Why do so many people care so little about stealing music?

Cartoon image of a pirate iPod

There’s been a bit of a furore recently over a blog post by Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of her college radio station, in which she acknowledges that while she has 11,000 songs in her music library, the vast majority have been obtained through borrowing from friends, mix CDs, ripping music from her college radio station, and – yes – even some from file sharing sites. She’s only ever paid for about 15 CDs in her life.

This isn’t particularly surprising; in the internet age, it is astonishingly easy to access music for free, and a huge number of people do – 95% of music downloads in 2008 were illegal. What has surprised many people is her unashamed tone:

“I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience… What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices… All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?”

There have been prominent articles condemning and defending this attitude. I don’t wish to get embroiled in a debate about the morality of her post. What I find interesting are the parallels we can draw with other moral behaviour and what this may say about human moral cognition.

Continue reading