25 June 2003

Unauthorized Copying is Not Stealing!

I swear I could fill these online pages exposing the disinformation and misinformation disseminated by the KFYI AM talk show hosts. Morning host Barry Young's comments over the past few days on music file sharing and his equating the act to "stealing intellectual property" is the latest example of egregious malarkey.

Stealing presupposes the presence of physical property. If I forget to bring my bicycle inside and somebody strolls by, hops on it and rides it away, that is theft. They have taken my bicycle away from me and I will be without my means of trusty transportation. I would incur a loss on the transaction. However, if somebody shares with me a digitally compressed copy of their legally purchased U2 CD - there is no tangible physical loss - there is no way to ascertain whether I purposefully refrained from buying a copy because my friend wished to share his CD with me. In fact, if I like the CD, I'll probably purchase it myself on my next visit to Best Buy. But corporate powers and scions like Mr. Young would term this act theft with a definitive loss for the recording industry association and the artist. Never mind that if I could play the CD and record it to a cassette tape (or another CD and it would fall under "fair use" and be perfectly legal). But since, instead of physically handing over the CD, I used a file sharing program (or even more simply, received it from him via any of the popular PC chat utilities), I've committed a great evil such that the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee would wish to destroy my PC. Never mind that there is no true "loss" - no physical property has been displaced, just an imperfect copy of bits has been added.

To equate the two acts is to committ a grave error. The loyal minions and PR flacks representing the corporate barons are well versed in the debate however, and they strive at every junction to set the default argument language to suit their bias. Music sharing, they proclaim, is piracy, as if the act of sharing a song was akin to a deed of barbarous treachery by savory buccaneers on the high seas. They indirectly invoke an image of savage slaughter of defenseless innocents. And indeed, the statues for this loathsome crime have been adjusted to lay down sentences worse than murder in some states, and in nearly all 50 states, this crime of unethical copying is dealt with more harshly than first degree assault. Unsatisfied with that campaign, the RIAA has taken to aggressively targeting the life savings of internet users who "share illegal files" via hundreds of filed lawsuits.

Does unauthorized copying harm entertainment and/or infotainment producers? Empirical results suggest otherwise. In fact, two of the biggest revenue netting digital goods of the past decade have been Microsoft Windows and the Sony Playstation. Both were heavily "pirated", er prone to unauthorized copying, yet the widescale propagation the unlicensed software merely made the brands stronger, and I find it hard to make a case that such copyright infringement actually hurt Microsoft or Sony. On the contrary, it transformed their brands into ubiquitous, familiar namesakes that led to massive sales numbers. Any loss incurred by an instance whereby somebody forewent a purchase in lieu of a bootleg copy was offset by an exponential factor of new customers who, exposed to the product, sought out to secure a "legitimate" version. Anybody who worked with PCs in the late 1980s is well aware of the proliferation of unlicensed Windows software. In the case of the Sony Playstation, it was the Asian markets that made bootleg games readily available for gamers all over the globe.

Richard Stallman, free software champion and computer genius who's created compilers, tools and editors that enabled Linux operating system, succinctly summarizes why the term "intellectual property" is a misnomer:

The term intellectual property carries a hidden assumption---that the way to think about all these disparate issues is based on an analogy with physical objects, and our ideas of physical property.

When it comes to copying, this analogy disregards the crucial difference between material objects and information: information can be copied and shared almost effortlessly, while material objects can't be. Basing your thinking on this analogy is tantamount to ignoring that difference. (Even the US legal system does not entirely accept the analogy, since it does not treat copyrights or patents like physical object property rights.)

I don't believe these draconian measures reflect the intent of the founding fathers who considered copyright an "embarrassing monopoly" for the sake of the American citizenry, useful only for the sole purpose of promoting science and the arts. It seems that the MPAA, RIAA, and their compliant Congress critters are the true pirates, stealing from the public commons and then enforcing that theft with armed thugs. Hired legislators, with full campaign coffers, eagerly do the bidding for the entertainment industry at the cost of our freedom. But I guess this is small potatoes, considering the suspension of habeas corpus indefinitely and secret arrests, and secret trials. Perversion of copyright is low on the list of constitutional truths.

Such measures bring us closer to the day when even the right to read will be lost and considered a "privilege" to be enabled by Digital Rights Management or so called "trusted" computing.

Soon, we're going to look back in nostalgic glee at the ability we took for granted to go to a library, read the great works of authors present and past and openly check out these masterful intellectual works (or entertainment) and profit from the mind share of others. Instead, any access will be metered, monitored and billed on a subscription fee only basis. This future path, once solely the domain of science fiction, now itches closer to being with each passing day.


I have a problem with this subject. One of the first guarantees that our founding fathers went for was the copyright laws. Franklin had so many patents that he wanted kept under his own control that this became a high priority.

