Take No Prisoners

Why the RIAA Should Hang Robin Hood

Previously in this segment, I discussed how the RIAA fabricates a link between unauthorized music downloading and shrinking music industry profits. After some insightful discussion, I also differentiated the treatment of piracy in criminal and tort law. Today I turn to what might be called the Robin Hood argument.

Francois writes:

“And even if such a correlation [between music downloading and profit erosion] could be demonstrated, it still would not justify bullying and threatening teenagers… [I think] the current RIAA strategy of blackmailing teenage students is … mafia-like.” (Post-press note: Francois wasn’t happy with the way I presented this – see his comment below)

Dar Al Harb writes:

“I always feel for those bastards who lost a few million. Never mind who they hurt or how they hurt in thier endevour to make millions of dollars”

These quotes exemplify a common attitude, especially prevalent in western society, that the big bad corporation deserves a little payback and should not pick on poor, helpless teenagers, students, seniors, etc. I call this the Robin Hood argument: Robin Hood isn’t a bad guy because his victims are rich and his beneficiaries are poor.

This sort of reasoning is undesirable in the context of P2P file sharing for two broad reasons.

Reason 1: The Big Bad Corporations are owned by regular people.

When someone argues that the music industry is comprised of evil, faceless corporations, they forget who owns those corporations. The owners aren’t just old white megalomaniacs; these are public companies owned by a wide variety of people. It’s not even just people who own stocks, either. Do you invest in mutual funds? retirement savings plans? bonds? exchange traded funds? other derivatives? When the big music companies lose money, it’s not just the wealthy that lose money, its also the middle class and even the poor who have directly or indirectly invested in them.

Reason 2: Poverty does not justify theft of non-essential goods.

If a penniless parent with a family on the brink of starvation steals a loaf of bread, I think many of us will forgive him or her for taking the lesser of two evils. However, music is not food, it’s entertainment, and humans generally do not need entertainment to survive. I suspect that most property crime is committed by people of limited financial means. If a guy steals your car stereo, do you want him let off the hook just because he’s poor? As a society, we do not accept poverty as a defense for crimes or wrongs against others; therefore accepting poverty as a defense for piracy would set a dangerous precedent.

Being poor may be an excuse for stealing essential items like food, but it does not justify your nephew’s 80 000 track pirated music library.


Please take note, I am not saying that P2P file sharing is theft, or that the Music Industry hasn’t screwed over artists for years. I’m not saying that file sharing is unethical or causes the Music Industry’s “losses,” and I am not saying that the RIAA is justified in its absurd legal behavior. All I am saying is that if the Music Industry were being victimized by downloading, the fact that the downloaders are poor while the Music Industry is rich is not a defense. It is not to dilute strong defenses by combining them with weak defenses like the Robin Hood argument.

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