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Putting aside the legal aspects and ramifications of illegally downloading music

Putting aside the legal aspects and ramifications of illegally downloading music - is doing so morally wrong? Put another way, do we do something morally wrong when we download or otherwise take music that we did not pay for? If we acknowledge a private right to property, and that taking someone's property is stealing, then, can we say we steal (in the same sense, which is to say with the same moral implications) when we take the recognized intellectual property of another, specifically some artist's or artists' music?

The notion of "intellectual property" is fraught with difficulty, and my first reaction to this kind of argument is to question whether there is any such thing. Indeed, there are intelligent and thoughtful people who do precisely that. See, for example, this post by Richard Stallman.

But one does not have to go that far to think, as many more people do, that copyright (and especially patent) law has gotten completely out of hand. Most people seem to think that copyrights and patents exist to protect the rights of the creator of the work in question. This is questionable. One might hold instead that they exist to further society's interest in encouraging creativity and innovation, and that the laws governing so-called "intellectual property" ought to based upon an understanding that this is, indeed, the sole legitimate purpose of such laws.

So, if we value the creation and production of music and wish to encourage it, we would do well to think about what a sustainable and rational "business model" for musicians, composers, and the like might be, one that is compatible with the rights of the rest of us and that will, indeed, further the goals that matter to us. It seems clear that the model that was in place fifteen years ago is no longer workable, and many musicians have already shifted direction dramatically. For example, bands used to tour to promote records: Tickets were the loss-leader that drove record sales, which was where the money was. Now, bands release records to promote their tours: Tickets are more expensive, and that is where money is made. That, indeed, is the model that was in place seventy years ago or so, and it is the way the great majority of musicians make their money. (Composers and the like are a different matter. But I'll leave their plight to others to speculate about.)

It's worth appreciating, too, that the large record companies are really no friends to musicians, but on the contrary have been exceptionally exploitative of musicians, and they have sought to control music in ways that, so far as I can tell, serve no-one's interest at all.

Well, I'm not sure I've addressed the moral question, but I guess that's because I don't think there is a moral question here, unless you think there is some kind of "natural" right to intellectual property. And that's precisely what I don't think. I think property, in general, but especially intellectual property, is really a political and legal notion, rather than a moral one.

The notion of "intellectual property" is fraught with difficulty, and my first reaction to this kind of argument is to question whether there is any such thing. Indeed, there are intelligent and thoughtful people who do precisely that. See, for example, this post by Richard Stallman. But one does not have to go that far to think, as many more people do, that copyright (and especially patent) law has gotten completely out of hand. Most people seem to think that copyrights and patents exist to protect the rights of the creator of the work in question. This is questionable. One might hold instead that they exist to further society's interest in encouraging creativity and innovation, and that the laws governing so-called "intellectual property" ought to based upon an understanding that this is, indeed, the sole legitimate purpose of such laws. So, if we value the creation and production of music and wish to encourage it, we would do well to think about what a sustainable and rational ...

I listen to various types of music including new and old. I've been interested

I listen to various types of music including new and old. I've been interested for some time why it is that I particularly enjoy some music such as the "top 50 billboard chart songs"? My question is how is it that people know what "good music" is and how is it possible to derive a pattern or equation to a good song that is familiar with the general public?

See this response for some remarks that may be relevant here, as well.

I listen to music. That is true. But is it "real" music? What exactly

I listen to music. That is true. But is it "real" music? What exactly justifies what is and isn't music? I hear many people say "That isn't real music" about a genre or song. Do they really know if it isn't music or are they saying that only because they do not like it or understand it? Such as the music in mainstream society, a lot of older people, such as my father, will say it isn't real music. He is a musician, so would he know? Does music have to be to a degree of technicality to be considered "real" music? - Darren, 14 years old

I expect teenagers have been hearing their parents say that the music to which the teenager listens isn't "real" music for about as long as there have been teenagers, parents, and music. It's not at all clear what that is supposed to mean. Is it that the music is fake music? the way a toy car isn't a real car? Presumably not. I expect it is meant, rather, in the sense in which one might say that someone isn't a "real man". It's not that the person isn't a man, or is only pretending to be one. It's rather that, although he is a man, he doesn't meet some standard for manhood the speaker endorses; or again: He's a man, but not a very good example of one. So, in that sense, saying that something isn't "real" music means: It's music, but it doesn't meet some standard or other; it's music, but not very good music.

