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Copyright Infringement and Shoplifting Contrasted 562

Posted by Zonk
from the steal-this-post dept.
awesomeO4001 wrote in to mention a post to Karl Wagenfuehr's blog where he compares and contrasts the penalties for copyright infringement vs. shoplifting. From the post: "...from what I can tell, the penalties laid out for downloading one season of a TV show with BitTorrent are much harsher than if you actually stole a DVD set of the same show from a government store...For stealing the DVD you could face no more than up to 1 year imprisonment and up to a $100,000 fine; for downloading the same material you could face statutory damages of up to $3,300,000, costs and attorney's fees"
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Copyright Infringement and Shoplifting Contrasted

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  • by fembots (753724) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:32PM (#11633677) Homepage
    Maybe downloading a movie means you own a P2P-friendly file to redistribute it in the future, while stealing a DVD means you're only going to watch it at home.

    Obviously owning a physical DVD also allows you to turn it into P2P-friendly files, but that can't be fined yet since it hasn't happened, while the downloader already possesses the file.
    • by Ziviyr (95582) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:36PM (#11633736) Homepage
      Your realize that it is verging on trivial to pull playable files from a DVD?

      Moreover those files are of much higher quality.
      • by TGK (262438) <Killfile@NoSpaM.Nephandus.Com> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:01PM (#11634032) Homepage Journal
        My question is this. If the rational for this disparity is that the downloader is being punished for the theft and for his distribution of the material while the shoplifter is only being punished for the theft, is there not a fundamental conundrum?

        If Alice downloads a file illegaly and then shares it with Bob, Berry, and Bart, she can be punished with the downloader penalties, which include punishment for the illegal distribution of the work (i.e. representing the copying she did as well as the copying she allowed others to do).

        What then can Bob, Berry, and Bart be charged with? What if they download directly from Alice without sharing themselves? Alice has allready been convicted of the crime of distributing this data. How can they ALSO be guilty?

        Perhaps a paralell is in order. Lets take the case of the shoplifter. If he takes a copy of a DVD from Wal Mart he is punished for it if caught. Should Wal Mart ALSO be punished for failing to secure and protect copywritten materials?

        My point is this. If the purpose of copyright is to control the copying and we are to presume that any individual downloading is the one doing the actual copying, then it is clear that the person hosting the file is not at fault. If the person hosting the file is the one doing the copying then the person receiving the file is not at fault. If this were a criminal trial it would be one thing, but as a civil trial the plaintiff has rights only the damage done. The damge in this case works out to the value of the merchendise * the copies made.

        If $5,000,000 in stuff is ripped off from Wal Mart every year but they only catch 5 shoplifters are those five liable for $1,000,000 each? Why then are file sharers liable for damages other than those representitive of the fair market value of the files on their systems?
        • IANAL, but if I sell you stolen goods, then that is a crime. Likewise, if you could reasonably be expected to know the goods were stolen, then that is also a crime (theft by receiving, IIRC).

          As for your last paragraph, that's a mighty big if. However, if that were true (in general, not specifically for Wal Mart), then one would indeed expect that the fine should be greater than $1M. The idea is to make the expected value of the crime negative. As any good mathematician could tell you expected value is the

          • by utlemming (654269) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @04:05PM (#11634805) Homepage
            The idea is to make the expected value of the crime negative.
            That is an interesting idea. Making the value of a crime negative, or "not worth-it" is something that I support. But what about the difference between criminal and civil? The copyright laws make it criminial to do certain things. But how negative should the penalty of a crime be so to stop the crime?

            In the United States we generally agree that cutting the hand off of a theif is too negative. But fining someone into the ground is not. Fining a $1M is a nice idea in theory, but what good would it accomplish? The person that steals from Wal-mart, generally speaking, is not wealthy enough to buy the items in the first place, and therefore wouldn't have the means to pay in the first place. Placing a regressive fine on those who don't have the money to begin with would benefit society little (if the shoplifter only makes $25K a year, it would take 40 years for the shoplifter to pay the fine; meanwhile the shoplifter has to declare bankrupticy to get out of the judgment, thereby eliminating and circumventing the judgement and the debts of the offendar). $1M is too regressive, as it would ruin the offendar and the fine would never be paid. Rather, fining the offendar on a scale that would allow the offendar to pay, yet make it sufficent to hurt would be better. So in this example our $25K/year shoplifter pays $2,500. Enough to hurt, but not enough to ruin the guy.

