Is Spotifree Ethical?

by Feb 4, 2014Piety, Tech22 comments


If you read my blog, you’re probably a Christian. You probably try to think more deeply about your biblical faith and its implications than the average pew-sitter, or you’d be watching TV right now.

So here’s one for you, and I really want to see some careful, scripturally informed wisdom here: is it ethical to use Spotifree?

I like the amazing free-music player Spotify, and Spotifree has made it a more enjoyable experience. It’s a little app that basically silences the commercials. No more interruptions to Rachmaninoff from pop stars hawking their latest immoralities and inanities. “I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” Instead of occasional ads for the latest chart-topping album, I get a few seconds of peaceful silence—thanks to Spotifree.

But the presence of bad ads doesn’t justify stealing, and isn’t that what I’m doing when I listen to Spotify’s music while silencing its main source of revenue? I may be one of only a small number of people doing this, but I never bought that argument from Napster afficionados, and I won’t buy it from myself.

One friend said it’s no different from an ad-blocker in your browser, and he noted that one of the reasons we use ad-blockers is the objectionable content (like the pop music ads on Spotify) that we don’t want to see.

Another friend said there’s a difference between ad-blocking in the browser and silencing ads in Spotify:

Spotify expects you to become a subscriber to remove the ads. Getting an app that does for free what Spotify expects to be paid for seems unethical. I wouldn’t doubt if it also went against their terms of agreement.

Terms of Agreement. Hmm… Yes, I should probably check those. But you shouldn’t, not yet. Give me your thoughts before you check them, and then check them if you like. Without them, I feel genuinely uncertain as to what to do (I’ll check them later). Not all the ads are perverse (a lot are from Home Depot, which I certainly don’t mind), but they’re all annoying. I want to do right. Help me, readers!

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  1. Ryan Martin

    Hello, Mark. Interesting topic. I endure the ads on Spotify. They are most often highly annoying. The volume level, the presentation… everything. Maybe not as bad as Xbox music, but pretty close. I have never used Spotifree.

    Although I have not read the end user terms of agreement, I would not be wiling to use spotifree. Let me explain why. The principle argument here is that it is no different than an ad-blocker. In fact, there are significant differences between spotifree and an adblocker. First, the websites one visits that have ad pop-ups often impose those ads without warning and there is no capacity to pay for the content and thereby avoid the ads. Not only this, but the removal of ads are a prominent feature of Spotify’s paid services. In fact, going “ad free” is not only prominent, it is likely the most prominent feature of a Spotify subscription. Moreover, Spotify is so bent on your hearing the ads that they refuse to play the ad while your volume is muted or even turned down too low. Moreover, it is in playing such ads, Spotify makes clear, that Spotify tries (in the absence of subscriptions) to be ethical itself in paying proper royalties to those took the trouble to record, market, and produce the music we enjoy.

    Ethics has never boiled down to a matter of “the one with the best technology wins.” We were not created in order to outsmart the big guy, even if the big guy is rich and powerful. We were created to live proper lives of love for others and respect for those with whom we enter into contracts. These are things upon which we of course agree, and I happen to think that it applies here.

  2. Mark L Ward Jr

    Good thoughts, Ryan. I’m with you on this.

  3. Austin Barker


    Great question. I don’t have a strong opinion on this dilemma, but I agree it is a dilemma, and of legitimate concern to a thoughtful Christian.

    In the absence of strong opinions, I certainly do have significant reservations. I personally could not do it in clear conscience. In conference with Megan about your post, we considered several scenarios in the same ballpark, though not strictly identical: recording Odyssey albums off the radio is one example that I cannot unequivocally condemn, but per my pragmatic litmus test (“what is the net effect of this behavior on my spiritual life?), having the fairly purchased albums (albeit at ebay prices!) on my shelf erases a question mark from my spiritual sensibilities. Though the pricks of conscience are hardly categorical, and highly individual, it says something to me. I can only speak for myself, but I can speak for myself…I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it, even in the absence of terms of agreement. It certainly feels just like buying one drink and sharing it between two people at a sit-down restaurant. And I think I remember your saying that you would still feel comfortable taking sips 🙂 how much is a sip?

