Why piracy isnt theft

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Nick_Djinn
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Why piracy isnt theft

Post by Nick_Djinn »


Why Software Piracy Isn’t Theft

http://www.citizeneconomists.com/blogs/ ... snt-theft/



Why Software Piracy Isn’t Theft
October 24, 2008 by Bhagwad Jal Park

In an earlier article of mine on the dependance of Windows on Piracy, I promised a discussion on whether or not software piracy should be considered as theft. Well, here we are, and I would like to demonstrate how piracy is not theft.

To start of with, let us define theft. The commonly accepted definition is “the taking of someone else’s property without their consent”. The two keywords that need to be looked at here are “taking” and “consent”. I am going to demonstrate in various different ways why software piracy does not come into the same category as theft. My first argument is with the word “take”.

First of all, the word “taken,” as it was originally used, was meant to imply that what you take is no longer there with the owner. In fact, the root of the word piracy itself betrays what it is supposed to mean. Pirates stormed ships forcibly, looted the occupants (not to mention murdered and God knows what else), and took away things that left the original owners without them.

This clearly doesn’t apply to piracy of music CD’s and software. If I download a song from a server, then the original copy is intact and nothing has been lost. To put a different spin on it, if I light a candle, and you (without my consent) light another candle from my flame and run away, can I charge you with having stolen my light? Is that piracy? I don’t think so.

Of course, all software companies and music companies have the right to make it as difficult as possible for people to copy and run their software. Which brings me to my second point as to why I don’t consider piracy as theft.

Piracy

Image Credit: decoder72

I quite understand the meaning of the term opportunity cost. The primary gripe with piracy is that it causes lost sales. This assumption is dubious at best or remarkably overstated. For this argument to ring true, the assumption must be made that if a user illegaly downloads a song, he or she would have purchased it. If the user never intended to purchase the song, then downloading the song illegally has not caused any sort of lost sales.

In fact, this is much more often true than not. The overwhelming majority of people who illegally download software would never have bought it if they were unable to get if for free. So this argument falls flat.

My final argument is an extension of my earlier article on how to charge different prices for your products. Companies usually adopt pricing policies that confer an additional benefit to those who pay high prices. For example, business class passengers in airplanes have shorter lines. Conversely, they make it difficult for customers who are price sensitive and want to save money to ensure that only those who are willing to make some sort of a sacrifice can get the lower priced products. The example is that of discount coupons which force customers to go through all the hassle of cutting out and saving useless bits of paper in order to get a discount.

Piracy can be looked at in this light. It is never easy to download something illegally. You have to find a source, try and crack it, are in constant fear that updates will change something and render the software useless, etc. This is the reason why people pay money for software. They do it to avoid hassles. The very fact that people choose to buy software instead of trying to get it for free demonstrates this. The end result is this: People who would never have bought the software anyway are the ones who usually try and download music and software illegally. The others buy it to avoid the hassles of using non-genuine software.

The fact that people are still buying music and paying for software illustrates this principle. They pay for software even though they can get it for free. As long as companies make it as difficult as possible for their software to be copied illegally (it doesn’t have to be impossible), they will not lose sales since those to whom the software is worth the price will purchase it.

A lot of people of course, have different points of view on this, and they are most welcome to share with our readers why they feel that piracy is theft or provide further reasons as to why it is not.

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by eiver »

You touched a difficult topic here. I expect this will create a hot discussion.

My comments:
If I download a song from a server, then the original copy is intact and nothing has been lost. To put a different spin on it, if I light a candle, and you (without my consent) light another candle from my flame and run away, can I charge you with having stolen my light? Is that piracy? I don’t think so.
Something is lost. And that is time - a valuable resource. Say you have spent the whole day to get that fire going. On the other hand your friend has spent the whole day gathering fruits in the forest. I say it would be fair to exchange half of the gathered fruits for the fire. Otherwise the person with the fire will starve.

On the other hand, once you have started the fire it can be distributed easily to all people in the village. So suppose there are 9 people in the village gathering fruits and you starting the fire. In that case after a day of hard work you managed to finally start the fire and each person managed to find say 10 fruits. Then it would be fair, that each person gives you 1 fruit for the fire. In the end everyone has 9 fruits and the fire.

Argument against piracy:
Stealing intellectual property is stealing time from the author. In our example case. If only one person gives you the fruit and then distributes it to others for free, you will have only one fruit and will soon starve, although you have worked equally hard trying to get the fire going. At that time you will begin to think, if it was worth to spent the whole day working hard and get only 1 fruit while others got 10.

