While reading Deuteronomy tonight, I found a passage which, in my opinion, could be reasonably extended to cover the ethical standing of Napster and the copying of mp3 files for personal use.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 says:

    You may eat your fill of the grapes from another man's vineyard, but do not take any away in a container.
    It is the same with someone else's grain -- you may eat a few handfuls of it, but don't use a sickle.

    (The Living Bible)

In other words, it is permissible to consume the fruit of another's labor in situations where:

  1. The crop is not damaged, or if it is, the damage is extremely small in comparison with the overall harvest. (Record sales increased after Napster became popular.)
  2. You do so for personal use, and not to sell to others.

Nor are we commanded to download just a few tracks from an album. You may eat your fill, Moses said of G-d's commandments. Indeed, the Talmud says "We will be held accountable for neglecting to enjoy the legitimate pleasures G-d sends us."

You heard it here first, kids. G-d wants you to share MP3s.

Well, sort of. According to the commentary in my study Bible, the purpose of this verse is to 1) make sure no one selfishly hoarded their possesions; and 2) make sure no had to go hungry.

On the first point, this does apply to file sharing. But I don't think that an artist saying they don't want their music traded for free is necessarily selfishly hording their possessions. In some cases that may be, but in most cases I think they have a legitimate claim in asking that they have control over what happens to their own creation--which is also their livelyhood. File sharing affects different artists differently. While it may be a great tool for unknown garage bands, it very well may be a detriment to well-known artists. No one can say for sure what the effects are, so, personally, I won't download more than 2 or 3 tracks off a single album. At that point, I evaluate it and either 1) determine that it's not good and delete it; 2) determine that it's good enough to keep and listen to every once in awhile; or 3) buy the album and delete the MP3s. I think that's a fair and respectful use of file sharing that benefits both the artist and the listener.

On the second point, this doesn't apply. This verse is talking about food, not music. Food is a neccesity for survival. It would be very cruel and sinful to say that someone who is starving can't eat a few grapes from your orchard. Music, on the other hand, is entertainment. It wouldn't be sinful to tell a music-deprived person that they can't steal some of your CDs.

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