If I write a song and sell the song to a recording company that song cannot be printed without my permission as I received my copyright to it. If the record company makes and sells thousands of tapes CDs or whatever they pay me a percentage of the sales of my song. Once that CD is in production and more people want the disks to play at home or some other company wants to record it with a new singer, I still get my residuals on the production of the CD.

This is the same way that writers receive a copyright for their books and screen plays. I have a screen play out there at this time and am still waiting for an answer. I applied for and received a copyright with the date and number for me to use in court if I have to.

Whether is is a song, a novel, or screen play, and it is copyrighted nobody can copy it!

Sadly Americans are not as moral as they should be and people are stealing the efforts of others to save a few dollars and I find it unethical, but sadly that doesn't stop Americans from stealing.
I agree with Sandy here. There is nothing wrong with the concept of intellectual property and the rights of those who created the "property" need to be preserved. They should be able to reserve its use or sell rights to it to others.

It seems to me that the concept that it's not stealing unless it's a tangible item is intelleuctually dishonest.

If creator or owner wants the property to be "in the public domain" then so be it but I shouldn't have the right to appropriate it for my own use without the owner's consent.
Freedom good, totalitarianism bad.

Again, the term intellectual property is a misnomer - a more apt description is intellectual monopoly.

In most all cases, the intellectual creation is an amalgamation of public domain knowledge. The Constitution is on the mark in its preference of the public over the authors and sets forth the notion of limited period. In a quantum age of today, it can be argued that those time spans should be shortened, not lengthened.

To not do so is to cripple dissemination of knowledge.
Creativity good- plagarism bad

I have no problem with copyright ending at the time of the author/artist/programmer/designer's death. I have alot of trouble with you taking the most recent Harry Potter release and publishing in any medium in the name of freedom.

Creativity is not an amalgamation public domain knowlelge. If it were, I could do your job just by reading a few books. Or you could become a graphic designer by looking at the work of others. If this is your perception of the world, there is no room for art, or music that can not be learned by rote. I wonder what Leonardo (who was quite secretive) would say.

Knowledge is not the goal- it is merely a tool in the quest for completeness.
Not justifying plagarism - any attempt to profit from the creative work of others (while copyright in effect) should be dealt with legally.

But perpetual copyrights (like in the case of Disney), vicious prosecution of people who are doing no more than sharing a CD with a friend and aberrations like the DMCA (that prevents me from legally playing DVDs on my Linux box) and shepherds us on a dangerous path.

I don't agree that algorithms or mathematical truths should be "owned". It is an egregious affront to liberty and sanctions a monopoly on knowledge.
thanks Bigguy for backing me on this. I managed a chamber music group in California and we made many videos of our concerts and tapes of the music. It was expensive to put on these concerts as our musicians were all professionals and under Union rules. By the time our tapes were ready for production to the public the producers (me and the conductor) were out a great deal of money. We did make a portion of the costs back by selling the tapes but you can be sure we took a copyright out on all of them.

If the profit is removed from this amount of work, the musicians will not record and the listening public will be out of music.
My screen play was used in concept only with all the characters changed and therefore I could do nothing about it. Actually I was rather thrilled that it was used but sad that the 18 months that it took me to put it together would never be paid back to me.

If we don't keep our copyrights clean and uncluttered from those who will take them without pay, we will dry up artistically.
File sharing does not remove profits, in fact, most scholarly studies on the matter actually prove the converse - that it increases revenue and profits.

And as the case of any digital "good" that has had its copyright infringed, it has been reciprocated exponentially. Again, I am not justifying copyright infringement, I'm making a point that it is not theft - not by definition of Websters, and not by definition of U.S. constitutional law, though the RIAA and MPAA are working hard to ensure that it does. And their interest is not with the artists, but with revenue control.

Applying "old world" models to digital realms is very dangerous. Bytes are bytes, they differ from a physical object (a CD) - monopolizing the public commons is a tragedy of epic proportions.
Webster's defines theft as, "the act of stealing; the wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal goods or property of another; larceny."

"Property" can be either "tangible" or "intangible."

Are you saying that right and wrong are redefined in the digital realm, that "thou shalt not steal" is no longer relevent in the digital age, that Neo is indeed the Christ? I say no! God is still God and His righteousness will prevail.

I would also contend the "bytes", when stored on a hard drive, magnetic tape, laser media, or any other media for that matter are indeed tangible- they have physical properties that can be identified and measured. So the only bytes that are not physical are those which are just floating out there in the ether or in RAM and are lost when the power is turned off.

BTW- I thought that the only good line in Matrix Reloaded was when Neo, in the first fight of the film grasped his opponents wrist as said, "Hmmm, an upgrade."
You're lumping together disparate things - even the U.S. legal system differentiates property (physical objects) from copyright provisions (patents and copyrights).