Argument for piracy:
The ease of copying intellectual property (mp3, software, an idea, an invention) can also be used by the author to steal time from others. That is because the original author has a complete monopoly over his idea/mp3/whatever.
Lets get to our fruit/fire example. The fire guy can come to the first person and say:
- Listen, you worked the whole day gathering fruits and I worked the whole day starting the fire. Give me 5 fruits in exchange for the fire.
- Ok, that sounds fair - the fruit gatherer says.
Afterwards the fire guy visits all other people and performs the same exchange. In the end everyone in the village has 5 fruits and fire, except the fire guy, who is the big kahuna now, because he has 45 fruits. So he is 9 times richer than others, despite working equally hard. The next day people in the village will no doubt feel cheated and will refuse to pay for starting the fire next time it is needed.

I think both situations mentioned above take place in the real world. The price for intellectual property should depend on both the amount of work needed and the amount of people benefiting from it. In practice however it is extremely difficult to establish a financial system, which would ensure a fair exchange. Hence we can see the existing system being abused in both ways: authors practicing a monopoly and consumers stealing from authors.

To sum up
Piracy is bad, because it steals time from the author.
Piracy is good, because it helps to battle the author who is trying to perform monopolistic practices.

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by monkeyboy »

You can fly any pro or anti argument you want (be it strong or weak) about the situation but it comes down to local laws and enforcement. Or to quote the man: "Good . . . Bad . . . I'm the guy with the gun"
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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by eiver »

It comes down to local law and enforcement when you discuss whether something is legal or not. But someone has to define the law and to do that we need to use morality and somehow define what is "good" and what is "evil".

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by Biker »

I just love how people try to justify criminal behavior. Theft is theft. Period.
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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by FedoraRefugee »

Biker wrote:I just love how people try to justify criminal behavior. Theft is theft. Period.

Yep! And something else, just because something might happen to be "legal" does not make it morally right. Abortion is legal, many consider it murder. That is perhaps the most glaring example.

It is turning into an entitlement world. Everyone thinks they have all these rights to things they did not earn. Someone is trying to make a living producing the goods you are "copying." You are taking money from him. You are taking food from him and his family. That is theft, end of story. You can try and justify it however you want, the end result is still the same, you are a thief.

edit:
I quite understand the meaning of the term opportunity cost. The primary gripe with piracy is that it causes lost sales. This assumption is dubious at best or remarkably overstated. For this argument to ring true, the assumption must be made that if a user illegaly downloads a song, he or she would have purchased it. If the user never intended to purchase the song, then downloading the song illegally has not caused any sort of lost sales.
This just takes the cake for stupidity!!! :shock: If you do not buy the damn song then you have NO RIGHT TO IT!!! If you value it badly enough to want it THEN BUY IT!!! If everyone used this as an excuse then NO ONE would buy the song and EVERYONE would steal it (theft) and the song writer and band would go out of business because they could no longer afford to produce their goods so that lazy bastards who cannot work to earn the money for the things they want can steal it! :twisted: What the hell gives YOU the right? Why do you think you are ENTITLED? Do you not realize that for everything you just take, including free handouts from the government, someone else has to work for?

Yeah common sense is out the window. :?
The very fact that people choose to buy software instead of trying to get it for free demonstrates this.
No, you jackass! People buy software instead of steal it because they are HONEST! It is easy how fast an immoral person can lose sight of reality. All to justify their own immorality. This blogger actually tries to make himself the righteous one by going through all the trouble of trying to find the illegal download and cracking the software rather than taking the easy, wimpy way out and BUYING the software. :roll:
Lets get to our fruit/fire example. The fire guy can come to the first person and say:
- Listen, you worked the whole day gathering fruits and I worked the whole day starting the fire. Give me 5 fruits in exchange for the fire.
- Ok, that sounds fair - the fruit gatherer says.
Afterwards the fire guy visits all other people and performs the same exchange. In the end everyone in the village has 5 fruits and fire, except the fire guy, who is the big kahuna now, because he has 45 fruits. So he is 9 times richer than others, despite working equally hard. The next day people in the village will no doubt feel cheated and will refuse to pay for starting the fire next time it is needed.

