Kiwi Rock, Filesharing and the Eighth Commandment

Phil Christman

Some of the world's best music comes from New Zealand.  People give you a blank look if you tell them this, but it's true: so-called "kiwi rock"-generally melodic pop with a slight bitterness borrowed from punk and an eccentric streak borrowed from psychedelia-is gorgeous stuff.
It's also impossible to find. Kiwi CDs have a way of vanishing from print in the US faster than you can pull out your credit card, and to solve this problem, several music blogs now offer various Kiwi classics for free download. Problem solved!
Or not. These sites are unauthorized-though they'll usually remove files at band request-and many Christians believe unauthorized music downloading is, simply, stealing.  They have a point: Artists should be paid for their work. (And, yes, record companies deserve some consideration too, though some don't deserve much).  Content wants to be free, Internet boosters argue, but, as some "content creators" argue back, rent wants to be paid.  Unrefrlective freeloading-getting music and movies for free via pirate sites-can hurt artists' livelihoods.  Novelist Ben Kunkel goes so far as to call it "the suicide of the intellectual classes," this mass willingness to enjoy each others' work for free.
But what if the work in question just isn't available? You can wildlyoverpay for used CDs, but bands don't see that money either. I've heard two answers to this dilemma:
1. Filesharing=stealing. Even if you can't buy The Verlaines' masterpiece Bird Dog, downloading it violates the Verlaines' rights and those of their record company. Case closed.
2. Honor among pirates. You could download the Tall Dwarfs' Hello Cruel World, then send the band eight bucks-more than they'd see from a CD sale-thus steering around the problems inherent in the music industry and, some say, in copyright law itself.
Lately I've leaned toward a third possibility: perhaps file-sharing can be instrumental in building an audience for new and under-advertised artists. Radio is supposed to give us the chance to sample new music, but it abdicated that responsibility long ago. By sharing the work of deserving, obscure artists, we may help them build a new audience, thus laying the groundwork for their return to print-even future financial success. The Clean, one of the most influential of all kiwi bands, were initially little-known in the US, but-partly because of home taping and file-sharing-a new generation of Clean fans greeted the American release of The Clean Anthology in 2003 with cheers and checkbooks. The album remains in print today.

There's no obvious solution to the problems involved in file-sharing-creative ownership, corporate media monopolization, free-riding, etc. But we can, at least, consider the impact it has on artists, using it to publicize good work rather than merely enriching our music collections.

What do you think?  As Christians, how should we look at the issue of file-sharing?

Topics: Music, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure