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?