Question: If you buy a lamp in a store and notice, while checking out, that the pricetag on the lamp is $15 dollars when you know good and well that the lamp actually sells for $100, would you comment and pay the difference?

Question 2: If you give a cashier $50 for a purchase that was $46 and receive in change $14, do you give back the ten dollars?


Most people will answer no to the first question and yes to the second citing that in the second instance they would be harming a single individual who will probably have to cough up the ten bucks at the end of his/her shift. Presumably, the first instance is OK because rather than harming a single person perhaps significantly, they are harming a multitude of people by a very small margin, the idea being that no one person can be blamed and therefore the loss is spread wide to the company and consequently to the public.

The same logic seems likely to explain the widespread sharing of mp3s through Napster. By downloading a song from some anonymous user, one is not harming one individual but in an almost negligable way, harming a great many.
With the ethical conundrum posed:
If a lamp were mislabeled at $15, despite its actual price of $100, would you pay $15 for it, or notify the management and pay $100?

This is supposed to illustrate why people will use Napster to steal copyrighted material. People will happily steal from a megacorp.

Answer Neither. The stores that I frequent tend to have explicit policies regarding mislabelled prices. Either:

  • The item is free (They give it to me free once in exchange for not having to give a reduced price several times; or
  • The item is the lower of the two prices.

Your fallacy is assuming that being willing to profit from a store's mistake is also a willingness to profit from the difficulty in enforcing copyright.


Noder's Note: For the record, I think that both the RIAA and Napster are in the wrong. I believe in copyright and intellectual property while still believing in fair use. If I download an MP3 of a song I have on vinyl, that is acceptable.
There is a problem with this Lamp comparison. With a "lamp" or other material good, there isn't already an existing network to obtain the product for free. For years people have been making mix tapes, recording songs off of the radio and borrowed Albums.

Also there is a measurable loss of income with the question of a mismarked product, or incorrect change given. However in the years of 1999-2000 the record industry saw a measurable growth in album sales. Wether the number would have been higher without napster (or possibly lower as some proponents of napster proclaim citing that napster introduces listeners to music that they might not otherwise purchase) is an unknowable factor. The same uproar was made by the recording industry with the introduction of tape recorders that allowed people to tape songs off the radio and copy their albums onto the rapidly booming cassette format.

I used napster briefly under "I wonder what the big deal is about" auspices. I found myself really only downloading either

a.) Songs that I already had on CD/Tape/Vinyl

b.) Songs that I could not find anywhere else

In the case of a.) my use of napster fell entirely under fair use. In the case of b.) some explanation is needed. I would look for songs By band name and download what I could find that I did not have, the next time I went to a record store I would oten look for albums containing the songs that I had just downloaded. If I had not found these songs on Napster I would never have purchased tha albums (this explains my two Me First and the Gimme Gimmes CDs. I am also looking for the Reel Big Fish album where they do a cover of Hungry like the Wolf).

The problems with napster lie in interpretations of copyright law and issues about the control of distribution, not in any provable financial loss (at least that I've yet to see evidence of).
No. wrong.

The analogy above would only be correct if all of the following were true:

1) The lamp store in question had one of the most powerful lobbies in Congress, and was therefore the recipient of some of the most shocking largesse from the public trough.

2) There were only a few lamp stores in the world and they used often illegal and certainly immoral means of preventing other lamp stores from opening or gaining market share (see Money For Nothing.)

3) Lamps that cost 3 cents to make were routinely sold for 1000% markup.

Do you think it's wrong to buy the lamp for $15 now? I certainly don't.

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