by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Art Wants To Be Free & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & tealing is wrong. Even Winona Ryder, purse bulging, would admit as much. But what constitutes theft? Is it taking someone else's property? Yes, OK. What about taking a picture of someone else's property? No, probably not.
If you were to walk into MoMA with a friend or two, ascend to the fifth floor and gank Monet's Water Lilies, that'd be theft. Taking a snapshot of it, though, isn't. That's a fairly clear distinction that, when applied to other art forms, becomes considerably murkier. Is watching a film over a drive-in fence theft? What about hearing a rock set from an open stage door? I say no to both. You might feel strongly the other way, though. The point isn't who's right. The point is that the question exists. When it comes to art that is performed or projected or can be duplicated, as with CDs and film stock -- art that can exist in multiple places at once -- thievery is impossibly relative.
That makes it impossible for the RIAA to turn music piracy into an issue of morality. They say, "stealing music is wrong." You say, "I disagree." Suddenly we've hit a moral hurdle the RIAA hasn't been able to jump. Since right and wrong isn't compelling people, they've switched to legal and illegal. Our societal perception of laws, though, is that they are the civic extensions of communally held morals. Laws that are widely believed to be morally rooted (against murder, rape, racketeering) are generally adhered to while those deemed to be arbitrarily derived (against jaywalking, p2p file-sharing) are more readily ignored, especially when the upside -- music right now -- is weighed against the downside -- a lawsuit later, maybe.
Though the RIAA's lawsuits are on firm legal ground, they lack a moral imperative. As a result, they succeed in generating nothing but animosity and, as we'll see next week, turning music thieves into little Robin Hoods.