Of course, different people can be presumed to have different standards, but it certainly doesn't follow that there are no objective standards. What those objective standards might be is, of course, another question altogether. But I don't myself see why technical difficulty should be an appropriate standard. That music is hard to play doesn't make it good; that music is easy to play doesn't make it bad. Of course, if someone is a mediocre musician, then that will sharply limit how they can express themselves, so it's not as if technical ability isn't relevant. It's just not the end-all and be-all.

My own view is that really good music is music that is full of ideas: musical ideas, at least, and lyrical ideas if it's music with words. Such ideas may be present in the piece as written, or they may be present in the piece as performed. (With some music, there's less of a difference there than with other music.) Only music that is full of such ideas really engages me and keeps me engaged. Otherwise, I just find my mind wandering elsewhere, especially if I've heard the song a few times: It's all used up, like an empty can of soda. A really good piece of music, one full of ideas, I can listen to over and over and over again and always find something new and interesting, even surprising, in it.

You might find it interesting to engage your father here. If he's amusician, then I'm sure he could say a great deal about what makes for"real" music, and he might be interested to hear what it is about the music you like that makes you like it. (If he's just closed-minded, well, that's too bad.) You too might find it interesting to think about that question, too---what it is about the music you like that makes you like it---and you might even find that reflection leading you to become interested in music you don't appreciate now. I've been a total music junkie since I was about your age (I own about 1000 CDs and maybe 4000 records), and I know that my own musical tastes have changed and evolved over the last three decades. That isn't to say I don't still like the music I liked when I was twelve, or twenty-two, or thirty-two. Some of it I still like, some of it I don't, and sometimes I am really surprised what I don't like anymore. But I'm glad I heard it all. There's so much great music out there, and, well, sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you get to kiss the prince(ss).

One last thing. I think we ought also to remember that it is possible to enjoy music that one doesn't oneself think is actually very good music. It might be, for example, that a particular song has a really good groove that just makes you want to get up and dance, and yet one might also be prepared to say that a really good groove is about all that tune's got. So one enjoys it, for a while, until it gets kind of boring, which it eventually does because there's just not much to it. And that's OK.

I expect teenagers have been hearing their parents say that the music to which the teenager listens isn't "real" music for about as long as there have been teenagers, parents, and music. It's not at all clear what that is supposed to mean. Is it that the music is fake music? the way a toy car isn't a real car? Presumably not. I expect it is meant, rather, in the sense in which one might say that someone isn't a "real man". It's not that the person isn't a man, or is only pretending to be one. It's rather that, although he is a man, he doesn't meet some standard for manhood the speaker endorses; or again: He's a man, but not a very good example of one. So, in that sense, saying that something isn't "real" music means: It's music, but it doesn't meet some standard or other; it's music, but not very good music. Of course, different people can be presumed to have different standards, but it certainly doesn't follow that there are no objective standards. What those objective standards might be is, of...

What is music? Does music have to be mathematical and notated? Does it have to

What is music? Does music have to be mathematical and notated? Does it have to contain "melody" and "harmony"? Can the most abstract noise coming from any given source be considered "music"? Is music really art, in the accepted sense, when most music is made by accident? -David

The cultural historical moment described by Richard Heck aside, it remains that there was something that Cage was turning on its head when he offered - composed would be the wrong word - the event that is 4'33: the experience of listening to music itself. There would be no history of music if all composers had been like Cage. But there would have been no Cage without music, no content to 4'33 if people didn't know what music normally was. That it is possible to exhibit a urinal in a museum or not play anything in a concert hall and be taken entirely seriously as an artist must be considered a cultural phenomenon, worthy of interest, but not a phenomenon internal to the technical forms that developed over the centuries and that gave us symphonies, songs, paintings and sculptures.

As in many fields of western art, in the twentieth century there was a great deal of experimentation at the boundaries of what we call "music". The early twentieth century saw a kind of revolution against established conceptions of tonality, the most famous figure here being Arnold Schoenberg . Some years later, people began to experiment in a serious way with elements of chance in music, the most famous figure here being John Cage . Two examples of Cage's approach are "Fontana Mix" , whose score for each performance is created by superimposing transparencies, and the truly brilliant 4'33" , in which (as I hear the piece) the "music" is actually the response of the audience, which typically involves a good deal of laughter. It's an interesting piece, in that one can only really hear it the second time. The first time, one is almost by necessity a performer. As it says in the Wikipedia article, 4'33" challenges our very understanding of what music is. And that, too, is a recurring theme in...