Blake Thornell

Are you a pirate? I’m not talking about the peg-legged, parrot-on-your-shoulder kind of pirate. I’m asking if you are involved in piracy, the illegal downloading of music.

I used to be a pirate. At the beginning of the millennium, when file-sharing programs like Napster and LimeWire hit the web, I downloaded thousands of songs. My friends and I never gave a second thought to the moral or spiritual implications of sharing copyrighted mp3s. After most of the file-sharing programs were shut down, sites like The Pirate Bay popped up; and I downloaded full albums for free.

As a Christian, I knew that stealing was wrong (the eighth commandment comes to mind); but for some reason, I continued to download music. I tried to justify my actions by telling myself that artists and their record labels made enough money in other ways, that my stealing an album would not affect them.

The Casualty List

The Christian music industry has been deeply affected by piracy. Christian music is a ministry. Christian artists go on tour, spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ through music. Merchandise sales and live performance fees keep their ministry going, but they’re not enough. Most Christian artists do not have the support of endorsement deals and don’t have their music played on TV or in movies, which is a major source of income for secular artists. (Have you ever heard a newsboys tune playing in an Apple commercial or seen a Vitamin Water billboard with Chris Tomlin’s picture on it?) Piracy is eating away at record sales; and since less money is coming in, several Christian record labels have had to close or to downsize.

I am passionate about stopping piracy because I was a casualty of it. I majored in music business in college and got an internship my last semester at a Christian music label. I worked hard and was offered a job when I graduated. I helped market records for some of my favorite artists and got to spend over a year in Christian music. Though I was aware that piracy was affecting the industry, I was shocked when my boss called me into his office and told me that our label’s financial trouble had made downsizing necessary—including my job. Since then, I have vowed never to illegally download music again. Unfortunately, I had to lose my job before I felt this strongly about a form of theft that occurs every day and of which I had been guilty. I hope that by telling you my story, you will join me and stop being a pirate.


Ill-gotten treasures have no lasting value, but righteousness delivers from death.

Proverbs 10:2 (NIV)

When we illegally download music, we may think we are getting away with something; but we’re not. We are stealing and also hurting others who have worked hard to create, record, produce, and promote music. Think about the ripple effect of piracy. What role have you played in the pirating? How will you change your habits in 2012?

Blake Thornell , Youth Event Coordinator for Young People’s Ministries at the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tennessee, enjoys spending time with his wife Sarah, eating great food, playing guitar, writing songs, and leading worship.

—from devozine® (March/April 2006). Copyright © 2006 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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