Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Digital Copies Are Not Theft

Some proponents of digital copyright laws make the conjecture that "pirating" movies and music is an act of theft, and that it constitutes in some way stealing. However, this is completely ludicrous as the concept of theft is directly constructed on the concept of starvation.

The concept of starvation is that when someone steals an item, the owner of that item loses it. So if a thief steals your car, you can no longer have that car. While theft might not be universally evil in all situations (consider a starving man stealing food to stay alive - X-Ref), but digital copies are in no way resembling the act of theft. Simply put, there is no starvation in a digital world. Pirated copies are, as the name suggests, "copies" and the content in question is still available to its original owner.

However, don't jump to conclusions. Proving that pirating digital material is not theft, is not a sufficient argument for the legitimacy of piracy. However, it is imperative to make this distinction when corporations are willing to make any argument, no matter how ridiculous, to delegitimize digital piracy.


bambam said...

it is theft in the sense of denying the owner his due payment for having a copy of his material...

Devil's Mind said...

The idea that you have to pay just to have a copy of the material is based on copyright ideology, so this is somehow a circular argument. It defends copyright, by assuming it is true.

Another argument is that pirated copies are made from sold copies. Someone buys a DVD, then makes copies and redistributes them. That person (in the traditional sense) got ownership of the DVD and the material on it, and he is making copies of what he owns. And as an owner of the said DVD you have the right to lend, resell, or even copy what you own.

Of course, the counter measure to the above scenario is that they change the copyright laws to indicate that by buying a DVD (or whatever medium) you are not actually buying whats on it, but rather a license to view that content.

This is how they justify having to pay for a copy of the material.

Whether gaining unauthorized access to said material is a crime or not is a different topic, but we can reasonably say that this is distinct from the act of theft.

Anonymous said...

Copyright provides guaranteed protection for intellectual property but also holds the producer of such works responsible for their content. Copying (for whatever purpose) the works of another's labours is a denial of his or her worth. It is theft and has nothing to do with starvation. You may just as easily have said if a person has two houses and I take one, he/she will still have a place to live. Property rights can certainly be interpreted in the way you describe but such a system becomes ideologically communal or worse; if done without consent or using force.
But the other aspect of copyright protection is that it means accountability. A copyrighted work enables the user to know the identity of the author and transmitting authority and to assign them both credit and responsibility for the work. It can be a bulwark against libelous comments, racial slurs, slander and outright lies.
Willingness to state your views openly, display your work and present yourself in a public forum with the fullest protection of law is the highest goal of free-speech. I prefer copyright protection over the rabble-rousing inanity, misinformation, lack of accountability and mask of anonymity upon which many internet users rely. Just go to Limewire and read with dismay how many people attribute the song Cat’s in the Cradle to Cat Stevens when it was Harry Chapin who wrote and performed this song. Oh well, given another thousand years, the mass of humanity will believe all music from the 1960’s was written by the Beatles. Remember John Lennon’s prophetic words that the Beatles were more popular than another more controversial sage…copyright protections may be all that stands between popularity and truth.