Sunday, October 07, 2007


Kim Hohl and her father constantly argue about ethics. One of their regular disagreements concerns downloading and uploading music.

It's not that there's a great divide between them over downloading music illegally, an issue that, among other things, can sometimes result in heated discussions about stealing someone else's property and copyright-violations charges from the recording industry. Both agree that this practice is out of bounds.

Where the 19-year-old college student and her father, both of Sunbury, Ohio, part ways is on whether it's OK for her to play music that she downloaded from a site other than iTunes on her iPod. To be able to do this, she says, she sometimes has to download the song to a blank CD and then upload it back onto her computer using the iTunes software. It's a bit convoluted, but it allows her to play songs that aren't available from the iTunes store.

"My dad believes that it is unethical to do this," Hohl writes. "He thinks that, when I bought the iPod, I agreed to use its software. I disagree, because I only go to other Web sites when iTunes refuses to carry a song I want."

Hohl wants to know if she's ethically bound to iTunes or if it's OK to use other services when iTunes doesn't carry what she wants.

When you buy an iPod, it comes with software that you load onto your computer to enable you to upload music from most music CDs and also to move music that you've downloaded to your computer onto your iPod.

Some Web sites other than iTunes already sell songs that are compatible with the iTunes format., for example, recently announced that it is opening an online music store to compete directly with iTunes. Music downloaded from the new site should be playable on iPods and other mp3 players without any problem.

But Hohl and her father want to know about those occasions when the downloaded music isn't compatible, preventing her from listening to it unless she goes through the rigmarole she describes.

As regular readers of my column know, I'm a diehard when it comes to respecting the copyright of musicians. I've shown little tolerance for people who burn illegal copies of CDs to give to friends or to those who believe it's OK to replace their cassette-tape collections by burning illegal copies of a public library's CDs of the same titles.

But Hohl's question is wholly different. She's going out of her way to legally purchase or download the music she wants. It's no fault of hers that some of what she wants is not available at the iTunes online store.

Perhaps a clever reader could figure out a way for Hohl to avoid some of the steps she's taking to get the music she wants onto her iPod, but it doesn't strike me that she's doing anything wrong. It's not all that different from uploading music from pre-recorded CDs that she happens to already own.

The right thing for Hohl to do is exactly what she's doing. And the right thing for her father to do is to continue to challenge his daughter to make decisions that reflect the honesty of her intentions. In that regard, each of them seems to be succeeding.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate


Anonymous said...

Thank you for our wise answer to Kim Hohl re getting music to her
iPod. As an ethicist, however, you should have pointed out exactly who is acting unethically in this situation: the record labels that refuse to sell their music without the kind of encryption that forces honest users like Kim to jump through such ridiculous hoops. This
encryption, known as Digital Rights Management (or DRM), limits how many and which devices you can play your music on. If you buy a song at the iTunes store, for example, you can only play it on Apple-approved devices; now THAT's unethical.

Kim is doing the right thing and I applaud you for recognizing that.
But as an ethicist you also need to call out those who would take
away our Fair Use rights, eviscerate the First Sale doctrine, and lock us into monopolistic proprietary systems.

Thank you and best regards,

--Bill Kirkpatrick, Granville OH

Anonymous said...

Copyright laws differ from country to country. For example, where I live, Canada, our Supreme Court has ruled that our copyright laws, as they stand today, make it legal to download digital music over P2P networks for personal use but illegal to allow our own digital music to be available for upload. Go figure.

On a related note, The UK, Australia and New Zealand all had copyright laws that made it illegal to rip music CD's into digital music files. I understand that they all have either changed their copyright law or are in the process of changing their copyright law to allow CD ripping.

When lecturing the morality of copyright infringement, it is good to know the local laws. I read your column in Canada. I am sure it must be syndicated in other countries.

Where do you stand on making compilation CD's for a loved ones from your digital collection? You know, for their big road trip or just to say I love you 15 or 16 different ways. I could be argued that it is personal use. It doesn't get any more personal than doing something nice for a loved one.

Al Williams
Calgary AB Canada