft. The potter has spent time learning their craft, they have come up with their designs and then spent hours creating their piece of work. They do this to earn a living. A songwriter or filmaker has similarly spent hours and years honing their skills and crafting their ideas and pouring themselves into creating a film or a song. If anyone thinks it is ok to just take this from them without paying then they are simply wrong. I have heard the argument that it is just the big studios or massive record companies so they have got money to spare and illegal downloading is a way to “get one over on the man”. There are two problems I can see with this argument. 1) It doesn’t matter if who you steal from is rich or poor, it is still stealing and if you are comfortable with that, then fine, but let us call it what it is. And 2) It is not just massive studios or record companies that release things. The unsigned musician and indie filmakers are out there doing what they love and trying to make it. Do they not have a right to earn a living? You are if you want to accept it or not, taking money out of these peoples’ pockets too.
I’m fairly sure you’ll have received comments already to the effect that ‘it’s not really theft’ and ‘well actually it’s a proven marketing strategy used by big companies and actually helps the artist’. People don’t like to think of themselves as thieves so by and large they choose not to confront the issue. If forced to, most will spout the marketing strategy line – this however is only really true of big acts – the small, independent or new artist is likely to just get fleeced time and time again. The ‘fan’ gets the new track for free and the struggling artist never gets a penny and consequently starves in his/ her garret (or gives up, which eventually has much the same effect). The risk of pirate copies all over the place also runs the risk of the original artist missing out on some revenue somewhere down the line as there is not always a credit to the origin of the work. I know I want people to recognise my work as being mine – why should that be different for musicians?
Great, thought provoking article – thanks.