Is It Now OK For DJs To Steal Music?

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 4 mins
Last updated 16 November, 2017

A whole generation has grown up with filesharing. But does that mean it’s OK for DJs to steal the music they play, and with which they presumably intend to make money from playing?

We have a series of articles and videos called the Ten Commandments For Better Digital DJing. It goes through some basic guidelines for beginners, and one of the commandments is: Don’t Steal Music. Please, let me reprint a comment somebody wrote under that video:

“But I want every song in the world! I don’t have the money for that, and I have far far too many songs that I really, really want. Anyway I would never pirate underground producers.” And here’s another one: “I disagree that having a copy of music not paid for is stealing. The artist has already been paid for that performance (assuming they charged to begin with). Just as I don’t get paid for the work I do today more than once I don’t believe that it’s unethical for an artist to not get paid many times over for a single task performed. Whether it’s writing a song, performing a song, or hanging dry wall.” I am actually flabbergasted by these people.

How did we get to here?

Now don’t get me wrong, The music industry ten years ago was broken, and needed a revolution, and online music made that revolution inevitable. I actually believe it was the convenience of online downloading and filesharing that brought in the great age of music piracy. If I can’t get a tune except by illegal means, the thinking went, as a DJ I am going to use those means. I get that. I did that.

Servies like Spotify let you listen to music on demand. The artists get paid, and you only need buy what you really want.

But the music industry has caught up, at least a lot. Many (the majority?) of tunes are self-released nowadays, or on vanity record labels that belong to the producers. The DIY ethic that CD Baby, TuneCore et al make possible means that you can produce a track and have it in all the major stores without a record label getting a sniff. And that’s exactly what many artists are doing. So is it OK to steal that music? There are ever-more innovative systems for getting money back to music makers. Spotify, Rhapsody etc all have mechanisms so when you listen, you get paid. There are more just around the corner, especially for DJs (watch this space). For small amounts of money, you can discover and buy a lot of music – legally – in great new ways. And music has become cheaper, too. Stripped of the physical medium, if you shop around right you can get tunes for a fraction of what they used to cost on vinyl (anyone remember import treble-packs? Ouch.) Artists often give their music away for free often online nowadays. There’s never been a more exciting time to build a legal music collection.

It’s the attitude more than the act

Now, even in today I am not against playing free and loose with where your music collection comes from. It’s dog eat dog out there, and DJs live or die by their music collections. I understand that. But I am against the attitude that music theft it’s a victimless crime, that somehow digital gives people the right to just go right ahead and steal away. The attitude that says just because you can do something, it means it’s alright. The belief that someone else has paid the artist (who exactly?), or will pay the artist, but that that person doesn’t have to be you.

The attitude that says it’s up to you to decide if the music is “underground” enough for the artist to deserve your money. To me, shows a total lack of respect for the artists and the scene, and the worst thing is, that these people aren’t just taking the tunes for personal use, they’re taking them to perform with (and presumably to therefore at some point get paid themselves). I don’t believe there are many DJs who don’t have music they haven’t paid for in their collections – whether giveaways, promos, rips from rare streams or whatever. But I would like to think (and it’s certainly my experience among digital DJs) that most have lots of paid-for music to, and that they would rather pay for a tune and help the producer than steal it. But our commenters make me wonder how true that is.

Is this a generational thing?

Now, I’m old enough to remember vinyl, then CDs, then digital. I’ve been through the “spending all your money on physical music” phase, the “ain’t piracy great!” / Napster phase, which preceded the current “let’s pay the producers and keep our scene sustainable phase”, which is how I see things now.

Music piracy has always existed, but has digital ushered in a more aggressive ‘can’t pay, won’t pay’ attitude?

But I suspect some of our commenters haven’t. I suspect they’ve grown up with digital. And I also kind of suspect there’s a generational thing here. But if those commenters are truly indicative of how the majority of people feel about music theft nowadays, it doesn’t bode well for the future. I’m all for any kind of digital revolution, and I don’t lose much sleep for the record labels. But I pity particularly the producers who just want to make a little money each time they release a tune (a tune that may have taken them a month to produce), but who don’t due to people like those who I quote above. In the words of one such producer from the comments under the video: “I really hope that one day you decide to start producing yourself, and realise how it feels to see the music you worked so hard on, on a torrent.”

So back to my original question. I’m asking for your beliefs, I’d like to know the code you choose to live by: Is it now OK for DJs to steal music? Please let’s thrash this one out in the comments.

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