Making an Honest Man of Myself

For a long time now, I’ve been very pleased to use open source software. To the uninitiated, what that means is that all of the software I use on a daily basis is free. There’s much more nuance to the culture surrounding open source software, but that’s what’s really significant about it to me with respect to daily use.

For example, when I was a Windows user, I never ponied up and paid for a license for Microsoft Word. If it didn’t come on my computer, I used an old CD to install it, probably using an install key I found on the internet. Open source software lets me have great (often comparable) software at no cost and with no guilt. I simply download Open Office and use that as my document software now. My use of and later involvement with the production and marketing of open source software have bled in recent years into another significant area of my daily life.

As a programmer, I often find myself listening to music while I work. My tastes vary. Sometimes I’ll pop in 20th century Estonian classical and sometimes Eminem. Sometimes bluegrass, sometimes Chemical Brothers. Sometimes the Statler Brothers or Aaron Neville and sometimes RadioHead or Nine Inch Nails. Much of the music I’ve listened to over the past few years has been pirated. I had one employer that kept a music library selected by its employees. That is, each month, each employee got to pick an album that the company bought and had available for the employees to listen to. Another company had some people in it who happened to toss mp3s of a lot of their songs onto a server. I’ve derived much enjoyment and distraction from songs I copied from these sources.

And lately, I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about it, largely because I’ve also felt guilty about stealing software as I used to do. A few times recently, I’ve declined to share my music with friends who got iPods. It’s hard to do that, to know you’re going to come off as some sort of ninny for being so rigid about not wanting to facilitate music theft. At the same time, though, I’ve kept and enjoyed the music I’ve stolen over the years. It was pretty hypocritical. I’ve justified it in part by saying “well, it’s already stolen, and I can’t unsteal it.” But that’s bullshit. Any justification is bullshit.

So today, I deleted it. There are probably a few tunes I inadvertently skipped (you try going quickly through a few thousand songs to delete the ones you didn’t buy), but I made a good faith effort to purge anything I haven’t either personally bought or been given a legitimately purchased copy of. I’m now an honest man, no longer a hypocrite. And it feels good.

If you’re a friend and you’ve asked for music, please don’t take personally my disinclination to give it to you. And don’t think I’m judging you. I don’t care who does what. I just know that I personally felt guilty for using music I hadn’t paid for that people expect to be paid for, so I’m not doing it anymore. I also feel guilty when I accidentally kill a bug (I prefer to let them out the door), but that doesn’t mean I’m looking at you askance if you bust out a flyswatter.

I’ll miss a lot of the music I deleted, though a lot of it was junk I’ve never listened to very much (so I really lose two sorts of burden as a result of the deletion). The upside is that I can purchase much of it back and be legitimate. Radio Head doesn’t seem to have anything on iTunes, and that’s perhaps my biggest woe. But it’s a pretty small price to pay in exchange for not feeling like a hypocrite.

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