I think both situations mentioned above take place in the real world. The price for intellectual property should depend on both the amount of work needed and the amount of people benefiting from it. In practice however it is extremely difficult to establish a financial system, which would ensure a fair exchange. Hence we can see the existing system being abused in both ways: authors practicing a monopoly and consumers stealing from authors.
Very good post eiver! Theoretically you are sound. However, why should the fire guy not get all he can for his fire? A good is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. You have 20 guys picking berries, but only one skilled worker who can create fire. You need my fire. I say my fire is worth 5 berries! If that is worth it to you then you will pay. I have the right to sell my fire to as many as possible! If I end up with 5,000 berries tomorrow then so what? Everyone benefited, everyone is happy, and there are unlimited berries still growing in the forest. Better yet, a few villagers will see how well I am doing and will become apprentice fire starters. Now we have 5 guys creating fire while the rest pick berries. I can no longer charge an outrageous 5 berries for a spark, I now have competition! The price of fire goes down, more people have jobs, the economy in my little village is booming between berry pickers and fire starters. Everything is good.

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by Biker »

Want to see how the criminals hurt everyone else? Take a look at the recent issues folks have been having trying to seed Mint via BitTorrent. Because the thieves have been so prolific, torrent sites are closing down rather than attempting to prevent theft from occurring. This is hurting the legitimate uses of torrent clients to allow others to download Linux distributions.

You can toss out every excuse in the book. I've heard them all. What it boils down to is folks being able to steal easily without any consequences. I'd love to see more prosecuted with outrageous fines and even jail time.
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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by monkeyboy »

eiver wrote:It comes down to local law and enforcement when you discuss whether something is legal or not. But someone has to define the law and to do that we need to use morality and somehow define what is "good" and what is "evil".
Yes but who defines what is moral? Most times its the group with enough power (economic, legal, military, etc) to make their definition stick. Like most things its the winners who write the rules, histories and social morays.
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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by eiver »

FedoraRefugee wrote: Very good post eiver! Theoretically you are sound. However, why should the fire guy not get all he can for his fire?
He should. However sometimes it is not best for him to do it. If anyone is interested in such topics, I really recommend to read something about topics like Game theory and Nash equilibrium. It really helps to understand why people behave in a certain way and not another way.
FedoraRefugee wrote:(...)The price of fire goes down, more people have jobs, the economy in my little village is booming between berry pickers and fire starters. Everything is good.
You are basically describing capitalism with a healthy economy. In many cases this is what happens in the real world. In some cases however it can become degenerate. (Like my two examples - one with monopoly - and one with stealing).
Biker wrote:Want to see how the criminals hurt everyone else? Take a look at the recent issues folks have been having trying to seed Mint via BitTorrent. Because the thieves have been so prolific, torrent sites are closing down rather than attempting to prevent theft from occurring.
This is a sick way of fighting thieves. Its like nuking the whole city, because there is a thief in it. Secondly it does not work - maybe slows things down a bit. "Cum ventis litigare".

monkeyboy wrote:Yes but who defines what is moral? Most times its the group with enough power (economic, legal, military, etc) to make their definition stick. Like most things its the winners who write the rules, histories and social morays.
Yes, thats exactly how the world works. Luckily in some countries the winners decided to write the rules of democracy, where everyone can have at least some influence on the law.
Generally the law tries to reflect the morality of people. Does the law reflect the morality of the society perfectly in every case - thats another issue.
In other words people managed to agree that certain things are moral and certain thing are not. For example killing another person is usually considered not moral and is punished severely. Of course there are more controversial cases, where agreement was never reached (For example the previously mentioned abortion).

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by FedoraRefugee »

eiver wrote:
FedoraRefugee wrote:(...)The price of fire goes down, more people have jobs, the economy in my little village is booming between berry pickers and fire starters. Everything is good.
You are basically describing capitalism with a healthy economy. In many cases this is what happens in the real world. In some cases however it can become degenerate. (Like my two examples - one with monopoly - and one with stealing).
Sha-Zam!!! I did, didn't I? :wink:

:lol:

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by randomizer »

The US Supreme Court has already drawn the distinction. In the eyes of the law they are different things and that's all that matters.

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by MrD »

Well, it should break down into Filesharing vs Piracy.

Filesharers frequently do not have the money to spend on products, may be disillusioned with the rubbish that is foisted onto them and want to 'try before they buy'

Pirates are in it for the money. They are the ones burning stuff to disc and selling it on, frequently poor quality versions of the products, with no support.

Developing countries citizens have little money and can hardly afford to feed and clothe themselves. They are forced to become filesharers. In industrial nations, many people are trapped by poverty, or at least managing on 'what the law says they need to live on' all too frequently.

Experiments have shown giving away products for free builds up alliances with authors, creators and develops a bond that means the consumer who is limited in money might actually pay for future products if they are affordable.

