A new survey done by Christian pollster George Barna for the Gospel Music Association (GMA) finds a disturbing trend among Christian teens. Not only are teen believers stealing Christian music through Internet downloads and CD-burnings, but they are doing it at the same rate that non-Christians are pirating secular music.

Even though the results of the Barna study have not been made public, GMA president John Styll told the Dallas Morning News that he is "surprised and disappointed" to learn that there is not a vast difference between the behavior of Christians and non-Christians.

However, many believers have a different perspective about digital music "file sharing" and CD-burning. Talks with teens reveal that many simply do not think of it as stealing when they copy CDs or download free music from the Internet, or even when they share such unauthorized copies with others. The Barna survey found that only one in ten Christian teens surveyed consider music piracy to be morally wrong, and 64 percent of them say they have participated in some form of music piracy.

Music Piracy -- What's the Big Deal?

At the same time, many adult Christians and even church leaders fail to see the big deal. Some suggest that getting the gospel message out should matter more to industry professionals than getting paid anyway. How can pirating a little Christian music be wrong, they wonder, if souls are being saved?

But Word Records president Barry Landis calls that convoluted thinking. He drew an analogy for the Dallas Morning News, saying, "You would never steal Bibles to give them away. You shouldn't steal Christian music to give away either."

Last year Christian album sales fell to a little more than $47 million, a drop of 5.2 percent. Styll says the major labels decreased their workforce by ten percent, and he feels the economy, Internet downloads, and illegal CD-burnings all played a part in this.

Of course, even with the slight drop in sales, the Christian music industry is still doing huge business, with its $800 million in sales beating the classical and jazz categories' combined sales. And Styll notes that the industry made at least that much again in concert ticket and merchandise sales. But whether it is a small leak or a gusher, music piracy is still digital theft, and any theft hurts the industry's bottom line.

And many of those who make the music feel that the effect of piracy on their own bottom lines cannot be overemphasized, especially in a business so full of agents, management, and mercenary middlemen. Still some recording artists are cautious about addressing the issue because they are wary of themselves being perceived as money-hungry or selfish.

But putting aside any fear of the perception of greed, several secular musicians have responded to Internet file-sharing and to Internet systems like Napster and Kazaa that facilitate the practice, with confrontations ranging from litigation to public declarations. While the band Metallica actually took Napster to court, several other pop stars, including Christina Aguilera, Blink 182, and Alanis Morrissette, combined their voices as the indignant signatories of a joint public statement against music piracy, making it an issue of artists' rights.

Not Just Price, but Principle

That statement was released in 2000 as an ad that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal newspapers. It read, "If a song means a lot to you, imagine what it means to us. That's why we believe that when our music is available online our rights should be respected."

But Platinum-selling Christian recording artist Jaci Velasquez told the Dallas Morning News that Christians cannot get away with that kind of response. "We can't be like Christina Aguilera and get all 'attitudy.' We're supposed to be like Christ and turn the other cheek," she said.

Christian music executives have also been wary of raising their profile in the recording industry's war against piracy. Styll says mainstream music professionals see the problem as largely a legal issue, while the Christian music industry sees it as a moral one. Nevertheless, he told the Dallas paper, nobody in Christian music really has the will to sue people over music piracy because, he says, "It just doesn't seem right."

But Word Records' Landis says the industry may have to launch an enormous educational effort to let young people know that stealing music is not right either. Currently, Styll says, many people do not see music piracy as morally any worse than, say, exceeding the speed limit.

 

Barna Research Group (http://www.barna.org)
Gospel Music Association (GMA) (http://www.gospelmusic.org)
Word Records (http://www.wordonline.com)

 

© 2004 Agape Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.