Is it ethical to copy music from a CD and give it to a poor friend to listen to while he recovers from surgery? Hobart Hooper April 28, 2014






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Is it ethical to copy music from a CD and give it to a poor friend

to listen to while he recovers from surgery?

Hobart Hooper April 28, 2014

My opinion before this analysis: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with copying music from a CD to .mp3 files and putting them on a sound player. CD’s are kind of obsolete anyway, we all get music already in electronic file form from the web. It doesn’t cost anyone anything if I make a copy to listen to stuff I have bought, what difference does it make if I am the one who listens to my iPod or someone I loan it to? If I bought a paperback book I could read it and then pass it on to other people. In fact the train station I ride from has a book rack for the specific purpose of passing on books to others. So how different is it if I pass an .mp3 file on to someone else? Besides, my friend is too strapped for money to buy music right now, his friends are even collecting donations to pay for his surgery since he had to have it before the Affordable Care Act kicked in and his insurance didn’t cover it because of a prior condition. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with helping my friend by giving him a copy of music to ease his pain.

Formal Ethical Analysis

A friend of yours has had major surgery. The recovery is taking a long time and it’s painful and requires a lot of bed rest. You happen to have some CDs of music your friend really likes. You decide to violate a licensing agreement that applies to the CD music by ripping (copying) the tracks on those CDs to .mp3 form (something which is easily done on today’s PCs and Macs without any extra software), putting the .mp3 files on an .mp3 player, and giving the device loaded with the music files to your friend. You know your friend will enjoy listening to the music and it will ease his time in recovery by helping to take his mind off the pain.

This action will be taken in the United States, which has copyright laws that apply to the licensing and copying of music. Those laws prohibit copying music from a CD and passing the copy on to someone else. This is a one-time action between me and my friend. This action will take place as soon as I can make the copies and load them onto an .mp3 player. Since this action is between me and my friend and is going to happen once, it’s not going to affect anyone else.

What does Utilitarianism say?

Note: You need to form this description and summarization of this ethical framework yourself! That’s where the research-sharing “quote pile” wiki comes in! PLUG IT IN HERE.

Act Utilitarianism says I have to consider the benefits and negatives or losses associated with this action. It seems to me that since my friend will be comforted a lot by listening to this music as he recovers his pleasure and happiness will be increased quite a bit. But let’s make a table to assess all of the factors and the possibility of negatives than arise and their probability:

Who and result Benefit or loss Probability Do it not?

My friend’s happiness Friend is very happy High Yes

My happiness I am happier High Yes

Record company Negligible loss since


money to buy anyway, and would not buy so no lost sales

Chance of getting

caught Bad scene if I am caught, RIAA slaps big lawsuit on prolific violators

Low if I don’t brag

about it Yes it’s worth risk

Based on this assessment it seems that this action would be “ethical” in the sense that the net happiness is increased and net negative or loss is extremely small or non-existent.

Rule Utilitarianism says I have to construct a rule for the situation and see what the outcome would be on total benefit or loss if everyone followed the rule. The rule is “it’s OK to copy music from CDs and give the copy to sick friends.” Statistics compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicate that in a typical year 112 hospital admissions occur for every 1000 people in the United States.1 According to the U.S. Census Bureau the total population of the United States is 317,000,000 people.2 Therefore if we round hospital admission per 1000 to 100 from 112 it amounts to 10% of the population, but let’s discount that by half since some of these are probably readmissions. This means that about 16,000,000 people are admitted to hospitals in the United States every year. If everyone copied CD music and gave it to a person who was hospitalized the recording companies and musical artists would probably feel the loss of revenue in decreased sales since this is a significant number of copies being made. It is hard to estimate if the happiness of 16,000,000 people would be greater than the negative effect on recording companies and artists, especially since their loss would remain even if the person hospitalized eventually died in the hospital. So Rule Utilitarianism says this action is not ethical.

What does the Kantian approach say?

Note: You need to form this description and summarization of this ethical framework yourself! That’s where the research-sharing “quote pile” wiki comes in! PLUG IT IN HERE.

Kant says that we should act only on moral rules that be universal moral laws; this is his

“Categorical Imperative.” So I form this rule: “I can disobey laws that feel unjust, and I feel that it is unjust for copyright laws to limit my freedom in doing what I want to with something I have purchased.” But if this rule were universal, everyone could ignore laws that they feel were unjust. We wouldn’t have any kind of order in society, we would have anarchy—everyone could break any laws they wanted to by saying they felt that law was unjust. Society would break down. Laws are created to form a just society. It’s a logical contradiction for me to say that I see justice in my breaking the a law (because I see it as “unjust”) and in everyone breaking any law because they see it as “unjust.” That would not produce a just society, so it is logically inconsistent. This Kantian principle says the action is unethical.

Kant’s second rule is that we should treat every person as an end, not as a means to an end. If I steal the intellectual property of a person to make someone else happy, I am using the person who created the intellectual property as a means to an end. This second Kantian principle is violated by the action so it too indicates that the action is unethical.

1 Kaiser, p. 1.


What does the Justice and Fairness approach say?

Note: You need to form this description and summarization of this ethical framework yourself! That’s where the research-sharing “quote pile” wiki comes in! PLUG IT IN HERE.

Justice and Fairness says that "equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally." This ethical concept is aimed at distributive justice, retributive justice, and compensatory justice. Retributive justice deals with equal punishment for different people who commit the same crimes. Compensatory justice deals with compensating people who have suffered a loss due to someone else’s negligence or actions. Neither of these seems relevant to copy CD music and giving it to a friend.