But ultimately, if people cannot pay for your products, then you weren't going to get the money for it anyhow. Some people are so poor that you have to ask yourself if they are going to give up their internet line to buy a dvd every month? Maybe cut off their landline to get another. Should we give up eating meat, drinking milk, buying new clothes when they are wearing out? Just to afford 2hrs of probably mundane viewing every month?

And then we move on to the authors and musicians who are paid such low wages for their work. The average UK author made £3,500 a year a few years back when I came across the figures. The publishers were giving them £0.50 per paperback sold. The point of sale would charge consumers £7.99 but would only give the publisher £4. Musicians/bands were getting a liveable wage, but no more. The music scene could buy their music, praise them, but the musicians were facing live concerts as their only way of making enough money to survive. Now along comes new labels, with contracts stating a wage for the musicians, concert monies owned by the label. Any argument that the authors or musicians are suffering is tempered by the fact that they were only seeing anyhwere down to 1/16th of the monies you were handing over anyhow.

We all need liveable wages or more. But when you've been trapped for the last decade or more with no spare money because you were on the minimum the law said you have to live on, and you face filesharing or nothing, black and white becomes shades of grey. Most filesharers I know hate pirates with a passion. Consumerism is a nightmare to most of us. Once you partially turn away from it, you find alternative ways of living. Strangely you become more unacceptable to society as a result of that, your peers fall away from you even though your life and sense of honour increases in areas consumers are pushing out of the way. It's funny, but those I know with money who have bought into the consumerist lifestyle are also the same ones who break the speed limits everywhere, park in disabled spots at the supermarket, push other people out of queues, lie and cheat, disrespect others. They paid for everything they wanted, but failed as human beings.

So, IMHO, piracy is theft! But you have to turn a blind eye to filesharers. Or you have to go fight for everyones rights.
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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by Biker »

Keep thinking that. It's still theft.
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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by FedoraRefugee »

randomizer wrote:The US Supreme Court has already drawn the distinction. In the eyes of the law they are different things and that's all that matters.
Has it? What case and what did it consist of? Dowling vs. the US was over bootleg records and did indeed distinguish between theft and piracy. However Digital Britain apparently does equate piracy to theft.

It is all irrelevant anyway, the US Supreme Court overturns its own rulings all the time. As we progress further into the digital age we need to rethink our laws. What used to be a relatively minor issue has now become serious. We can now own many different kinds of property in digital format. It is still property. Just the same as a patent is property.

Bottom line though is no matter what the Supreme Court, or any other court rules, it is an easy moral judgment to make. You are freely taking what you should be paying for. That is stealing...Theft. You can pad it, philosophize around it, justify it, or ignore it, but it is still theft. The act of taking something that does not belong to you. You know, thou shalt not steal?

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by FedoraRefugee »

MrD wrote: Developing countries citizens have little money and can hardly afford to feed and clothe themselves. They are forced to become filesharers.
More BS! :D Another LAME excuse! How is anyone FORCED to steal? Give me a bloody break! If they cannot afford it then they need to do without! I know that answer hurts your socialist feelings, but there it is! People do not have the RIGHT to free entertainment, no more than I can use this excuse to justify stealing a Ferrari.

"Oh man, I am soooo poor I cannot afford to buy a .99 cent mp3 to play on my ipod..."

Boo hoo!

Do you honestly believe the things you are writing?
But ultimately, if people cannot pay for your products, then you weren't going to get the money for it anyhow. Some people are so poor that you have to ask yourself if they are going to give up their internet line to buy a dvd every month? Maybe cut off their landline to get another. Should we give up eating meat, drinking milk, buying new clothes when they are wearing out? Just to afford 2hrs of probably mundane viewing every month?
For real? No, you should not give anything up for that 2 hour mundane movie! DO WITHOUT! Sheesh!

Listen, it is like that old philosophy argument; If your wife were dying and needed a certain medicine, but you had no money, would you steal that medicine to save her life? The "right" answer is no, I would trust in God to supply my needs. The TRUE answer is yes! I would steal it in a heartbeat, and I would steal it over and over of I had to. But that does NOT make it right, it is still STEALING! I accept that. I have a very good moral reason to steal, but I accept that I am breaking the law and going against God. Do YOU really need that movie THAT bad?

Listen, if you do not like your station in life then CHANGE IT! Get a bloody job, go to school. Do something with your life. Quit the whining sob story!
It's funny, but those I know with money who have bought into the consumerist lifestyle are also the same ones who break the speed limits everywhere, park in disabled spots at the supermarket, push other people out of queues, lie and cheat, disrespect others. They paid for everything they wanted, but failed as human beings.
Do you not understand what you are doing here? You are trying to justify YOUR actions by others. That is really sad!

