Music in the digital age raises numerous ethical questions. From the consumer’s point of view, file-sharing, or burning CDs, are cheap, convenient, and quick ways to enjoy more music – but while they are technically illegal activities, don’t they help to spread the word about our favorite musicians?
From the artist’s point of view, if you can’t sing that high note you’ve been trying to reach, you no longer have to rewrite the song – you can use AutoTune or any of the other digital devices that correct pitches. That’s not illegal - is it deceptive?
But let’s back up a moment. Yes, the specifics of the questions have changed, but the bigger issues are pretty old. When I was a teenager, I bought a bootleg album of a David Bowie concert that I had been at. Was this unethical? I’d paid for my concert ticket, plus I’d bought all the guy’s commercial albums. And if I thought about it, supporting the shadow economy around the big label music business wouldn’t have seemed so bad anyway.
Also back in the old days, a hue and holler arose when ELO went on tour and it got out that they had orchestral sounds on tape. This was branded “deceptive.” Although if you went to a concert of theirs (not that I ever did) and saw five guys onstage and heard 50 playing, I doubt you’d have been looking to the rafters for hidden musicians. The point is, some things are and always have been wrong (stealing an album from the store), or right (playing a show as if it were your last, and feeling the audience pushing you on). But music is not absolute thing, and the ethics of music-making and music-listening can be a bit fuzzy.
Has your love of music left you in an ethical quandary? Do you have a question for The Ethicist? Leave a comment.