Piracy, Sinful or Saintly?

130 plus comments tells me that a lot of you have already seen, or added your comments to, the conversation about piracy on Rapzilla’s Facebook page. As an artist, this is an issue that we don’t often speak out about, but deal with regularly. I’m reminded of the drama that took place when Metallica lead the charge against Napster. Artists are expected to be people-pleasers

Before we get into my thoughts on the topic, let’s start with the basics. Here’s the definition from Dictionary.com:

   [pahy-ruh-see] Show IPA
noun, plural -cies.
1. practice of a pirate; robbery or illegal violence at sea.
2. the unauthorized reproduction or use of a copyrighted book, recording, television program, patented invention,trademarked product, etc.: The record industry is beset with piracy.

I couldn’t help but laugh at that last part.

So, as we can see, piracy is robbery, theft, stealing, jacking, a stick-up minus the gun. It’s illegal, and it’s a sin. Plain and simple. There are tons of passages on the topic. Most of us know them, so I won’t post them but here are some links to some search results for rob and steal, just in case.

Now, I didn’t read all the comments on Facebook, but there are a few themes/arguments I’d like to address.

A Free Gospel:

Some would like to reference Paul’s teachings and use the idea of a free gospel as an argument for free music (i.e. all music containing the gospel should be free because the gospel is free). There are a few things wrong with this: Yes the gospel is free, so to speak, but just because the gospel is free, doesn’t mean our music should be free. Our reasonably priced music comes with a free message. Like a box of cereal that comes with a free decoder ring. You still gotta buy the cereal. The free ring is a bonus.

But this I will say, music and the gospel have this in common: Even if it’s free, it ain’t cheap. The gospel cost God his Son and almost everything about making the music is expensive: the beats, the studio time, mixing, mastering, promotion, artwork (most of which we wish we could pay/charge more for) and the time and energy we put into making it. By God’s grace we make a profit, but we never get the time back.

But even if it should be free and we were in sin for charging for it, it still wouldn’t justify stealing it. So there.

Piracy For Evangelism:

This one is a little tricky. We get a lot of questions from brothers and sisters about whether we would allow them to burn copies of our CD’s so they can use them for evangelism. Everybody is different. Some artists don’t care, some just want you to ask first, and some don’t want their stuff looking cheap when you hand it out. I’ve been all three at some point in my career. Right now I’m somewhere between the last two (I’m not single anymore).

A lot of times we say yes because we’ll feel bad if we don’t. Or we fear the response of fans who don’t understand how the money effects us or the importance of good branding/packaging.

Personally, money is tight these days. I have two jobs, two kids, a wife, bills, debts, goals, etc. I need the money. Every week is an adventure. God is faithful, but there’s always something. I’m not asking for sympathy or love offering, I just wanna be paid for my labor. So when I’m asked for permission to duplicate my work, I’m gonna wrestle. I may even say no. But it’s not because I don’t care about the lost, it’s because I love my wife and kids. As much as I want the lost to be saved, I have no witness if my family isn’t eating. And there are other free ways to give the lost the gospel.

So, ask. It won’t hurt and the worse thing they can say is ‘no’. But, I’m sure we’d all, really appreciate it if you bought the stuff we sold, and gave away the stuff we give away. We all offer a lot of free downloads, albums, promos (*clears throat* don’t call it a mixtape) and the occasional mixtape (thanks Rapzilla!) available for free. But if you really want that non-believer to have that full length LP you paid for, buy them one. You make the investment into their life. I think it says more than stealing it for them does. Especially if they don’t like it, or listen to it.

YouTube, Spotify, & Torrent sites

Lastly, we have the issue of websites and music services. Honestly I don’t know much about the technical details, but I’ll share what I can based on what I know.

YouTube doesn’t bother me. I’ll report you if I feel misrepresented, but YouTube seems really out of the way to try to listen to an album. Yeah, I know there’s ways to hook it up in the car, and smart phones make YouTube more accessible, but I’m still not bothered. I know of a band that went through the trouble of uploading their whole album with the lyrics on YouTube. I bought that album (well, my wife did for a b-day gift, but I have it). Not only do I have it, but I love it. I couldn’t imagine going through the trouble of hookin’ up YouTube whenever I wanted to hear it.

Spotify is suppose to pay the artist. I’m not sure how much, but it’s kinda like OnDemand for the radio. Once again I’m not bothered.

Torrent websites, however, where they upload your music for all to take, for free, bother me. Yes, some good comes from them: promotion, the gospel being spread, and people, who wouldn’t normally take the time to hear your music, etc. But, that doesn’t make their sin any less sinful. The Bible has a good handful of “what the devil meant for evil, God meant for good” examples. That’s the beauty of God’s sovereignty. But man is still responsible for his actions. And sin is still sin.

Last Thoughts

Much more could be said about legal details, the consequences, and the nuances of the grey areas, but I’m sure that stuff can be discussed in the comments. That’s not the purpose of this article anyway. A lot of times artists are talked about as if they are not in the room. This is a chance for an artist to be noticed and considered.

Metallica was making millions, but they were being robbed. Most of us CHH artists, myself included, make more money from our 9 to 5. We’d like to do more shows, give you an album every year, make more music videos, and all that other stuff our fans ask for, but we’re limited by our other responsibilities and lack of funding.

If you want to reap more of our music more often, more videos, more shows, and more of us in general, you’ll need to sow some loot. Piracy doesn’t just hurt the artist and their family, but it also hurts the fans.

Grace and Peace.

Editor’s Note by Chad Horton: YouTube is the #1 place that the generations younger than Stephen and I, go to find music over radio, Pandora, Spotify, etc. People like to “help” artists by taking things into their own hands and uploading music, and creating their own slideshows, etc. Most of the time the intention there is genuine but still infringing on the copyright holder. Just because it is now the norm does not mean that is legal or OK. Most artists and labels don’t try to combat fans uploading music and videos to YouTube because it is in fact great promotion for them. The line is definitely drawn and is nothing other than ill willed piracy when music is leaked. Leaked before it was bastardized by hip hop meant, released before the intended release date by the artist and/or label. That is not helping.

From YouTube: “What is copyright infringement? Copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.” See http://www.youtube.com/t/howto_copyright

Why is it so popular and “allowed” on YouTube despite their clearly stated policy in their terms and conditions and displayed when you upload a video? Because they make money off of the mass amount of traffic, engagement, video views, sharing songs and links from the videos to iTunes and AmazonMP3. However if any copyright holder notifies YouTube that you have used their song, video, image, etc. then your video will be flagged and removed. You will have three flags before your account is permanently deleted.

Finally, to set the record straight, Rapzilla requires permission to upload videos and music to our SoundCloud, website, and YouTube channel.

Chad Horton

Written by Chad Horton

Chad Horton has been in the music business since 2000 with a focus on digital distribution, streaming, playlisting, and social media marketing. Chad is currently a Partnership Producer at hi5.agency working with clients such as Blizzard Entertainment, Google Pixel, and more. Chad also owns and operates Rapzilla.com. Originally from Northern California, Chad became a San Diego resident in 2004 where he currently resides with his wife and children.

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