Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Do You Own Your Playlist?

Recently, an intern at NPR walked into the middle of an international debate by claiming that she has only purchased 15 CDs in her lifetime, though her "entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs." Read her post here.  Her intent, I believe, was to point out that file sharing is wrong, that the age of physical CDs has ended (her post was in reply to another's about sending his physical music collection to the cloud), and that music streaming sites like Spotify need to compensate musicians well for their music.
Her short post created a furor of comments and blog posts, some supportive (read NPR's Robin Hilton's response) and some not. Plastered all over my friends' Facebook pages and Twitter feeds was this post from University of Georgia lecturer and Cracker lead singer David Lowrey. His missive about artist rights and illegal downloading begins:


My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting you do not pay for music, and that you do not want to but you are grappling with the moral implications. I just think that you have been presented with some false choices by what sounds a lot like what we hear from the “Free Culture” adherents.

I must disagree with the underlying premise of what you have written. Fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve. It is not up to them to make it “convenient” so you don’t behave unethically. (Besides–is it really that inconvenient to download a song from iTunes into your iPhone? Is it that hard to type in your password? I think millions would disagree.)

How do you talk to your choir members about obtaining music? Do you ask them to purchase music (on CD or by paid download), or pay for streaming services? Do you send them to free content sites like Spotify and hope they will purchase music for their collection later? Do you provide listening resources for your members?
on June 29, 2012 6:51am
In the days before iTunes was easy to access, this was an especially hard choice for me as the chorus director for musicals.  I did not want to make a tape or CD copy for singers to use (not getting into whether they should use a recording here).  Now kids can often find the stuff on YouTube or pay a couple bucks for the tracks they really need.   I have paid for and downloaded the same tracks mutiple times (now tricky on iTunes) for multiple singers.   As leaders of singers, I feel we do have to take the high ground on copyright issues.  Those of us who work in K-12 education especially.  We may be the only voice the kids hear pointing out that copying music is illegeal. 
I used to preach that photo copying and burning CDs for your friends was akin to stealing.  That really isn't true.  If we want to take the high ground we had better get it right.  If I steal from you, you no longer have access to the thing I took.  Violating copyright is more like trespassing.  When I walk on your property or stow away or jump a ride on a train you still have your property or your train.   If we want to convince kids to grow up to be responsible users of copyrighted material, we shouldn't over state the situation.   This is a serious problem and we can help form people's views about it.
We Need Allen Simon! Join the community
on June 29, 2012 11:36am
Jack's point about burning CD copies has *some* truth to it, in that the original CD still exists and belongs to whoever purchased it, so it hasn't been stolen. However, the analogy isn't really appropriate in that what's being prevented by making that illegal is the avoidance of purchase of further copies of the CD. If you burn a copy and give it to someone who might have otherwise purchased it (or had someone purchase it and give it to them), then that's a missed sale of the product. So, whether it's referred to as "stealing" or not, it is indeed illegal and there are good reasons for the law.
On the topic of iTunes, however, according to the following article in the Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal (6/28/2012) - - Apple is planning the "biggest overhaul of iTunes since the online music and video store debuted in 2003," with this tantalizing quote: "Among the other changes being worked on are making it easier for people to share songs. Apple is reportedly in talks with major record labels to allow users to listen to a song sent to them from a friend for free." Also interesting was this: "The company is reportedly also working with Facebook and Twitter on ways for people to share what they are listening to."
So, the industry, as evidenced by this major player, appears to be moving towards ways of enabling a reasonable amount of sharing without giving away everything for free.
on June 29, 2012 7:58pm
I read an article that was part of a paper by Rutgers Law professor Stuart P. Green called Thirteen Ways to Steal a Bicycle: Theft Law in the Information Age.  Here's the abstract:  I in no way implied that making copies of copyrighted material isn't illegal.  David's argument that "what's being prevented by making that illegal is the avoidance of purchase of further copies" is *a bit* misguided.  The young lady in the article above with 11,000 songs would never have purchaced the over 900 CD's that comprised her iTunes library. She may have purchased a fraction of them but it is not as cut and dried as that.   That the industry is making changes to reflect the idea held by many that sharing shouldn't be a crime is evidence of a changing legal landscape.   I am an adamant defender of copyrights but I am also a realist.  Quite often people give me CD's to listen to.  I download them to my iTunes and hand them back so that I don't loose their CD.  If  I like it, I then buy it. If I don't, I delete it.  Did I steal the music?  I don't think so.  I did use it illegally.  (I sometimes drive over the speed limit too)
We Need Allen Simon! Join the community
on June 30, 2012 7:01am
Jack, I stand by *exactly* what I wrote, and no, it's not even a little "bit" misguided. The NPR intern has repeatedly broken the law, in that unlike you, she hasn't deleted the tracks that she didn't purchase (I applaud you for doing so, BTW--but most do not). The distinction she made between not having done much illegal downloading and simply ripping the tracks off CDs that she doesn't own, etc. is meaningless, as in every case where she has retained copies of music that she didn't purchase, she has indeed avoided purchase (whether she ever would have purchased them or not--that's not germane) and denied the artists and other copyright holders their due compensation (however small it might be). This is quite comparable to photocopying sheet music when the photocopies aren't eventually replaced by purchased music. Sure, we can debate gray areas, such as doing so for avoidance of awkward page turns, or when single copies are made for perusal/study, but when done in such as manner that purchasing music is intentionally avoided, it's just wrong (and of course illegal).
Again, I'm not arguing with what you wrote above, Jack. My point was that the reason all this wonderful "sharing" is illegal is that it usually is done to avoid purchasing a "product," and so we don't really need to get into the semantics of whether or not it should be called "stealing" or not (BTW, they've always called hooking up to cable TV without paying "stealing cable"--it's a concept people understand). It's not OK because "everyone is doing it" or because in our instant-gratification society we think we *should* be able to do it. Only when the artists/labels/songwriters/etc. are properly compensated by the "sharing" model will it then be ethical and moral to engage in the type of "sharing" that the NPR intern has done. Until then, it's just wrong.
on June 29, 2012 12:26pm
I actually laughed when I read this.....because my family room, bedroom, study, basement and.....probably other places where he has stashed his ill gotten contraband....have been taken over by my husband's recording collections.  Now, I don't mean hubby has done anything illegal because he hasn't when I say *contraband*,  what I mean is his obsesson for owning every recording of "Bluebeard's Castle" (8 or 9 at last count, I may not be current) or Mahler symphonies or unusual recordings of "Nutcracker" (The regular, Duke Ellington and a Klemzer--several of each)--or other things like Lazer Discs of Peter Seller's staged operas--ever recorded.  And it's pushing us out of our house!  I put the kibbosh on his trolling E-bay for whatever his latest fancy every once in while.  Remember, I am a musician too, so I don't mean to sound like I don't want him to have CDs or LPs or Lazer Discs or DVDs or.......but they are TAKING OVER MY HOUSE! There are LITERALLY THOUSANDS of CDs in our home!
He can never die because he won't live long eough to listen to everything he owns.......he has put some on his IPod so he listen when he runs, but Geez Louise!
Soooooooo, I have a very strange view of all of this......but the stacks of CDs on the supposed Comfy Chair(I haven't been able to sit in it for a few years, I think it still is comfy) I should be reading in next to the lovely window in my bedroom has skewed my opinion!
Applauded by an audience of 1