    As an aside, there are some who might look at this question and froth at the apparent legalism. But I really appreciate the spirit in which you wrote this, a spirit I hope that I share: one of carefulness! I have seen legalism marching under the banner of carefulness before, but I certainly share Ryan’s and your interest in living with a conscience void of offense toward God and man. I knew Christians who were embroiled in the Napster debate, and if I may say so, their influence suffered with the outcome.

    And finally, I think this is the type of issue that separates the casual from the careful Christians. I have mentioned to you my wariness of taking casual liberties. This is the type of issue of which thoughtful Christians are sensible; and this is they type of issue at which thoughtless Christians hack and cough at the mere suggestion of the potential ethical problems.

  4. Anonymous

    Are you not paying for the service because of some moral objection or is it purely financial?

    If you’re reasoning for not paying for a premium account is financial then you are stealing.

    Try and think of an act of theft that would be similar in Jesus time, then think of your your personnel wealth, can you afford it but simply choose to steal it instead?

    Would Jesus commend or condem you for this theft? He probably would shame you for owning whatever overpriced device you are using to listen with, should you own such a thing with so much poverty in the world, by affording such luxuries you are not giving enough. Jesus would not approve of all these iPhones you know?

    If you can afford it but choose to steal it, you are choosing sin.

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      I’m not sure that first question makes any difference.

      I also don’t think it makes good sense to shame people for enjoying God’s good gifts, including nice computers—especially if people see those gifts as coming from God and use them for His service and glory.

      FWIW, I have deleted Spotifree from both my computers.

  5. testasd

    you dont have to be a f****** christian to know it’s not ethical

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      I let that one through after a quick edit. After six years of blogging, I get my first comment with an f-word, and it’s making a theological point I disagree with. Well, sort of. I know all he means is that plenty of non-Christians know that stealing is wrong. And I grant that.

      But for anyone else who’s a non-Christian who stumbles across this post, can I make a quick point? Do you really know that anything is “wrong”? In other words, can you give truly adequate justification for using words like “evil,” or even “unethical”?

      You can say you dislike something, you can say that if everybody did it we’d shoot our economy or retard human evolution—but can you say it’s wrong? That word sounds pretty final to me. Pretty absolute. In a world comprising two ingredients, matter and energy, why is one arrangement of atoms or forces “right” and another “wrong”? It would take an ultimate person, someone standing outside the system, to say so. So, ultimately, I’d argue you do have to be a Christian to say something is wrong.

      I don’t mean to be a pedant; I just couldn’t let this interesting opportunity slip by. I really do believe this commenter is making an implicit theological claim, and I’d point him/her first to the Bible and then to a non-Christian, Harvard’s Michael Sandel, author of Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

      Thank you for trolling by, anonymous Internet person.

  6. Ivan

    I’d say that this is ultimately a discussion about capitalism– Spotifree offers to mute the ads, interrupting your music with silence, whereas Spotify offers to remove them entirely for $10 a month, as well as giving unrestricted mobile access, an offline mode, and a higher quality of sound. The choice seems to come down to which you’d rather pay to remove the annoying and objectionable ads– $10 a month, or 30 seconds of silence every few songs. Who can offer what you want at the lowest price? Spotifree is a lower quality of service at a lower cost. Additionally, the musicians get paid for every song streamed regardless of your subscription. I think if using Spotifree is unethical, so is capitalism.
    For the record, I pay $10 a month for Spotify (it’s been 2 years now), and find no issue in using Spotifree. I pay for the quality of service I want.

  7. Green Lawns

    Totally OK to use it. I’d worry about it if it wasn’t for the number of times Spotify has advertised condoms, sex aids, serial killer and horror films, and death metal to me – usually while listening to Schubert or English choral music. They offer no opt out of objectionable ads. You have rights, too, even if no user agreement specifies them – technically perhaps it’s wrong (though actually I’m not sure Spotify loses out on Spotifree users, as the ad still plays, just muted), but life is more than technical. I cannot imagine any saint quibbling with Spotifree. It’s just cleverer than the amoral lot over at Spotify headquarters. You are not obliged to submit to indecencies – or to lock yourself away from all music just to avoid it.

