I said it before, and I’ll say it again: downloading copyrighted content without author’s consent is not theft. It’s copyright infringement! It doesn’t make it any less illegal, but it is a very different crime. Please get it right, otherwise any discussion about copyright is impossible!
Claiming that infringing copyright can be equated to theft is essentially building up a straw man argument. After all, everyone knows that theft is a relatively serious crime and one that affects the victim in a very real way. Infringement is very different crime which really requires a different set of laws and a different mindset. If you try to convince people that file sharing is harmful while basing your argument on claiming it is “like theft” you are simply doing it wrong. You are simply building a straw man, and toppling it with impeccable logic but none of that applies to copyright. Unless we change the law to treat intellectual property the same way we treat physical property, your argument is flawed.
It is really simple to explain, but most people on the other side of the fence (pro copyright) just don’t get it. When you download copyrighted content you are simply violating someone else’s exclusive distribution right. There are many real world examples people use to illustrate how infringement works, but I like this one:
Imagine there is a big game in the local ball park. Bunch of local kids decide to watch the game by climbing a tree growing on public property right outside the fence. They get caught. Should they be charged for theft? Do you think their crime is equal to for example that of a pickpocket who swiped game tickets from an unsuspecting sports fan?
They were able to watch the game because the tree was there to provide them with a good viewing platform. If it wasn’t there, would all of them buy tickets? Could you with any degree of confidence estimate how much money each of them would spend on tickets, hot dogs and refreshments?
If you haven’t figured this analogy yet, let me break it down for you. The ball park is the official distribution channel for the multimedia content. The ballpark owner is RIAA, MPAA and etc. The sports team playing inside are the artists. The kids are “the pirates”, and the tree symbolizes the internet. Downloading movies and music is like climbing that tree and watching the game for free. It’s not right naturally. You ought to buy a ticket to watch the game – so it can be said that the owner didn’t earn any money on you. But it can’t be said he actually lost any money because no one can prove whether or not you would actually buy a ticket if the tree was not there.
Infringement has nothing to do with steeling. This is why the MPAA’s “You Wouldn’t Steal a Car” campaign is nothing more than muddying the waters. It’s propaganda – a calculated distraction. Entertainment industry does not want to discuss the real issue here because it is not in their best interest. What they want to do is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt. And it’s not that they do not have an argument to begin with. The law is on their side. But we have to agree that infringement is much lesser crime than theft.
Then again, you have to wonder what good is a law that is virtually unenforceable. When I meet new people the topic of file sharing invariably comes up sooner or later. I have to say that I have yet to meet a person below 40 who can honestly say they never downloaded a song or a movie from the internet. It is simply unheard of. I’m counting both males and females of all races, creeds and education levels. In fact, many times I was honestly surprised to find out that a given person engages in this activity. No one respects the copyright law. Copying is as natural as breathing to us. This is what computers and internet were designed for.
And there is no way to stop it. Technological means to curb copying (DRM) don’t work. And statistically chances of getting caught are close to zero. Only a very small percentage of people will ever get sued by RIAA and MPAA.
Who what is the point of un-enforceable law that everyone breaks without even thinking about it? Protecting revenue streams of distributors might be a reason here, but there is something wrong with this picture. Let’s step back and think about it for a second.
I just said that I don’t know a single person below 40 who doesn’t do at least a little bit file sharing. This means that a huge chunk of population is involved here. And yet, I haven’t heard about a single movie or music studio closing it’s doors because of losses incurred due to “piracy”. Movies, music and software keeps getting made so the alleged losses cannot be that significant. Entertainment industry can talk all they want about “lost sales” and projections of lost revenue but most of us know these are just wild guesses that cannot be substantiated with any concrete data. There is just no evidence to support them.
If this was theft, we would see real very tangible evidence of loss. But we have no such evidence – just fuzzy, optimistic estimates. And this is the gist of the problem that the pro RIAA and pro MPAA advocates try to avoid discussing.
So please, next time you get into this discussion, get it right. Otherwise you are just regurgitating a flawed argument that has no basis in reality.
[tags]copyright, copyfight, theft, riaa, mpaa, file sharing[/tags]