Is Technology Clouding Your Ethics?

Technology allows us to do many wonderful things. But is technology clouding your ethics? That’s what the Trichordist addresses in his June 18th post. (Thanks Holly Messinger for bringing this post to my attention)

image of a compass with a clouded glass
“Compass” by Hacklock from

It’s a long, passionate, and reasoned response to an intern’s post on the NPR blog where she confesses to not buying the music she listens to. The Trichordist, naturally, focused on the recording industry, but his post transcends the recording industry.The basic question is technology clouding your ethics, applies to everyone who believes they should be able to get art for free. All artists from illustrators to photographers to writers to web designers and all creators deserve fair compensation.



If you haven’t read the post, here is a portion:

June 18, 2012
Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

Recently Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist’s biggest allies. We also believe–for reasons we’ll get into–that she has been been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement. We only ask the opportunity to present a countervailing viewpoint.


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.)

Please, read the entire blog post. Go to The Trichordist: letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

Those of you who are old enough to remember ‘before the internet,’ would you have dreamed of taking a piece of art out of a museum or gallery? Would you take a record from the rack at the record store and record it on your tape player, leaving the record behind?

It’s Stealing

Those of you who are not old enough to remember ‘before the net.’ Would you go to your local department store and attempt to take a record or book without paying for it? No? Why not? Because it’s stealing.

I know some of you are going to say, but I loaned my records or books to my friends all the time. A loan is different from taking something without paying for it. If your friend wanted a copy of his own; he had to buy one. Do I think that pirating copyrighted work started with the internet? Of course not.

The age of the internet, however, has made it ‘easy and convenient’ for artists to make their work available to the world. It has also made it ‘easy and convenient’ to ignore copyright. Images & music & books all are owned by their creators. They have a right to be paid for their work. You don’t expect to work for free, do you?

Whose Responsibility?

The internet has also made it the buyer’s downloader’s responsibility to verify that the song or image or text being downloaded is not stolen. How do you do that? Go directly to the creator’s website. Look for attributions and copyright notices. Learn about copyright laws. (Learn the basics here.)

But in order for John Q Public to be able to discern which items are stolen we, the creators, must display attributions and copyright information clearly. Too often, blogs and websites that I visit, have no attributions or copyright notices.

It distresses me that some excuse their use of copyrighted materials for their blogs by saying it’s “fair use.” Fair use depends upon the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, how much of the work is used, and the effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work. Learn more about fair use here. If we who are creators do not educate ourselves, then stand up to educate, to protest, and or shout it out, we too, are guilty of a foggy ethics.

Love the internet. Love technology. But don’t let your ethics, your behavioral compass, be clouded by what you can do. Make a choice. Do the right thing.

If we, the creators, do not treat our own work AND the work of others, as having value, why should anyone else?


  1. Hi Lynette, I am in full agreement here. I pay for my music, and to all you authors out there, I don’t download free books, not even if you have put them up for free.
    The only free books I have downloaded are from authors who sent me a coupon and specifically asked me to read their work. If I decide to read your work, and I do read and download a lot, I pay for the books. You work, you deserve to be paid.

  2. I’m with you, Lynette,

    I buy everything, especially ebooks by authors I love and authors I’ve discovered. When colleagues announce a book launch I buy it automatically. The problem I have is finding the time to read them!

    And I was having a chat with a friend over the song that was written for the Queen’s Jubilee – Sing – and I posted a link to the video on youtube on my blog and she said that she’d bought it but wondered how many people just kept the youtube link and didn’t go out and buy it. Wasn’t I encouraging them to listen without paying. Hadn’t thought of that – all I wanted to do was spread the word about a fabulous song. But I’d already clicked into the iStore and bought the song for my ipods and I know my kids and DH did the same thing too and the record torpedoed to the number one spot in the charts so I was pleased to share the song.

    Thought provoking post.

    1. Wow, CC, I hadn’t thought about youtube songs being all the listener would ever listen to. One thing I try to do with youtube is to try to go to the source, the musician’s channel. But, we can’t not do things just because someone might misuse or misunderstand the purpose. We can only advertise (share) and educate. Thanks so much for adding to this discussion.