    • Mark Ward

      Let me see if I can summarize your argument. I’m really trying not to be snarky:

      1. “I don’t like the ads, so I don’t have to listen to them.” I’m with you so far.
      2. “The people who make Spotify just want to make money and don’t care if they defile you in the process, so it’s okay to do something that’s technically wrong—because they deserve it.” I can’t follow you here, I’m afraid.
      3. “If you stop listening to Spotify in order to avoid the nasty ads, you’re locking yourself away from all music.” I can’t follow you here, either.

      You anticipate my logic: if you don’t like the ads, don’t listen. You can buy CDs or try a number of other services that operate differently. For now I’m mostly getting Home Depot and Advance Auto Parts ads. Since I posted this originally, I’d say that the number of objectionable ads has, for some reason, dropped significantly. Right now I’m comfortable taking out my earbuds or just listening to the Home Depot guy tell me it’s time to re-do my bathrooms. But if the ads ever get to be really bad, I’ll just have to pay, complain, or drop Spotify.

  8. dcsj

    Hi Mark,

    I agree with you about this issue, but my question is, “Do we really need to listen to a lot of music?” I realize that may sound strange to the current generation (and even my generation), but readily available music is a very modern invention. I wonder if it is overall a good thing.

    But of course, I’m not that musical, so perhaps that explains my question.

    And, BTW, I like the new font, much more readable for me.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  9. Mark L Ward Jr

    A worthy, not-necessarily-curmudgeonly question. For me it’s mostly practical: I turn on music when I need more quiet than I’m getting while working.

  10. Dante

    Are you forced to watch the ads when you watch your favourite TV show? Companies still pay Spotify for the ads that are played (even muted). Spotify doesn’t care if they get the money from you or from these companies. If spotify got some extra money for something you buy at Home Depot, should you be forced to buy it (from an ethical point of view)?

    When companies buy ad space (and they chose to invade your life), they do it knowingly that most of it will be ignored. It’s not unethical to ignore it.

    You have the right to mute your TV (or change channels) when ads appear. You have the right to skip them when you watch a show you have previously recorded. You have the right to chose what content you read or listen to.

    God bless you!

  11. Mark Ward

    I’m glad I’ve generated some comments on this topic… I’ll need to consider your words before replying, Dante. The question I’m going to be asking myself is whether the parallels you draw are genuine parallels.

  12. Mark Ward

    And I think you wouldn’t have landed on my blog unless your conscience raised an objection. =) Or am I wrong? What led you here?

  13. Jacob


    I stumbled across this blog post while trying to find out what Spotifree is. After reading the below passage from one of your replies, I think you should give serious thought to what it means to be a responsible human being:

    But for anyone else who’s a non-Christian who stumbles across this post, can I make a quick point? Do you really know that anything is “wrong”? In other words, can you give truly adequate justification for using words like “evil,” or even “unethical”?

    You can say you dislike something, you can say that if everybody did it we’d shoot our economy or retard human evolution—but can you say it’s wrong? That word sounds pretty final to me. Pretty absolute. In a world comprising two ingredients, matter and energy, why is one arrangement of atoms or forces “right” and another “wrong”? It would take an ultimate person, someone standing outside the system, to say so. So, ultimately, I’d argue you do have to be a Christian to say something is wrong.

    The argument that people living a Christ-focused life have a monopoly on morality, i.e. an understanding of right and wrong, is utterly indefensible and smacks of religious extremism. Further, if you knew even the most basic tenets of ethics, you would know that it exists independently of religion and morality. You would also know that using a program like Spotifree is clearly unethical. The question you should be asking is whether your Christian faith comports with the relatively minor degree of the ethical lapse.

    • Mark Ward

      So sorry I let this sit for three days! I simply forgot to approve it! Thanks for writing in, Jacob. I really appreciate it. I agree with you that the argument, as you summarize it, is utterly indefensible and smacks of religious extremism. I never said that Christians have a monopoly on morality. The Bible says in Romans 2 that all people, not just Christians, have a conscience given to them by God.

