Is Downloading Music off the internet really stealing?

           Music has been enjoyed for decades now. From records to CDs and now online streaming music is available on the brink of our fingerprints thanks to the internet. Spotify, Tidal and Sound cloud are some of the most well known music platforms. These platforms come with a monthly fee of consuming music or a free version which allows the user to listen to music without paying but there are restrictions. However with the help of internet music can be easily obtained through no purchase at all. Music Piracy has been on the rise ever since 1999 when Napster was created.Napster allowed users to download songs for free. This causes an ethical dilemma because music is seen as intellectual property copyrighted by the producers. If one does download music illegally, it is seen as stealing from the artist since its sale doesn’t go to the artists or the record label. Is downloading music really theft of property? According to an article by Christian Barry, he splits the debate into two sides. One side of the fundamentalist libertarians who think that “All ideas and artistic creations should held in common and be freely accessible.” (Barry 2)The other side’s argument is “that illegal downloading of music is the same as common theft.”(Barry 3).Downloading Music online isn’t really common theft.

           Many musicians copyright their music in order to protect their rights from music piraters. Therefore these musicians are protected by the law. Looking at Virtue Ethics of music piraters. They use music to support their personal gain. So ultimately they’re driven by greed. While knowing that “Sharing undermines CD sales” (Gopal 3).While music sharing does undermine CD sales it can positively effect conumers.According to Teleological ethics, its consequences are very negligible. When looking at a typical artist who makes music they are well compensated for their music. Regardless of the fact that they won’t make any royalties off their music which has been downloaded for free, they still profit a decent amount. However more profit goes toward the record labels who own the rights of the music. “The money would not have gone to the artists but rather the record companies.” (Stanford Journal) When looking at the consequences of a consumer toward downloading free music there aren’t really any. In this case as Christian Barry proposes in his article “The gain of an individual doesn’t lead to a loss of another individual like common theft”. (Barry 3)

           According to a newspaper article by the Guardian. A person interviewed said “It doesn’t really feel like stealing since I didn’t take anything from you. I took a CD make a copy of it and gave it back to you” (Kitty empire 7).This is the kind of logic that makes music piracy seem ethical. According to Deontology, The action itself is suppose to be judged in order to prove if it’s ethical or not. While seeming to know that downloading something off the internet isn’t really theft. The action itself isn’t morally wrong. However in the perspective of a music pirater.The one who takes the music and makes a copy of it so that others can access it freely, his/her action is morally wrong since he is the one doing the actually stealing of intellectual property.         

           Since Music, is generally profited from large corporations and not the musicians themselves. “Monopoly privileges of musical copyright holders are now centrally important for the entertainment corporation’s profits.”(Frith 17) Therefore, copyright laws were made for economical and political reasons and not moral ones. These corporations wanted to keep their profits and not lose them by piracy. From virtue ethics this isn’t morally right since, people are profited off what they listen to.

           “Music is a commodity which can circulate within the media generating income from the exploitation of performing rights.”(Frith 19)This argues that artistes and record label companies profit off T.V shows, Movies, concerts and live show appearances. Regardless of the fact that they lose money through piracy they generate enough through other means. Using the Harm principle, downloading music online doesn’t really put anyone at risk except for the ones who are putting the music on pirating websites.

           “The protection of the individual creator is becoming problematic because of the electronic world and the fact that it is hard to define a sole creator because of the amount of people contributing toward the creation of the music itself.”(Frith 19) This just reinforces the idea that intellectual property of music is hard to define since it doesn’t go back to the musician but, the entire record label, the producers’ composer etc.

           In conclusion, Downloading music off the internet illegally isn’t morally wrong. Even though it is protected by Copyright laws, it doesn’t mean it is unethical since it isn’t the same as theft. From a teleological perspective it doesn’t lead too much of a consequence other than decreasing sales of the music. Musicians and Record Labels have other ways to generate profit and seem to do so.These copyright laws are to protect the profits that are generally going to be going to record label companies themselves rather than the artists. This seen from a virtue Ethics standpoint copyright laws are seemingly trying to aid the greed of entertainment corporations. From a deontological perspective downloading something off the internet doesn’t necessarily mean its theft. There isn’t much of a loss associated to the gain. Lastly using a more utilitarianism approach, downloading music off the internet isn’t really going to have an affect to a great amount of people except for those of who are acquiring freeingly.In this case this does lead to a greater happiness to the greater amount of people.


                                                           Works Cited

Cummings, Alex S. “From Monopoly to Intellectual Property: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright, 1909-1971.” Journal of American History, vol. 97, no. 3, Dec. 2010, pp. 659–681. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1093/jahist/97.3.659.

Gopal, Ram D., et al. “Do Artists Benefit from Online Music Sharing?” The Journal of Business, vol. 79, no. 3, 2006, pp. 1503–1533. JSTOR,

Frith, Simon. “Copyright and the Music Business.” Popular Music, vol. 7, no. 1, 1988, pp. 57–75. JSTOR,

Empire, Kitty. “Stephen Witt: 'Music Piracy Is Illegal – but Morally, Is It Wrong?'.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 June 2015,

Barry, and School of Philosophy. “Is Downloading Really Stealing? The Ethics of Digital Piracy.” The Conversation, 16 Apr. 2019,


Benjamin Verreault January 31, 2020, 3:06 AM

Hey. I really liked your post on this subject because I'm someone that downloads a lot of music and sometimes, I do feel like I'm breaking the law. But your post changed the way I look at it know. I still do feel somewhat guilty about it, but I now know that I shouldn't. Also, I enjoyed looking at the references. They are very interesting!

Trestan Guevel February 7, 2020, 11:56 AM

I was always told that downloading music was wrong, because it was considering stealing to do it and consequently morally wrong . But You raised some interesting point of views on this topic. I think that if it was such a huge loss of money for the music industry, they wouldn't post their musics online and would try to avoid internet as much as possible.

Zachary Gagnon September 6, 2021, 6:55 PM

I like your approach of the situation since I've always been persuaded of the complete opposite. After reading the post, I can understand that the question isn't perfectly decided and there's a place for debates. Even though it gave me some doubts, I still think this type of music download is not that most ethical. The industry of music is a lot more than the principal artist who puts his name on the track, it is a mix of creativity, marketing and engineering which makes the question a bit more difficult to answer. Benefits made of online music must be really helpful to pay all the persons who work on these tracks.

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