The Morality of Gratuity

5 February, 2009

I just bought Girl Talk’s album. (I would say his new album, but I know it’s not; it’s just new to me.) As you will see by clicking on that link, it’s marketed in essentially the same way as Radiohead’s In Rainbows was—name your price. It can be as low as 0.00, or as high as you want. I went to the link, put in zero dollars and started to download the album. Before I did, it asked me why I wasn’t paying anything; options ranged from “I can’t afford it” to “I don’t believe in paying for music.” Honestly, to me the second seems more valid than the first. Anyway, I picked “I might donate later,” and continued on with my life, waiting for it to finish downloading.

For roughly two minutes. It could have been guilt, it could have been the realization that this person wasn’t getting money for what he did (as opposed to his concert at Harvard, where he got paid and then didn’t do much…), I don’t know. But I went back, and paid five dollars. So, I was paying money for something that I could have gotten completely legally for free. Which seems to be a trend in my life. In Rainbows excepted (I didn’t pay for that), I tend to pay for things that people offer free, whereas when I do have to pay money to see or hear something, I usually obtain it through other (unspecified) means. This occurred with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, too. It’s offered for free in high quality online, but I paid for it on iTunes. These are only two examples that I can think of right now, but I’m sure there are more, and given my mindset, I would probably do it again.

So, why is this? Do people offer their works for free purely to guilt people into paying for them? Or do I just happen to really like people who are part of the Creative Commons-ish culture? I think for me, rather than being guilt, it’s more an appreciation of what they are doing. These people know that if someone wanted to get their stuff for free, they could easily do it illegally, through torrents, websites, whatever. And so, they know there’s nothing they can do about that. As a result, they offer their stuff for free, legally. Culture isn’t about the transaction of money anymore; it can’t be anymore. There are too many ways to get around restrictions, regulations, and so on. So, because I appreciate what they are doing—both the art itself as well as the gesture towards making criminals less criminal—I give them money. Maybe that’s it. I think one of the big ideas behind this trend is really making what people do anyway no longer illegal. So, Joss Whedon, Gregg Gillis, and so on—they’re actually helping us, the common, music-downloading, dvd-ripping people to become upstanding citizens rather than felons in the eyes of the RIAA.

And that’s worth $5 in my book.

How about you? Do you always pay for things? Do you download them for free? Illegally? Legally? I’d like to start a kind of debate, since I only know what a few people think about this topic. Comment!


One comment

  1. Free Culture, Dan Gale.
    Dan Gale, Free Culture.

    I’ll just go ahead and let the two of you get to know each other a little better…

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