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    A View from the Pew

    In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...Amen? 

    In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen?

    This week, a Catholic school invited me to participate in a debate by the school’s eighth grade class. I joined three other guests, all attorneys and parents with children who attend the school. We created the panel that would listen to the debate and offer our perspective and opinions at the conclusion of the debate.

    The eighth grade teacher assigned illegal music downloading as the disputed topic. Approximately twenty five students divided into two teams and argued for or against illegal music downloading. The recent case of Joel Tenenbaum served as the current paradigm for the debate.

    For those of you who may not know the background of the Tenenbaum case, the nutshell version comes down to this. Tenenbaum illegally downloaded and shared hundreds of songs over the internet. In 2009, Tenenbaum was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America on behalf of four record labels. A jury ordered Tenenbaum, a recent BU doctoral graduate with a degree in statistical physics to pay $675,000.00 for illegally downloading and sharing music on the Internet. A federal judge called the penalty excessive and reduced the penalty to $67,500.00. However, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reestablished the original amount. Tenenbaum argues that he cannot pay the fine because of his graduate school status and low stipend of the past six years. He contends that the U.S. Copyright Act, written in 1973, is unconstitutional and did not intend for copyright infringement to apply to consumer copying. Tenenbaum’s attorney suggests that the damages should be reduced to 99 cents a song, the same amount that Tenenbaum would pay for a legal download per song. Still pending decisions, the Tenenbaum case now serves as the second case against an individual to go to trial for illegally downloading music from the Internet.

    The eighth graders diligently researched the topic and argued well for both sides. I brought my IPad to class and took notes as I listened to the debate. I think that my jaw may have hit my chest when I heard one eighth grader stake the claim that all musicians and publishers are wealthy. “What difference will it make if someone downloads music? They’re all rich and won’t miss the money.” (I can assure you that this is not the case.)

    Christian ethics surrounding illegal music downloading entered the dialogue. “Is it okay to break the law when it involves only you?” “Not everyone is Catholic. The moral issues of religious views do not apply to this issue.” “What is theft? Does it mean not getting caught or does conscience rule over the ‘free’ market?” “Piracy is relative.” “Downloading without permission equates to stealing. Authors do not receive just compensation for their work.” “Artists make their money from concerts, not from files.” I quote directly from the notes that I wrote during the debate.

    The students gave their closing arguments and sat down. They all did a fine job researching and arguing this hot button topic. When the teacher asked our panel if a clear winner emerged from the two teams, the four of us on the panel agreed that both sides offered compelling arguments but no front runner surfaced. The case was deadlocked.

    The parent/attorneys offered marvelous insights on copyright law, infringements, lawsuits and how to argue a case. “Even when you know that your client is wrong, that person deserves an advocate. It is the attorney’s duty to provide the strongest case possible in your client’s behalf.” I offered a different perspective as an author and composer, giving the students some insights on how little money most artists actually earn when they create any art form. Holding my most recent CD project Tell Them About Me in my hands, I explained that I personally invested $15,000.00 of my own money to finance this project, with no assurance of it success. I financed my last three projects, a total sum of $40,000.00 for four projects without much fiscal return except for three ASCAP Awards. However, you can't pay the bills with awards. Even without great financial gain, I go on and do my work because that's what the Gospel requires me to do: go and make disciples of all peoples with whatever your gifts may be. 

    I asked the students to look into my eyes and tell me that they could steal music from me. “That’s what happens every time someone downloads a song illegally or copies a song or page from a book or magazine or reproduces a work of art. The person who created the art work is deprived of just wages. Can you look at me and tell me that you would steal from me as I stand before you?” (Let those among us without sin cast the first stone.) 

    The whole entire event fascinated me but the real climax came right at the end of the conversation with the class. “Now that you know the facts, you’ve argued the case and you’ve met a live author and composer, how many of you will continue to illegally download and share music files?” Every student except one young woman in the class raised their hand.

    I returned today to the same parish for Sunday morning Mass and found a young Christian rock band leading music about justice, peace, love, harmony, praise and community. The pastor preached well on how although something might seem mysterious to us – the ocean tides, the Internet, the miracle of birth, we still believe that they exist. Point taken. We say Amen, so be it. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Truly it is so.

    When we say In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, does our ‘Amen’ speak of our lives? How do we live out the mystery of faith within the Trinity, the essence of God who is love, justice, friendship and centered always on others? We sing ‘Amen’ at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the offering of our very lives to God through the self-giving love of Jesus and the Spirit who creates mutuality of relationship between the divine and the human. Do we strongly agree that God is love? Do we believe that God reveals that love through Jesus? Does our Amen sing with the breath of the Spirit that unites us in community? Do we profess our Amen in the way we live our lives?

    This morning, I watched twenty graduating seniors who belong to the parish walk to the center of the sanctuary, state their name, the high school from where they will graduate this week and where they will attend college in the fall. Most will go to private colleges, several to public universities and one to a community college. The parish presented each of them with a cross to remind them that Christ is at the center of every decision that they will make in the weeks and years ahead of them. All twenty students are fully initiated Christians. They all profess belief in the Trinity of love that requires us to love God and love one another. What choices will they make and how will they arrive at them? Will they impact the new communities they will now be a part of as Christian witnesses? How will they see God in every person they meet and act justly so that their ‘Amen’ sings the sign of their faith in the way they live? How do any of us live out our trinitarian ‘Amen' in our homes, our schools, our parishes, our workplaces, our recreation? 

    In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ... Amen.



    In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...Amen?