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Petty thievery

I’ve got a good friend. He’s a great guy. Pretty honest, pretty decent human being.

Recently we were hanging out together … doing our usual nonstop talking. We were having a blast … up until the moment he was showing me photos from his recent trip on his laptop computer.

My friend segued from showing me photographs to showing me some labyrinthine catalog of music he had stored on his laptop. He flipped through music sounding out on a tinny sound system faster than I could recognize what tunes they were. I was impressed with the endless catalog.

I’m a woman who still listens to the radio and thinks CDs are cutting edge. So, I asked my friend, “How’d you get all this music?” — and here’s where it got sticky. He responded with a shrug, “Itunes, friends, some stolen.”

What? Did I hear that correctly? “Some stolen”?????

My friend was saying as blithely as if he were a dog scratching his nether regions that he STOLE music from some source? Yes, I’d heard him correctly.

I took a brief second to register this — geez, if my good friends are stealing art from artists, no wonder editors are loathe to pay me for my writing – and then said to him, “I am not EVEN going to tell you what I think of that.” (Obviously, I was hoping he’d BEG me to tell him what I think of that! — but again, he just shrugged, as if my thoughts on the matter were not even worthy of his concern.)

To him, I was probably being an uptight pain in the ass, but weeks later, I’m still thinking about it.

I know he’ll read this. I imagine he’ll be irritated with me, but don’t think he’ll be angry. I think he’ll think I’m some weird anachronism, some throwback. I really think he thinks he’s doing nothing wrong.

But I do. Maybe that does make me a dinosaur. But I still believe we should pay people for the art they produce and I still believe that if you have the chutzpah to say you stole something … um, no other way to put this — then you’re a thief!

A thief is when you take something that belongs to someone else. A thief is when you pay nothing for taking something that people expect, desire, deserve to be paid for. I mean, really, who among us doesn’t know that recording artists don’t want people nicking their songs? Filmmakers don’t want people pirating their films? Writers don’t want people photocopying their books?

I’m not a person who hasn’t stolen. I stole something once as an adult, kind of on a dare, from an outdoor restaurant — a salt and pepper shaker set. And, honestly, I feel horrible seeing those words in print. I honestly view that as an act to be ashamed of. I didn’t NEED a salt and pepper shaker — it was a whim of the man I was with and I — for some crazy reason — said “Okay,” and stuffed the shakers in my purse. (This is so hard to admit! — I swear, if it was a local place, I’d march right back there, but it was a continent away and besides, I lost the shakers in the divorce!)

Another time, perhaps more forgivable, when I was a little girl, I stole candy from a store (we were dirt poor and candy was not on the grocery list — not excusing … just explaining). If I remember correctly, my Mom found out that I had stolen the candy as we walked to the car and it started spilling out of a hole in my pants pocket where I had stuffed it in. I was marched back into the store where I was made to empty what was left of my pockets — and my pride — and delivered a shaking, tearful apology.

So, look, obviously, I’ve been a little thief too. And, I can forgive my friend’s petty thievery; but what I’m having a hard time with is his apparent disregard for the artists’ rights, his own integrity, and my opinion of him. I’m having a hard time with his insouciant statement, “some stolen.”

He’s a thinking man. He’s smart as a whip. Successful. Disciplined. Making pretty decent cake. He’s got the money to buy what he wants and also, I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of music that’s out there that is legitimately free — probably some offered by the artists themselves.

So why steal?

Why do any of us steal? … except that we can. And everybody does it, right? We steal by cheating on our taxes. By copying work that is copyrighted. By “inadvertently” taking office supplies home with us. By not letting a cashier know when she gives us too much change back.

We steal because we can … when we can … because we think it doesn’t matter.

But it does.

Posted on March 30th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
8 Responses to Petty thievery
  1. […] MC Coolidge is surprised to find out a friend illegally downloads music, and offers her thoughts on “petty thievery.” In the […]

  2. I’m at the point in my life where I totally agree with you. But I didn’t always…

    I must admit, writing my own book changed the way I look at free downloading (a.k.a. pirating). Before I published Opening the Kimono, I was more than willing to skim a few songs here and there. However, after experiencing first-hand how hard it is to get one’s creative project out the door for the buying public, it pains me to think of people stealing my work. I busted my @ss to create the best possible book, and I’d like to get compensated it for it, thank you very much! I’m sure every other artist out there can relate. (What really pisses me off is the fact that advanced review copies of my book are mysteriously for sale for cheap on Amazon. Is it too much to ask for people not to publicly sell what was gifted to them? Hello, Tact Police?)

    Oh well. Like you say, we steal because we can. I know that I am trying to do less of it, knowing that someone on the other end of the creative process is paying for it.

  3. Interesting comments, Theresa. I read recently in a magazine article about what authors should expect during the publishing process and it said very bluntly that the gift copies of your book will probably get sold on some site somewhere. I do think that’s crazy. I think if the reviewer doesn’t want to keep the book or give it to someone, then I’m not sure they should profit from it either. I was thinking well, maybe they could send an email to the author or agent who sent it to them asking permission (which would probably be granted, because really, wouldn’t we all rather have our books “out there” rather than collecting dust or in a trashcan) or something. I wonder if return envelopes were included if that would make a difference! Thanks for the post. It’s a complex situation, really, especially with all the “sharing” that goes on. I guess none of us minds if someone borrows a book or a CD to read, but when you start copying that work, yes, that’s where it gets sticky in my mind.

  4. John W. Perkins
    March 31, 2009 at 11:32 am

    No Steve, it wasn’t me…

  5. MC……..Can you confirm?

  6. Huh? Confirm what?

  7. That it wasn’t John..Nevermind:-)

  8. oh, duh! nope wasn’t Mr. Perkins!


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