Distributive justice might be relevant, since it doesn’t seem that taking something without paying for it is just—it is stealing from someone to give to someone else. While it might seem in this case that it’s like Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor, that is not necessarily true. However, if we apply the Veil of Ignorance concept, we might theorize that in the Original Position people would agree that in a situation of minimal loss to the owner, and a great deal of benefit to a person too poor to buy the means of that happiness, the appropriation of the goods (music) for thre benefit of the sufferer (the recovering friend) would be justifiable, even if there was no issue of compensatory justice (the recording artist isn’t responsible for my friend’s illness and need for surgery). Therefore I would have to say that even though fairness says it’s wrong to steal, the action of making a copy of the CD music to help my financially strapped friend does seem to benefit to poorest in society.

But in general if the copyright laws were changed to say that poor people could have access to goods free to at lower prices than those who could afford to pay for them, would society as a whole benefit? In fact it probably would, and I think this is the theory behind the graduated income tax and things like the sliding scale of cost of Medicare, where people who earn more than a certain amount pay more for it than do people who earn less. So maybe there is a certain amount of the “Robin Hood” concept already in our society? I think fairness and concern for the well being of the poorest in society can make a case here for this instance of copying CD music for my friend, given the circumstances.

Then again, maybe society has already provided a way to meet this need without stealing. Could my friend borrow the music CDs from a public library at no cost and listen to them? It might be that my action as proposed is not necessary to meet this need, and that a “fairer” way to all is already available. But copying those for my friend would apparently not be legal either.3

Then again, maybe other options exist. I subscribe to Pandora and listen to all sorts of music and maybe my friend would like that variety too! If I gave him my userid and password he might alter my preferences, but it’s cheap enough to subscribe maybe I will give him a subscription instead of sending flowers too! Come to think of it he’s allergic to most kinds of pollen anyway... So thank you John Rawls for making me consider alternatives!

What does the Justice and Fairness approach say?

Note: You need to form this description and summarization of this ethical framework yourself! That’s where the research-sharing “quote pile” wiki comes in! PLUG IT IN HERE.

The Social Contract says that as a member of society I am obligated to obey the laws of society. The copyright law clearly says that it is illegal to copy music from a copyrighted CD and give the copy to


someone else. The fear of punishment for breaking the law is supposed to keep everyone acting legally so that society is ordered and stable. Even though a lot of copying from CDs is done by people and they know they are breaking the law if they do it for more than their own use from CDs they have bought and retain possession of, it is still not right. According to the Social Contract this action is not ethical.


A chart summarizes the outcomes in a convenient way so I have used that to compare the determinations of each of the ethical frameworks:

Ethical framework Determination Comment

Act Utiltarianism Ethical Benefit outweighs loss

Rule Utilitarianism Unethical

Kant/rights approach Unethical

Justice and Fairness Neutral? Case might go either way?

Distributive justice might make this acceptable but in view of alternative like free legal borrowing from a library probably not; but an alternative like Pandora is probably even better than copying so Wahoo! Problem solved and I can sleep at night with no fear of the recording industry police!

Social Contract Unethical

In summary it appears that the overwhelming determination is that copying music from a CD I bought, then violating the copyright and licensing law to make a copy and give it to my sick and recovering friend, is not ethical.


However, this analysis has still not changed my mind although it has changed my intention. The arguments I stated first seem to me to be convincing. If I copy the music my friend is going to be comforted and no one is going to lose anything. As a number of people pointed out in Yahoo

Answers copying music is pervasive in our society and seems to be widely accepted since individual

instances are not prosecuted.4 Vendors like iTunes and Amazon stopped trying to tie up .mp3 music with digital copy protection schemes and seem to be tolerant of a certain amount of sharing of music. And I am not convinced that the claims of loss are justified or accurate, since the exposure artists get for their works is increased and may result in additional sales.

4 Yahoo, p. 1.


On the other hand I now see that library borrowing is an option. I also am aware that my friend might enjoy a subscription to Pandora more than listening to the same CD music over and over. So instead of copying I am going to get him a subscription as a present and hack into the hospital’s wifi network to get him access! Oops! Not! Just kidding. He’s got a data plan on his cell and it works as a wifi hotspot. See? With modern technology there’s often an entirely ethical approach, at least as far as typical consumers are concerned.



Census. "U.S. and World Population Clock". United States Census Bureau, Retrieved April 22. 2014.

Kaiser Foundation. “Hospital Admissions per 1,000 Population.” Retrieved April 22, 2014.

Yahoo. "Is it illegal to take music you got from a CD at a public library?" in Yahoo

answers, Politics & Government. Retrieved April 22, 2014.

Note that I have included some items here in the bibliography to support footnotes I have used to cite things even though I haven’t included in this example any of the dozen citations you will need to flesh out your descriptions of the four ethical frameworks. I

encourage you to do the same thing. Internet research is easy. Instead of just guessing at number like the ones I included in the rule Utilitarianism analysis, do some research and pin those numbers down! That makes for a lot more credible analysis than just guessing and surmising! And it’s awfully damn easy to do and you come off as much more knowledgeable and believable!  Jim BTW in my view it’s entirely legitimate to use to shorten huge URLs to more manageable form in bibliographic entries as I did here with the Yahoo entry.



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