      1. I think many artists look upon YouTube as an advertising medium. You can’t readily add a YouTube video to your regular iPod music playlist, so it’s not as convenient as a “ripped” song.

        Also, there are instances of “fair use,” (and as an educator I have used them from time to time).

        But artists still have to eat. Anyone who rips off music, visual art, or any other intellectual property that normally is for sale, and doesn’t pay for it, is contributing to the poverty of an artist.

        1. I agree that artist use YouTube as an advertising medium. But there is a gray area where the recording is made by a fan. I try to avoid that gray area by choosing videos that are original to the person who posted. Thanks for sharing!

  3. interesting questions you raise Lynnette. In general I agree with you, but I have to admit I used to tape songs off the radio (on a big reel to reel tape recorder no less) but I didn’t know that was stealing – it had never come up. I just knew I liked those songs and wanted to listen to them again and again and I didn’t have the $$$ to buy them. Can you see that young woman standing at the big wooden stereo (do you remember the 6ft long ones?) hittting start and stop? I think it’s as much a matter of education and information as anything.

    I had lots of songs from napster, long before I thought of it as ‘stealing’. You tube clouds things even more, I think, since artists post songs there for us to enjoy.

    I wouldnt dream of doing any of this now that I know better, but I didn’t know back then. I think many young people simply don’t know…they come from today – the free app world and don’t understand the implications for we creative types.

    great post – thanks for bringing the NPR post to my attention.

    1. LOL! Love the image of the reel to reel on the big wooden stereo (we had a stereo like that when I was a kid).

      But I do understand. I have recorded songs I liked in the past. I’ve received copies of music someone duped from their CDs. As a young person I didn’t know either. And I certainly make use of youtube now.

      Even when I first started writing, I don’t think I fully understood what copyright meant, nor did I understand what it meant to creators. I know that in my day job as a nurse, there was very little understanding of copyright by my co-workers who are basically honest people. Learning that, I realized that writers (as well as other creators) must work at educating people. Especially now with technology clouding the issue.

      Thanks for sharing, Louise.

  4. You can rant to me anytime you like, Lynette. I don’t download music, but frequently search for images for my blog. I usually buy them (via credits I buy in bulk) from because the creator gets paid. At least, I hope he/she gets paid. Now you’ve got me questioning myself.

    1. Thanks, Pat. I appreciate your offer. Good for you to pay for your blog images! Oooh. I assume they got paid from istockphotography as well, but guess I should read the fine print, too.

      Isn’t it amazing how many ways we can violate copyright without intending to in the least?

      1. I “pay” for images used on my blog by offering reciprocal links and asking for permission to use them beforehand. This is the way the Internet works: the more links, the better. I have yet to be turned down, though sometimes I get a request to use a different, better-watermarked image. I always honor such requests.

  5. Great post, Lynette, and it raises important questions. I have never downloaded a pirated book and buy a lot of eBooks every month. I also buy mp3s but also listen to music on YouTube.

    YouTube is a great channel for creating buzz for movies, music, books and anything really. It’s also a venue for copyright infringements and stealing. There are also official channels for many artists. Especially the big names consider these channels and even sold records as a stepping stone to selling concert tickets and merchandise which makes most of their income. But for the small and midlist artists piracy means loss of a lot of income.

    One of my biggest shady areas is downloading pirated TV series episodes. I only follow a handful of series that I buy as DVD boxes when they come out. I try to justify it to myself as kind of previewing (since most series I can’t access legally as I don’t live in the US) but it’s not the right thing to do. Waiting for months to get the DVD is also pretty unbearable.

    I am currently not using pictures for my blog but I’m learning how to do it properly. I’ll pay for stock photos or use creative commons pictures.

    1. Reetta, You are right about the duality of YouTube. Geez, TV series on the net. Man. Copyright protection is a MASSIVE job for all of us. I don’t know which sites you go to to watch the TV series, but there are some ‘official’ sites that will allow you to watch the past episodes on their site. Promotion, creating buzz, building a brand – it’s a little bit of a two edge sword. We all just have to try to up our awareness and educate, educate, educate.

      Thanks so much for sharing, Reetta.

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