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The Robin Hood Complex

The Robin Hood Complex

Once upon a time, the record industry had a stranglehold over the distribution of music. There really was no “underground,” no successful independent artists. But things are changing as developments in technology make music more and more accessible. And this brings Christians to a difficult question: When music is free and easy to find, where do we draw the line?

It’s a difficult topic. It’s difficult because so many of us hate the record companies and hate the way the whole system works. We figure that the artists and the companies have millions of dollars anyway, and we are starving young adults, slaving away in college or in some entry-level position working for “the man.” And besides, everyone else is doing it.

File-sharing is so easy to justify. I mean, aren’t we really helping the artists? There have been many times when I’ve downloaded something only to fall in love with it and buy the CD (who has time to sit around and burn tons of CDs, anyway?) Plus, independent artists are usually gung-ho about these file-swapping programs. It gives them free exposure, the chance to develop a huge following. And this huge following will help them sell concert tickets, merchandise and even more CDs. Should we really be against file-swapping when it works to the artists’ advantage, often cutting out the middle man?

This whole idea of cutting out the middleman is the reason we love file-swapping so much. There’s a Robin Hood-esque nobility to it. We can give the profits back to the artists where they belong. We can equalize the earnings of independent and signed artists. We can search for music on our own, support the artists on our own, feel like a part of things instead of just another brainwashed sheep buying the latest hot record at Sam Goody. There’s a grassroots feeling about the whole thing, an intoxicating freedom. After all, shouldn’t music be free as the air we breathe? Shouldn’t it flow through our ears as easily as the sounds of nature? Who owns the airwaves, anyway? This is a revolution. And it’s a terribly convenient one.

The most important thing a Christian can do is take time to think about his stance on the issue. I’ve done this, and I’d really like to say that this MP3 thing is totally fine. It’s easy and free; my selfish nature can hardly resist. But I have come to the unpopular conclusion that I just can’t justify this file-swapping thing. As much as I want to raise my fist like a renegade and shout, “Screw the record companies and their marketing ploys!” and as happy as I am that they are finally realizing that maybe they shouldn’t charge $19 for a CD, I have to admit that stealing is not the way to go.

Remember how Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”? That’s not just referring to the state. I don’t want to pay taxes either, and I certainly don’t agree with some of the things they pay for. But that’s not my concern. My concern is that I pay for what I take, that I support what others have worked for and rightfully own. These artists have signed contracts, and just because I don’t like whom they’ve chosen to work with doesn’t mean that I am entitled to free CDs. If I like the CD, I should be willing to buy it. Other people don’t give away their gifts for free; why should musicians?

All that said, here are some of the decisions I’ve made personally regarding the way I handle this file-swapping thing:

[+]Downloading one or two MP3s is fine, to get a feel for the artists or to make a mix CD.
[+]I can download music I already own, especially if the original copy gets damaged or lost.
[+]If the band supports it or puts their stuff up to download, no problem.
[+]Anything else is probably stepping over the line, even though I would really like to feel justified in downloading songs from big name artists who I feel don’t deserve another penny.

Lest anyone think I follow these guidelines rigidly, I must admit that I’m not perfect. I was a registered member of Audiogalaxy, and I took advantage of it. And I am constantly struggling with the thought: “If I don’t burn the CD, I won’t buy it anyway. What’s the difference?” But if I don’t like the CD enough to buy it, will I even really listen to it? What’s the point?

You might think I am wishy-washy; I probably am. But regardless of whether or not you agree with my opinion, you can still do your part to keep your favorite artists from going out of business. If you choose to download someone’s whole CD, at least make sure that you make up for it and support them in some other way: buying a shirt or going to see the band or artist play. We have a ton of freedom to decide what kind of music we listen to and what kind we give our money to. The recording industry is paying attention to sales, and therefore paying attention to what music is important to people. We can make a difference by putting our money where our mouths are. Forget Robin Hood. Support the artists you love, and they’ll be the ones to stick around.


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