Reread the definition - stealing says property was taken/removed. When an imperfect copy is made, there is no loss to the property owner.
"To every cow belongs her calf, and to every book, her child-book."

So ruled the Irish High King in 561 CE in what may be the oldest recorded case of copyright infringement in history. This was the way of it...

St Columba (Columcille) went to stay with his old master, Finbar; and while he was there, his desire for a copy of Finibar's copy of St Martin's Gospel got the better of him. He took to getting up secretly in the night to transcribe it. Finbar discovered what was happening while he slept and claimed the copy as his own. Columba's temper was roused. He said that nothing would make him give up the manuscript, and advised Finbar to take the case to be judged by the High King. The High King ruled against Columba who was furious. He is said to have gone home and roused his own clan to attack the High King's forces and to have led them in person to a bloody victory in which some 3,000 lives were lost.

By your definition, nothing was stolen but lives were lost.

Furthermore, all 50 states recognize both tangible and intangible property in their statutes. Intangible property includes patents, copyrights, stocks, bonds, etc. Both tangible and intangible are considered "property."
Analogy not apropos. Again, you're speaking of *physical* property, not an abstract collection of bytes that is a imperfect facsimile. And you're equating *sharing* with somebody else claiming they were the original author and profiting from that distinction. A big difference from sharing of information.

In fact, the widespread use of the term *intellectual property* is a recent fad, arising from 1967 foundation of WIPO, who lobbies government to treat copyright law as physical property, when it indeed has been delineated as something different than "physical copyright". Even the U.S. copyright office recognizes this distinction.

Your mind is seeped in archaic notions of bricks & mortar thinking. I respect your thoughts and I'm not attempting to justify copyright infringement - it's the unintended consequences of enforcing intellectual monopoly over mathematical truths or algorithms that have tragic repercussions for civilization is what spurs me to write these words.

Richard Stallman more eloquently expresses the concept in this writeup: http://www.gnu.org/philosop...
You're making a distinction without a difference and, frankly, the more I read it is pure sophistry.

Sure, basic truth can not be copyrighted, but you are talking about a physical manifiestation of an idea. Creative use and organization of ideas can be copyrighted. You're in denial when you say that you and Stallman oppose copyright infringement. It appears that you would gladly steal an idea for the sake of YOUR WORLD AND LIFE VIEW- You lie to yourself and others when you hide behind old saws like "bricks and mortar thinking". You and other "enlightened" gnostics like you will have the far greater negative impact in civilization than those whose ideas you covet.

I've had programs that had thousands of manhours and millions of dollars invested in them by school systems who thought it was OK to duplicate the materials rather than buy them from those who made them. If you endorse that for the sake of enlightenment or the greater good- then you're nothing more than a common thief.
It should have read "STOLEN by school systems." I need to learn to proof read.

Perhaps you can explain how digital duplicates are "imperfect."

BTW I don't think of you as a thief but my family- especially my kids- and I have suffered great financial loss (scores of thousands of dollars) at the hands of those who thought that they could duplicate my work - instructional design, video, audio, workbooks, workshops, etc. and not pay me and the team who created them. It's a very sore subject with me.
An enlightened gnostic! You're far too kind ... hehehe ...

I appreciate your argument and you make excellent points. I think you may be a tad bitter over the grievous wrong done to you in your example - justifiably so, but a copy of something is not necessarily a loss to profit - that would assume that the copier would have 100% forgone purchase in lieu of copy AND that there would be NO future purchases that would have been made due to the copy propagation. And scholary studies and research not conducted by an RIAA/WIPO funded source all have supported this. In fact, the same arguments were used by Jack Valenti in the 1970s and early 1980s in regards to the VCR which his exact words were:

"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."

Did VCR sales kill the motion picture industry? No, in actuality the converse was true - it promoted movie sales.

And still, you haven't justified why it's OK for me to copy a CD to tape and give it to a friend, or print/copy an article and give to a friend which falls under "fair use" and sharing a file with somebody across an electronic network. And if I'm truly paying for the "art", why would I have to pay the same price to buy a new CD?

Finally, an ancient history anecdote for you - for many years the bible was prevented from being translated into English via printing press - that the word of God needed to be transcribed by hand, and the use of a printing press was considered a grave evil. I find the thinking of those on the side of RIAA/WIPO to be similar today to that or to Valenti's comments on the VCR in 1982.
Imperfect means the quality is not as good as the original - it's either more tarnished, or not as pure quality as the original or it's utility is not as 100% as full paid real item.

* mp3 for example - it's a compressed digital format that even a non-audophile like me can tell the difference even at the highest quality level of ripping. Sound quality is sacrificed in the compression - just because it's digital doesn't mean it's the same - the bytes recorded are not as perfect as the studio recording and when you compress (as you must do for web), quality is reduced further.

