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Why You Shouldn't Download Music Illegally

It's easy to download music illegally and difficult to get caught. By some estimates, 4 out of every 5 digital music downloads are illegal. Many people who would never even think about stealing a physical object like a shirt have no problem stealing digital content like music, movies, and ebooks. Many people who think it would be ethically wrong to steal from a store may have no ethical problems stealing digital content. There are also people who think illegal downloading is unethical but they do it anyway because it's just so easy.

According to one study, "The U.S. economy loses $12.5 billion in total output annually as a consequence of music theft. Sound recording piracy leads to the loss of 71,060 jobs to the U.S. economy."


I'm not sure what this number is based on. If it's the number of illegally downloaded songs, then it may be inflated. A record label only experiences a loss when a person who would have bought a song downloads it illegally instead. Many people download hundreds of songs. But if they actually had to buy their music, they would probably only buy a small fraction of those songs.

That particular RIAA study was done before music streaming largely replaced digital downloads, but now there is a new problem. Many people engage in the practice of stream ripping.

"...38 percent of consumers globally steal music and 32 percent steal digital music using stream ripping...Stream ripping allows consumers to make an audio file of a recording being played on a streaming platform and listen to it while they’re offline. That also allows consumers to avoid paying to listen to music on a subscription service or use a non-interactive service, both of which would compensate recording artists for their streams."


Streaming hasn't ended music piracy. Stream ripping allows consumers to make an audio file of a recording being played on a streaming platform

Streaming hasn't ended music piracy. Stream ripping allows consumers to make an audio file of a recording being played on a streaming platform

Why I Don't Steal Music

Maybe it's old fashioned but if I can't afford something, I do without it until I can. I put a lot of time and effort into creating online content. I wouldn't want people stealing from me, so I don't steal from singers and musicians, and all the other people who are involved in making the music I enjoy.

I do agree that music costs too much and that labels need to find ways to offer it for less. This is especially the case for younger people who can't afford to pay $14 for an album or $1.29 for a song. Offering music for less would likely create more honest music buyers.

And we hurt ourselves when we steal. Making high quality recorded music is expensive. If companies and musicians can't make money selling music, they will have little incentive to spend the money needed to make it. It's people who are buying music or paying subscriptions for streaming services who are responsible for the continued existence of recorded music. Take them away and recorded music will largely go away unless methods that are close to free are found to make it.

Justifications for Illegal Downloading

I've read a lot of justifications for stealing rather than buying music. Here are some:

  • Real artists make music for the love of it, not the money they can make - I'm sure the people who make this argument don't do their own job for free.
  • In the old days, artists made money by performing live. Musicians should simply do that instead - why make CDs then or produce music for download. Many people want to listen to high-quality music on a variety of devices. Live music is great but I don't think most of us want to go back to the days before recorded music when that was all we had.
  • Musicians and singers are rich. Why should we give them more money? - most aren't rich. Many musicians only make enough money to get by. For the few that are rich, they've still created a product. If we want it, it's only right to pay for it. I'm sure my doctor is quite well off. I don't expect her to provide free treatment simply because she is. She wouldn't be well off for very long if she did. Those rich singers are also employers. Many ordinary people are dependent on them for their jobs.
  • Rich executives make most of the money anyway - while this is true, it's actually true in every business. When you buy clothing, executives take a nice cut from the profit. The people who get hurt the most aren't the rich. By some estimates, illegal downloads have cost more than 70,000 jobs. I'm sure many others are making smaller salaries. A lot of people are needed to make music from singers, musicians, producers, and sound engineers to secretaries, marketing staff, and janitors. Everyone needs to get paid.
  • Everyone should become an indie artist and sell directly to the public rather than dealing with labels - many singers are doing this and making money. But if they produce CDs or digital content, it can still be stolen.
  • It's ok because singers make most of their money off touring anyway - many record labels will only fund a tour if they are making enough money from a singer through music sales because the investment to get a tour off the ground can be so high. So, a singer may actually have to sell CDs and mp3's, or get millions of streams, to be able to tour. Illegal downloading may also be driving up concert ticket prices as labels, singers, and bands become more dependent on touring to make money

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2013 LT Wright


LT Wright (author) from California on February 23, 2013:


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I think books are almost the most troubling because there really aren't alternate ways for authors to make money. Streaming is excellent for people who can't afford to buy much music. $9.99 is a really good deal.

Georgie Lowery from North Florida on February 23, 2013:

I used to steal music all the time. With all of these folks getting caught and fined, it became less attractive. I use Zune now, which just became XBox Music, and I can download anything I want for $9.99 a month. I think what really made me quit with the illegal downloading was finding e-books on the bit-torrent sites. I don't know why I thought that was any different from stealing music, but it really offended me.

LT Wright (author) from California on February 23, 2013:


I agree.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on February 23, 2013:

There is no justification for stealing music, printed or otherwise.

LT Wright (author) from California on February 20, 2013:


When it comes to big corporations, people often think only about the executives. They don't think about those ordinary people who get hurt by their actions.

Jessie on February 20, 2013:

I used to know someone who worked as an accountant for a record label. She used to be so angry about illegal downloads. This was in the time of Napster. She was very worried about her job and her co-workers. There really is no justification for it. Anyone who thinks it's ok should be ashamed. They wouldn't want anyone putting their job in danger.

LT Wright (author) from California on February 20, 2013:

Writer David,

And Mog is another option. There really isn't any reason to expose yourself to risk.

Writer David from Mobile, AL on February 20, 2013:

With Spotify and Pandora, there is no reason to illegally download music. That is so 90s.

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