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Do your kids pay for downloaded music?

Original post made by Conflicted Parent, Palo Alto High School, on Jun 28, 2006

We're having a big debate in our home about downloading music from file-sharing sites like Bearshare, Limewire, etc. versus paying to download songs from I-Tunes, etc. Our kids insist that none of their friends are paying for songs; they are supposedly all downloading songs (and uploading them to their I-Pods) free (and illegally.)

Does anyone have a feeling as to what the norm is? I'd like to insist that we pay for downloaded songs, but my kids say that's ridiculous and that "everyone" is downloading for free. Help!

Comments (21)

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Posted by Another Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 28, 2006 at 11:13 pm

I don't have to have this talk with my children yet, but I've given it plenty of thought regarding my own habits. Yes, I do download music using LimeWire, and burn CDs from the library, essentially taking something for free. The technology makes it easier, but it's not vastly different conceptually from what I did as a teen, bringing blank cassette tapes to my cousin's house to record his LP's, and later, CD's. I also happen to have purchased a couple hundred LP's and cassettes, around 400-500 CD's, seen over 100 live shows, bought some t-shirts, DVD's, etc. It may be a rationalization, but here's how I see it. Most of what I download is music that I'm not willing to pay for at the time I download it. If I don't care for the music that much, or lose interest, then I pretty much stop listening to it. If I like it, I'm much more inclined to pay for something down the line. Some argue that it's similar to stealing a CD from the store, but I disagree. The store bought that CD in the hopes of making a profit on it, so a stolen CD costs them money in lost inventory. A download creates a copy without taking anything away from anyone. In the best case scenarios for the artists, a fan like me could end up spending hundreds of dollars after getting that free sample, and I help spread the word. Here's an example: I started out with an "illegal" cassette tape of Toad the Wet Sprocket, a band from Santa Barbara. I now own all but one of their CDs, all but one of the CDs put out by band members in subsequent projects, and this summer, I'll be going to my third concert, and bringing three friends. I've also given their music as a gift. Add it all up, I've spent over $200 on their music, and helped bring in nearly another $200. Many artists, especially smaller acts, are aware of this phenomenon, and they encourage it with free downloads and liberal recording policies at their shows. One band I like is sending me free downloads of their music weekly through a podcast subscription. Many music fans and critics see the major recording labels and industry wonks as quite behind the times in these matters.

So while it may be illegal, music downloading the way I do it seems to me like a victimless crime, and one that actually creates the possibility that I will enrich the artists later. If I acted only within the letter of the law, I'd actually end up spending less money on music. HOWEVER, most of the teens that I've talked to about it are not doing what I'm doing. That is, their downloading habits do not trigger spending to the extent that mine do.

So, Concerned Parent, yes, I think your teens are reporting accurately that "everyone else does it" in their peer group. If it were my child, I'd discuss the impacts of the actions, and the different situations. I'm already a fan of Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan), and I know I want his new CD, so I don't even go looking for an illegal download. I've heard good buzz about a band called Gomez, so I download a few songs, like them, and then head over to Tower, or iTunes, to buy something by them. I've heard good things about some other band, download a couple of songs, don't like them, end of story. I wasn't going to drop $14-$19 dollars on a CD just because I read a good review, so the band and the music retailers haven't lost anything through my sampling.

Also note - there are many sources of free downloads, streaming music, and downloads that cost less than iTunes.

Concerned parents should also know that LimeWire can be used for "peer-to-peer" downloading of software, pictures, video, etc. Use your imagination...


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Posted by Not a parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 29, 2006 at 8:47 am

If the record companies weren't so greedy, people would be more inclined to buy the CD.


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Posted by Gordon
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2006 at 10:36 am

It seems like you should make a decision like this based on how you want to raise your children. If you want them to conform to "the norm," then by all means, have them download music illegally from a free peer-to-peer network. And then justify it by saying that record companies are greedy.

Gas prices are soaring now, too, but you'd get arrested if you tried to drive off without paying for it.

How about doing something based on what you think is right?

Lots of kids also try illegal drugs and engage in other high-risk behaviors that are "the norm." Make a decision and stand by it. You're the parent. Who cares what other kids are doing?


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Posted by copyright this!
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2006 at 4:45 pm

If it has Copyright then their activity is illegal. Imagine if your job was tied to something that others could duplicate and give away for free, you probably wouldn't like it...or at least I'm guessing you wouldn't.


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Posted by Another Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2006 at 11:32 pm

In response to "copyright this!" - I certainly understand the concern you describe, and I understand the law. I also understand that downloading has cut profits for some artists and companies. But as you can see in my post above, I don't think a "black/white" dichotomous view of the situation really clarifies the issue. Like I said before, many artists have figured out that giving some of it away keeps people like me interested in buying. True, that's the artists' choice, and artists who want to protect their material have a right to do so. And if they could take a look at some kid's hard drive and find nothing but illegal downloads, they would be understandably disapproving. But the same act of illegal downloading, in some other cases, leads to legal and profitable results. So, situational ethics? Perhaps so, but maybe a win-win outcome too. Do the ends justify the means? Usually, I'd say no, but then again, I have trouble imagining that Elvis Costello would be mad that I made a cassette tape of one of his albums in 1985, since it led to my eventual purchase of a combined dozen LP's and CD's, two concert tickets, and a book of sheet music. In fact, on his "Delivery Man" CD, Costello's artwork includes a comment positioned right above the FBI Anti-Piracy Warning, stating that he doesn't personally endorse/support that warning message.