            But the huge problem that I see with the whole copyright situation is that the punishment is extreme and serves very little purpouse. Why would $3,300,000 be a just punishment? Is the value of the product worth that much? TV shows, movies and music are not valued at insane amounts. Stealing a TV set won't land you a $3M fine. What benefit does fining people into the ground serve the public?

        • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:23PM (#11634316) Homepage
          If the rational for this disparity is that the downloader is being punished for the theft and for his distribution of the material while the shoplifter is only being punished for the theft, is there not a fundamental conundrum?

          Statutory damages apply regardless of the nature of the infringement. Reproduction alone is not treated differently than reproduction and distribution with regards to this. So that's not the rationale.

          If Alice downloads a file illegaly and then shares it with Bob, Berry, and Bart, she can be punished with the downloader penalties, which include punishment for the illegal distribution of the work (i.e. representing the copying she did as well as the copying she allowed others to do).

          No, that's incorrect. If you reproduce a copyrighted work, as occurs when you download it without authorization in an infringing manner, then that is one act of infringement by itself. Distributing the work to others, as occurs when you upload it without authorization in an infringing manner, is a seperate act of infringement.

          This doesn't matter for statutory damages, since they are computed per work infringed, not per infringement, but they are distinct. For example, you could buy a lawfully made copy of a work, and then distribute the work (e.g. by renting an audio CD) and that would be an infringement without any reproduction.

          What then can Bob, Berry, and Bart be charged with?

          Criminally, copyright infringement for downloading, if they satisfy the requirements for that. Civilly, I wouldn't say 'charged' but again, downloading copyrighted works without authorization, in an infringing manner, is copyright infringement.

          Alice has allready been convicted of the crime of distributing this data. How can they ALSO be guilty?

          There is a big distinction between criminal and civil actions (copyright has both civil and criminal penalties, but the civil branch of the law predominates). Anyway, distribution is not the same thing as reproduction -- that's how.

          If the purpose of copyright is to control the copying and we are to presume that any individual downloading is the one doing the actual copying, then it is clear that the person hosting the file is not at fault.

          Copyright actually deals with a number of different rights. Reproduction is one; distribution is an entirely seperate one. And there are others. See 17 USC 106.

          Why then are file sharers liable for damages other than those representitive of the fair market value of the files on their systems?

          Because it is felt that those damages are so low that no one would bother to obey the law.
          • In the -worst case- scenario, the risks of filesharing are economic, and in fact there's not even proof that it does economic damage. In essense, copyright laws create an artificial construct (intellectual property), an artificial problem (copyright infringement), and then uses real enforcement (massive monetary damages). Is it any surprise that people are angered when real lives are being destroyed to protect imaginary property?

            Contrast that with speeding. It has real risks (a driver at higher speed is m

    • I beg to differ. Though pointless, it is possible to put the DVD in your drive and make a torrent. Who would want to upload directly from the DVD, I don't know. Nor do I know who would want to download encrypted VOBs. But the possibility remains.

      Still, I think the people who write these laws should take a long, hard look at the realities of the situation.
    • by pintpusher (854001) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:40PM (#11633778) Journal
      This implies that you can be fined more for the POTENTIAL of committing further acts of copyright infringement. I don't think that holds up. That's like punishing a murderer for future murders they were thinking about committing.
      I read it like this: a store bought DVD has already paid its royalties to the copyright holder, if not directly produced by the copyright holder. The retailer through several levels, has paid the copyright holder for the material and then is reselling a pre-packaged, fully licensed sealed item. A shoplifter is merely stealing this already licensed and legal copy of an item. The shoplifter is not copying, distributing or performing any other COPYRIGHT infringement by merely walking out the door with it.

