The Virtuous P(eer): Reflections on the Ethics of File Sharing
NEW FRONTIERS IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, Annabelle Lever, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2011
20 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2011
File sharing, and particularly the sharing of music files, has been labeled ‘piracy’, ‘theft’ and ‘free-riding’ by its detractors, particularly those in the music industry. The phenomenon is lauded by certain supporters, such as Kembrew McLeod, as well as by its “practitioners”, for reasons ranging from the principled (promotion of sharing or the public domain) to the practical (perceived overcharging in the industry prior to the practice, or the impossibility of stopping it). A recent study by Geert Demuijnck has effectively questioned the free-riding charge from the perspective of the traditional analytic and economic literature on free-riding. In my view, one might also call upon virtue-based notion of ethics to justify the morality of file sharing in the modern context.
This discussion will necessarily turn to context and an understanding of the informal normativity that surrounds music file sharing. Given the communicative and social importance of the practice of music file sharing in the modern context, particularly among younger users, one can readily understand the virtues of sociability and friendship that are developed by this practice, as well as the development of expression and creativity on an individual level. Sharing is thus a key practice linked to virtue, and not necessarily to vice. I shall make an argument, again particularly with regard to music, that such a sharing ethos has always been part of the way that music has been written, performed and appreciated. Finally, I shall argue that current normative structures ought to be adapted to reflect this more profound understanding of the impulse to share music.
Keywords: virtue ethics, copyright, p2p file sharing, music, copynorms
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