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Posted by mike naar
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 30, 2006 at 3:56 pm


re-read Gordon's comment above. It cuts thru the rationalization that it's ok to break the law if you can somehow justify that on a given occassion the artist would benefit more from it. Another Concerned acknowledges "it would be the artists choice..." but then rationalizes this choice away.

Good luck explaining to a teen that is eager to get free goodies that it's ok to steal in some situations, but not in others...

Keep in mind, we're not talking about the proverbial "loaf of bread to feed a starving family" type of situational ethics here...we're talking about downloaded music.


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Posted by Anne
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 30, 2006 at 10:58 pm

The original topic was posted by someone who wanted to generate traffic to or sales for Bearshare & Limewire. (Their services aren't free.) This is a common sales tactic.


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Posted by Angelo
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2006 at 7:05 am

Anne- That's crazy to think that someone from Bearshare or Limewire started this topic. How does this conversation help them? And, Limewire does have a free version.

I think this is true of anything that goes on with a computer and a child... it is up to the parents to absolutely know what their child is doing on the computer. If you feel ok with them downloading using one of these services, then that's fine. (How is it different than when we used to make dub tapes of music to share with OUR friend?) If not, make them buy it!

In our house, my son uses iTunes to purchase music, but I will go through Limewire from time to time and get some music for them... they don't have direct access to Limewire because of the other things that are available on that service, as 'Another Concerned Parent' mentioned a few days ago.


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Posted by speedclose
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jul 1, 2006 at 9:43 pm

No kids but just surfing the web and found this. Of course it is illegal but I have always felt very strong in favor of downloading for free. For hundreds of years if not more artists have been artists for the love of art, now they are supposed to be super rich as well as the corporate bosses. I won't rant but one more thing I read somewhere that the Canadian high court decided in favor of downloading. One justice said something like downloading music isn't any more an act of stealing than using a copy machine in a library to copy text from a book.

One final note, I would never burn cd's and sell them, but for my own use I will never pay for music. If I may say, teach your kids to think about these issues. Why it is illegal, and why or why not you think it shouldn't be.

Good luck


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Posted by Another Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2006 at 12:47 am

Replying to Mike -

I freely admit I'm rationalizing this. I happen to think that it's a good rationalization, and I've given examples of why I think most musical artists, given the chance to review my habits (mine - not just anyone's) would feel I've given them a pretty fair shake in the final, financial analysis. I admit that I do not follow the letter of the law in this regard, and I assume I'm talking to people who are less-than-perfect in some part of their lives and might refrain from "right/wrong" simplification. Have you ever brought along a non-family member on a family pass somewhere? Ever arrived home to realize your toddler was holding some minor item that went unpaid for at the grocery store? Ever upgraded yourself to better seats during a sparsely attended athletic event? Ever accepted a large when you ordered a medium? Took a tax deduction that stretched the intent of the tax code? Found change or cash on the ground and made no effort to return it? Ever rolled through a stop sign on a bicycle? And with regard to teaching teens, anyone who wants to try to convince them that there's only one viable response to every legal/ethical question, be sure that they see that consistent follow through in your actions.

What I was saying above was that while I'm violating the law, I believe I'm doing it in a way that ultimately enriches the artists and industry rather than robs them. In my 20+ years as a music consumer, I have not usually paid for the first music I acquired by any given artist, and yet I spend hundreds of dollars each year on music. Getting a portion of it for free causes me to spend more, not less. If music downloading became technically tomorrow, I'd have no problem with that, but I can also tell you that I'd end up sampling less music that's out there, I'd end up developing fewer new musical interests, and I'd end up spending less money, especially on lesser known artists who need the money more. That's just me - may not apply to the kids out there whose music collections are almost entirely downloaded. May not apply to "speedclose," above, to whom I suggest, if you're enjoying the music, consider paying for the next round, or buying the CDs as gifts. Support good music!


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Posted by Another Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2006 at 12:50 am

*Correcting above:
"If music downloading became technically *impossible* tomorrow, I'd have no problem with that, but I can also tell you that I'd end up sampling less music that's out there, I'd end up developing fewer new musical interests, and I'd end up spending less money, especially on lesser known artists who need the money more."


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Posted by Cyrus
a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2006 at 12:51 pm

I'm a reporter for the Palo Alto Weekly, and I'd like to get the parent's perspective on this issue. It seems like everyone here has some interesting opinions on this, so if you anyone would like to get in touch with me that would be great. You can e-mail me at chedayati@paweekly.com or call me at (650) 326-8210.