      I’ve done more than my fair share of reading, however, on the claim you make that “[ethics] exists independently of religion.” Empirically, yes, non-Christians have personal ethics, and they subscribe to ethical systems too many to number. But can they justify those ethical systems by appealing to anything outside those systems? You say they can. Ethics can be “independent.” I’m guessing by that you mean something like “objectively, perhaps even scientifically verifiable.” But major philosophers in the Western tradition haven’t been able to agree on the nature of the grounding of ethics. Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue details the mutually exclusive ways in which the premier Western philosophers have attempted to find independent grounding for ethics:

      Just as Hume seeks to found morality on the passions because his arguments have excluded the possibility of found it on reason, so Kant founds in on reason because his arguments have excluded the possibility of founding it on the passions, and Kierkegaard on criterionless fundamental choice because of what he takes to be the compelling nature of the considerations which exclude both reason and the passions…. Thus the vindication of each position was made to rest in crucial part upon the failure of the other two, and the sum total of the effective criticism of each position by the others turned out to be the failure of all. The project of providing a rational vindication for morality had decisively failed; and from henceforward the morality of our predecessor culture—and subsequently of our own—lacked any public, shared rationale or justification. (49-50)

      One of the top names in American moral philosophy today, Jonathan Haidt, bases ethics in a naturalistic, evolutionary framework. Whatever works to make the group succeed is “good.” If that’s what you mean by ethics existing independently, that seems to me to be a strange kind of independence, one in which your ethics is entirely dependent on the group in which you happen to reside.

      If ethics are fully independent and exist objectively (that is, outside the knower), why do we all have such trouble accessing them?

      The Bible has answers for all the questions I raised. Romans 1–2 says that we all “can’t not” know God. We have “suppressed” that knowledge, however, and gone and done our own thing. We weren’t meant to live independently from our creator, in ethics or in any other respect.

      FWIW, I’m listening to a great minimalist piece on Spotify right now. I paid my fee. =)

  14. Zach

    You’ve seen this, right?

    What is Spotifree
    Spotifree is an OS X app that automatically mutes ads on Spotify.

    Who made it
    My name is Artem Gordinsky, and Spotifree was made by me.

    Why and how I made it
    Spotify does not accept any payments from a country that I live in – Ukraine. So instead of paying for my music and getting rid of the ads, I had to find a way to physically silence them.

    I searched around and found a clever small AppleScript script on the Macrumors forum. It worked, but wasn’t good enough. I started building on it, and the Spotifree was born. I quite liked the result, and decided to share it on Github. Since then, the source code grew almost fivefold, Spotifree got better, and was downloaded more then 50,000 times.

    At the end of year 2013, Eneas, one of our awesome users did Spotifree a huge favor and completely rewrote it as a native OS X application. This is when the app finally got its user interface and an update system. When Spotifree became a native application, its efficiency and reliability increased 10x to 100x (seriously).

    Since it got so popular, I decided to make this website, to share it with even more people. Why? Because I love helping people.

    • Mark Ward

      That helps; that’s interesting. It does seem relevant mainly to people in countries from which Spotify does not accept payments, however.

  15. Jonah

    Spotify doesn’t care about Spotifree because they still get paid for your time listening to the ads, even if they are muted. I like to think about Spotifree as a script that automates my ‘clicking the mute button’ every time an ad plays. Nothing unethical about that.
    Advertisement is perverse, deceiving, and mind numbing. Spotify business practices are also not the cleanest, so I don’t really feel like endorsing the company.

    Here’s my reasoning:
    – I would stop using Spotifree if I knew for a fact that it’s hurting the artists that made the music.
    – By using Spotifree I get to endorse the artists, without actually giving money to Spotify. Totally a win in my book.

    • Mark Ward

      So, let me summarize: Spotify doesn’t mind (no word on how the advertisers feel—and are you sure Spotify doesn’t mind?), Spotify and advertisers are bad, so you don’t want them to have your money.

      Is that about it?

      But if Spotify doesn’t get money, artists don’t. And if they don’t get your money, you lose Spotify.