* if someone copies a document by downloading it, they may have a "copy" but if they printed it out, it would cost more in toner usage and still would not be framed in the presentation quality that a true hardcopy for sale would be

* In the case of software, a "warez" copy denies the user printed manual, updrades, opens up the copyright infringer machine to viruses, trojans, and they can't get any support. And typically most of the profit in software now is with maintenance, support, and upgrades.
Why should I buy your stuff... I already have a copy?

The superintendent of schools and several more of his good buddies didn't buy my stuff because they had borrowed and copied. Sure it wasn't quite as good or clean but they didn't buy from us.

I agree that there are losses associated any compression scheme (there are also huge expenses incurred in developing such schemes) but even without those losses there are varying degrees of playback quality (eg my PII's are terrible at playing back MP3) and all of that differs from the studio DATs or live concert. Are you saying that these differences are enough to make a Paul Simon recording not Paul Simon and so much so that he shouldn't be compensated?

I'm in a real bind here because I really have no problem with friends sharing music, films, etc with friends. I do have problems with sharing on such a massive scale. It's a real dilemma for me. If you want to burn a copy and "sneaker net" it to a friend- great you can even e-mail to a few friends but making it available without restriction on the web gives me pause. So much so that I decided to err on the side of caution and got rid of gnutella etal. I do subscribe to iTunes and will pay for a cut or two. But, I'm perfectly comfortable with making a copy for my own use in a variety of delivery media. Maybe I'm a hypocrite. Maybe not.
MSIE sucks.

I typed out a response and I lost it.

In the case of a song, you're going to want to buy something you DL'ed so you can play it in more places than your computer (yeah I know new players can do .mp3 and all ...), and have the liner notes and just for your collection.

In the case of software, initial purchase cost is typically a small piece of the TCO. In fact, IBM routinely gives away complete software packages - the hook and real payout is in the contract for support, maintenance and work for custom enhancements. Even for home users this is relevant - someone buys Photoshop instead of using a bootleg copy because you want the manuals and ability to get support and upgrades for what is really a reasonable cost.

Again, (a) copying does not necessarily result in a lost sale and (b) it is more than offset by those who try and then buy and the residual exposure effect. Here is some scholarly research on the matter(pdf):

Pretty theorectical but certainly not my experience.

I can't give away software- i don't sell software, i sell instruction and once someone has my stuff- they don't need me.

IBM has almost always sold service- from their big iron to their Selectric typewriters. In fact they really only lost their shirts when trying to sell PC hardware and software (O/S 1 & 2) in the PC market.

Unfortunately I know many, many people who have bootleg copies of Photoshop or Quark or even Office. I won't use it and I won't share it.

Perhaps it would be helpful for you to develop something for sale and have it stolen from you. I'm not talking about something that you have elected to share. I'm talking about a product that is your creation. Then, you'll stop regurgitating the tired old mantra of those who want access to modify because they can't create.
I have had stuff ripped off from me - and I don't really care unless someone tries to take credit for it as happened with an old site I put together where someone took my code and writing and claimed it as theirs. I didn't mind that it was copied, just that they cite me or the source.

Well, maybe being a programmer does alter my perspective - but I will tell you that any software endeavor is built upon both abstractions and pre-existing physical code. If we didn't, we'd be hand toggling circuits on the board still ...

Like you, I don't have any unlicensed software on my box - which is a big reason I prefer Linux and/or open source tools like Mozilla, the Gimp, Perl, PHP, etc... Funny thing is a lot of the people who are so pious about music DLs don't think nothing of taking an unlicensed copy of Photoshop (or other means - even getting one on EBay is legally in the wrong). I don't DL music either - I rip it from purchased CDs using another open source program - CDex and play them with Winamp.

The line I draw is where someone attempts to profit by selling the product as their own or claiming credit for it. Take my work, but please credit me and if you do wish to sell it, please get my permission first. But, to me, that is a different deal than file sharing.
"Perhaps it would be helpful for you to develop something for sale and have it stolen from you. I'm not talking about something that you have elected to share. I'm talking about a product that is your creation. Then, you'll stop regurgitating the tired old mantra of those who want access to modify because they can't create. "

It still won't work because NOTHING is being stolen, moron, just illegally COPIED. We all retain our origional thing in the process. THAT's why it's different.

If it was stolen, I can't make money off of it, and/or use it. Copying of that does shit to me as opposed as common theft. Before you accuse us of regurgitating things, you should take your own advice and stop spewing the RIAA's shit.
well of course it's not, since i'm copying this article to help with my communications assignment. ^_^. Thanks you

Add Comment

This item is closed, it's not possible to add new comments to it or to vote on it