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Posted by musicfan
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2006 at 5:18 pm

I was sickened by an article in today's Weekly in which Palo Alto's youth justify downloading illegal copies of music. Some say their parents even do it with them.

If music is so important and desirable to obtain, why do Palo Altans think they should be able to have it for free?

How would you feel if somebody decided they suddenly wanted your car, or your purse, or your wallet?

There has been fear and outrage about the recent rash of burglaries in town, and rightly so. Stealing is bad news.

Whether it's physical property or intellectual property -- which is what music is -- theft hurts the victim as much as it hurts the thief.


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Posted by student
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2006 at 12:22 pm

I'm a student in college at the moment, grew up and went to school in Palo Alto until I graduated from high school. Recently in college, a friend's friend got in serious trouble for illegally downloading music on a college file-sharing network. The result? $12,000 fines. My friend's friend started raising money for her to help pay the fines. Yes, eventually they court did lower the fines and she maybe only paid out $5,000 from her parents' pocket. Still, is it worth it? If something is wrong, it's wrong. What standard do you follow? Why do you do something that violates your conscience?


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Posted by mike naar
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2006 at 5:59 pm

Another Concerned Parent asks a bunch of really good questions designed to aid in rationalizing his/her choice of why it's ok to have situational ethics.

We are all "less-than-perfect" yet frankly it's pretty rare where there is a true lack of clarity as to what's right or what's wrong. Equally rare is our ability to consistently do the right thing.

Despite our desire to set a good example, not all our actions speak to our words. But when our words themselves fail us, we inevitably authorize our kids and ourselves to disregard what is wrong because we have convinced ourselves that it doesn't matter. Just because we fail to do the right thing all the time doesn't transform wrongs into either moral or legal rights.






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Posted by lily brown
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 21, 2006 at 6:36 pm

I dissagree. Kids should be allowed to break the law whenever they want to.


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Posted by Another Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2006 at 12:56 am

Rationalization has a very negative connotation. I don't deny I've done it, but as I said before, I happen to think that it's a pretty good one. (I'm speaking only for myself and my behavior patterns, not for kids who download *all* of their music). The analogy to stealing is not satisfactory. When you steal someone's wallet, or steal inventory from a store, they lose something that they had, and/or lose the ability to profit from it. When I download a song by a band I'm not familiar with, they do not lose anything that they had, and they do not lose the ability to profit from their work, because I don't pass the song along or sell it, and there's no way I was going to pay for it before hearing it. However, after downloading something I like, I frequently buy from the artist. Likewise, when I know I will want something that's coming out soon, I buy it instead of downloading it. I don't think my patterns are typical. I would welcome any musical artist to review my habits and see if they feel ripped off by me. The last CD I bought was by a band called Gomez - I downloaded some of their songs (some legal downloads included), liked what I heard, and bought the CD. The last music I downloaded from iTunes came from an artist I first heard in a film soundtrack; I got up after the movie and downloaded some songs via LimeWire, liked them, and went to iTunes to buy more. Last concert ticket I bought was for a double bill at a venue in San Francisco. I knew one band but not the other, downloaded a few songs, liked them enought that I bought the ticket. If I like their live show, I'm probably going to buy a CD at the show. I do acknowledge that it's a complicated issue and I certainly understand the critique of my position. I consider it a given that everyone has gaps in their ethical performance - no one is perfect. This particular "vice" generally enriches the people I could be accused of hurting, so I'm not going to lose much sleep over it.


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Posted by Jo
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2006 at 2:59 am

I have a niece who works in the music industry, one of the unseen elves whose salary depends on the sale of cds, etc., (did you realy think only the name artist gets the money paid for a cd) and stealing music off the net has had a terrible effect on the industry. It's theft, pure and simple. Keep it up and there will be fewer and fewer people able to produce music for a living. I'm sorry I haven't seen more articles lately about people being arrested for this theft.


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Posted by a resident of Palo Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2007 at 2:03 pm

"It's illegal." That's what I tell my kids. The "everyone's doing it" excuse doesn't make it less legal. I don't want my children to grow up to be adults who are good at rationalizing illegal behavior, so I tell them "no" they can't share their payed for computer games or their payed for music and I tell them that whoever wants it should pay for it like the rest of us.


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Posted by parent who does buy or steal music
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2007 at 2:24 pm

I get every bit of music that I listen to for free. I listen to the radio. Why would I buy a big music library of songs that I will lose interest in a few weeks? It doesn't make sense as a consumer.

Let one person (radio station) buy the library, broadcast it out for everyone to listen to - and pay royalties to the music companies, and charge sponsors for advertising, etc. You know, the old fashion way???

Maybe the music industry got sorta greedy by finding a way to push music sales on young kids who don't know any better and can't control their impulses, and now they can't control the kids. I think if they don't want people stealing their music they should stop offering it in downloadable format.


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Posted by test
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 22, 2009 at 9:30 am

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