Posted by: nickgerlich | October 10, 2007

Heart of the Matter

I once thought that politics and religion held sway as the two guaranteed discussion topics that could launch a war. I now stand corrected, thanks to yesterday’s blog about music piracy. There are now three topics that get people riled up, as evidenced by both the number and tone of student replies.

I have been studying music piracy for several years now, and have written and published several articles on the subject. Actually, the use of the word piracy is somewhat inflammatory, because it implies thievery. Perhaps we should say “music downloading.” Of course, that’s not much different from Republicans who prefer to say “climate change,” when in fact they’re referring to global warming.

Music PiracyThe bulk of my work, done with a variety of colleagues both at WTAMU and at other institutions, has focused on student replies to a survey of their ethical beliefs regarding music downloading (piracy), along with their self-reported practices. Our most recent piece is about to be published in the Journal of the Academy of Business and Economics, and is available here for your reading pleasure. The original survey instrument can be found here.

Among our more interesting findings are that age, gender, and past piracy behavior are significant determinants of current piracy behavior. Specifically, if you’ve done it in the past in any significant amount, you are likely to continue doing it; furthermore, being young and male are also very strongly related to this practice.

This makes a lot of sense, because, as we show, males are often more risk-taking than females. And, as we age, become more risk-averse. We have much more to lose if we were to get caught (Ms. Jammie Thomas is apparently unaware of this, however).

Of great interest to my co-author and former WTAMU colleague Dr. Joshua Lewer, is that ethical beliefs and practice are no different among state university students than they are at a private Christian university. Our study surveyed students at WTAMU along with students at a public historically black college in the southeast, and at a private Christian school in the midwest. We measured both religious affiliation and religious intensity (defined as the number of times attending a worship service each month), and found that while regular churchgoers espoused views frowning upon music piracy, they did it anyway. Furthermore, religious affiliation alone had no bearing on ethical beliefs, and likewise on behavior.

This is a sad commentary on students of faith. We are currently exploring this issue further with another colleague, and have at least one more manuscript in process at the moment as we try to explain how and why this ethical letdown occurs.

I suspect we are all simply victims of the times. Jean Twenge, in her outstanding 2006 book Generation Me, discusses in detail the zeitgeist in which we live. It is one of entitlement, immunity, denial, and helplessness. Or, in other words, “It’s mine, I probably won’t get caught, it’s not wrong, and I’m defenseless against the big bad corporations.” And comments on the current state of music quality, as well as the price of CDs, are but a smokescreen intended to justify behaviors.

In a strange kind of way, some of this sounds like the 1960s, turbulent times in which the baby boomers grew up (OK, some would say we never really quite accomplished that). But most of the boomers went on to become fairly mainstream Americans, consumed with making money and buying the American dream. It’s their children who we’re worried about now.

Of course, stealing music in the 60s meant slipping an 8-track tape down your shirt. Never even mind trying to pocket a 12″ LP. Those were fairly theft-proof by virtue of their size and shape. But today music theft is all too easy, akin to looting while the store is still open before the storm strikes.

I am particularly alarmed, though, in finding that those whom I consider to be in the same family of my faith are indistinguishable from everyone else. So real is this problem that the Christian Music Trade Association has weighed in on the subject. You see, it’s not just that Christians are downloading music illegaly; they are also copying Christian music, effectively stealing from their own.

Now lest you think I am perfect, I will take my turn in front of the mirror while pointing a finger. While I have never illegally downloaded any song, I wish I could say I never copied a CD which I did not own. But since I have come to grips with my own moral shortcomings, I have made it my policy to not copy for friends, and if a friend insists on giving me a copy, I will then go out and buy it legitimately.

As the sign on the CMTA website proclaims, “Millions of wrongs don’t make it right.”

Dr “Singing A Different Song These Days” Gerlich


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