Grand Larceny

Alex Hugessen of

Guest blog by Alex Hugessen – founder of

I have a friend who used to work in the operations department of a ski resort. Part of her day to day would include dealing with people who had been caught sneaking onto the mountain and skiing without having bought a ticket. The scoff-laws would be brought to her (usually by a burly ski patroller) and were almost always very sheepish in their demeanor. They had an “aww shucks, you caught me, I won’t do it again” type of attitude to the whole ordeal and would then either offer to pay the price of the ticket or just ask if they could go.

The response was always the same. “Please sit tight, I have called the police and they should only be a few more minutes. They’re usually quite prompt”
My reaction the first time I heard that was probably quite similar to the people who had actually been hauled in for the offense. “Really? You’re going to involve the police in the matter of somebody sneaking onto a ski hill?”

I will never forget the response she gave me and it happens to be pretty similar to the response that she gave to people unfortunate enough to be sitting in front of her. “A lift ticket here costs $75. Would you walk into a department store and take a $75 pair of jeans without paying? If you did take them and you got caught, would you expect that you might get a chance to meet a policeman shortly afterwards? How is this different?”
My friend is still waiting for an answer to that question that I have not been able to provide. The reality is that there is no difference, it’s stealing.

Seeing as how this is a website about downloading music from the internet then you probably can see where I am going with this. When the idea first popped into my head I remember talking to my teenaged niece and she suggested it was a silly idea because she, and most of her friends, have over 1500 songs in their computers that they got absolutely free*. She seemed puzzled (much like our skier friends) at the notion that she had stolen over $1000 worth of merchandise so I asked her “how is it different?”. Now I am the one waiting for an answer.

I remember my sense of glee when, as a young kid, I watched my mean old sister (yes, the mother of that same teenaged niece) get dragged home one day after getting caught shoplifting some cheap cosmetics. What could be better for a tormented younger brother than to watch the consequences unfold at the hands of my old school parents? She somehow avoided the gallows and went on to be a pretty impressive person so no harm done but what would she think if a cop showed up at the door tomorrow, with her daughter in tow, and the news that she was the subject of an ongoing investigation with evidence that she had walked out of the local record store with over $1000 worth of CD’s?

I will be the first to admit that a good chunk of my iTunes library contains music that I either “shared” from another user, or “ripped” off of a CD that I did not actually buy. As an FYI most legal rulings have determined that it is OK to convert(Rip) a CD that you own to digital files, but not one that you don’t. That is to say that “CD sharing” that results in “File Sharing” is a no-no. I guess what allows me sleep at night is that I don’t do it anymore. It took a while for the old moral compass to spin around to “wrong” on that one but it’s there now and today I buy all of my music fair and square. Any other way would be stealing. If you disagree…

How is it different?

*Nobody outside of Apple knows for sure but there are several estimates that iTunes does about 9 million downloads a day….. so not everybody is stealing.