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by FedoraRefugee »

I just found this in another forum. It is not my work, but I am adopting it as my own creed. I think it is very applicable because all this entitlement mentality in the world is seriously driving me nuts. They are nothing but whining, crying, lazy wimps not willing to lift a single finger to help themselves, but content to live off of handouts from their government and stolen entertainment, bitterly complaining against those who are successful and have made something out of their lives. They have infiltrated almost every government of the world with this insipid, corrupt mentality and are the single cause of almost all the evil there is today.

What ever happened to real men (and women) with backbones and guts? What happened to an honest day's work for an honest day's pay? What happened to help your neighbor? What mine is NOT yours, I worked damn hard for it. If you are in need then I will help you out, but you have NO RIGHT to steal DVD movies so you can watch them on your big screen LCD. It is not just piracy (or "filesharing" :roll: ), it is your ENTIRE WAY OF LIFE!!! Unless this world wakes up, and I mean like yesterday, we are ALL going down!

This is what I was taught and how I live:
I will live my life with God, country, family, friends and community foremost in my mind. While moving forward in pursuit of my destiny, I will not stray from servicing these indelible cornerstones.

I am responsible for knowing the difference between thinking and feeling, and I will not feel with my brain and think with my heart. I will not fulfill a short-term desire only to mortgage out my long-term well being. In essense, my mind and body are commodities on loan from God, and I am responsible for preserving them, not desecrating them. I will not undertake habits that are not in keeping with their overall health, regardless of how good it may feel in the moment. I will not "just do it if it feels good."

While pursuing my own happiness, I will do my best to serve the greater good, and I will not hurt my neighbor in the process. I will remain mindful where the line of decency is and I will not cross it in the name of "getting what I want." I will do not just what is legal, but what is moral, ethical and grounded in common sense. Nobody deserves to pay for my bad behavior.

If I am unhappy with the status quo and my overall station in life, be in personal or professional, it is my responsibility to make it better, not wait for someone or something else to make it better for me. I am responsible for earning my own way through life, and I am not entitled to what I don't earn. Moreover, I will not cite life's unfair circumstances as an excuse to do nothing or make the incorrect choices.

To stop the learning process and to rest on my laurels is the equivalent of traveling backward in time. It is my responsibility to learn, grow and expand on a daily basis.

I realize that adversity and stress are inevitable parts of life, and I will not go through life assuming nothing will ever go wrong. I will remain in a state of readiness to tackle problems and implement solutions.

What I reap, I sow. The teacher didn't give me the C-, I deserved it. I got suspended from work because I deserved it. The money is in my bank because I earned it. I have 5 perfect body fat because I went to a gym, not a pharmacy. I know about amortizations because I studied finance.

At the end of day, the person responsible for my overall quality of life is the person I see in the mirror everyday. Nobody gives it to me, and I don't take it from anyone.

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by mick55 »

...

Sh*t Fedora, you and Nick need to get a room.

He pushes your bells and buttons more than a $20 hooker. :P

Sha-Zam!!! :wink: :shock: :mrgreen:
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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by randomizer »

Biker wrote:Keep thinking that. It's still theft.
No, it is copyright infringement."Piracy" is really a misnomer because it implies theft when theft requires you to deprive the owner of something that they own. If I pirate Windows, I have not deprived Microsoft of Windows. Does this make it any less wrong? No, it doesn't. But throwing around wowser terminology that is inaccurate is not the way to have a debate.

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by DrHu »

This is what in legal circles is known as a technicality
--it is to be sophist

Piracy, the definition
A sentence is not only made up of single words, but the combined meaning (intent) of all the words, including the elements (the, this) and like terms

To a business piracy is theft
--even if it does not really affect their bottom line

Software development
  • Business is where most software is developed
    --someone is paying for it
  • The days of the single home/hobbyist developer as a paying proposition are long past
    --never really worked well, except at the very beginning of the micro evolution in the 1980's: shareware as a business model didn't pay off for most developers/programmers..
  • The oss model is not a paying model
  • oss plus some closed source may pay (a business)
    --but the closed source vendors might also not be paying, since they were piggybacking onto a base of oss code
  • The reverse, using closed source in an oss model isn't usually possible

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Re: Why piracy isnt theft

Post by eiver »

Another interesting thought is that currently majority of media and software is pirated (Lets say its 90% - feel free to find exact numbers). If suddenly all piracy went away everything could cost 10 times less, while authors and developers would still get the same amount of money. :P

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