      A downloader however, by mere virtue of the fact that they have MADE A COPY of the material without paying the copyright holder for that privilege has violated the copyright.

      Its a different crime.

      Now, if the shoplifter rips it and passes on copies of it, then your back to COPYing the work...

      WHat happens if you download a copy of something you already own for purposes of backing up the material?

      • by |/|/||| (179020) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:54PM (#11633962)
        You made it clear what the differences are, but the real question is why should the downloader (who violated copyright) be punished more harshly than the thief?

        • Disclaimer: This is an explaination of what I beleive the thought process behind the penalties to be. It is not a explaination of my own opinions.

          The real answer is the downloader is punished more harshly than the theif because the downloader enables and encorages more damage than the theif.

          You walking into a store and filching a dvd doesn't enable the next guy to do it. And the only loss involved is the dvd. In order to do more damage, you would have to commit another crime.

          You downloading on a P2P not
      • by AdmiralWeirdbeard (832807) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:34PM (#11634444)
        I think you're the only person I've noticed so far to point out the key to understanding the disjoint between penlaties for infringement and theft.

        In the case of intellectual property violation, you're dealing with a very powerful industry that has not been subject to largescale "theft" of their product before a few years ago. They suddenly see their profits dropping and believe it to be the result of "theft" through filesharing. Their lobbyists go to work, and we get regressive penalties for filesharing.

        In the case of theft of the physical DVD, the retailer has already bought the DVD, so the financial burden falls Not on the production house, but on the retailer... and here's the key... WHO DEALS WITH THEFT ALREADY AND HAS DEALT WITH IT FOREVER, AND WILL DEAL WITH IT INTO THE FUTURE. Shoplifting is a part of the overhead, particularly for large retailers, and while they act to decrease it (cameras, security tags, etc) they know that real steps to ERADICATE it would be silly and drive away patrons. (I'm imagining a wal-mart associate following each and every customer around to make sure that they dont steal... or locking ALL wares behind cases.... attack ferrets to chase and ravage children toying with the locks... etc)

        Sorry, that was an extended parenthetical, but i think my point is clear. If store were as fanatical in preventing the shoplifting of CD's and DVD's as the RIAA and MPAA are trying to be regarding their intellectual property rights, nobody would shop there, cause nobody likes being treated like a criminal from the off.
    • This is the shady part of the law that deals with "intent". "Possession with the intent to distribute". "Assault with the intent to kill".

      Unfortunately, because P2P has gotten such a harsh rap, it's easy for a prosecutor to link digital "theft" with the "intent to distribute".

      AFAIK, there's no distinction between theft and intent in any existing copyright laws. But I could be wrong. And if it doesn't exist yet, it will soon.

    • Obviously owning a physical DVD also allows you to turn it into P2P-friendly files, but that can't be fined yet since it hasn't happened, while the downloader already possesses the file.

      Your interpretation is inconsistent. Either you penalize people for the potential to commit the crime or you don't. It's not illegal to own copyrighted material in a P2P friendly format. It's illegal to distribute them.

      You're making the arguement that, in the shoplifter's case, he COULD redistribute the movie he st

    • tealing a DVD means you're only going to watch it at home
      Or you could steal it just to sell it to someone else cheaper than what they buy it for.
    • Unfortunately their pricing model is flawed.

      I think the problem is, if I steal a car from GM's factory, how much have I stolen, the retail or wholesale value of the vehicle?

      How about intellectual property, have I stolen the costs that it took to make the CD, or the suggested MSRP? Why does the RIAA assume that the MSRP is what is stolen?

      With the GM vehicle, we have a greater chance of market competition causing the price to drop down to the cost of the materials + cost of labor. It's not perfect by any
    • by ari_j (90255)
      The thing is that, after you do your time and pay your fine, with the DVDs you won't have anything to watch, while with P2P downloads you will have made a backup to watch. :)
    • and that fact sucks.. DOWNLOADING a file breaks no law.

      The fact is, the current wave of P2P apps share as soon as downloading has begun- he assumes too much -in that it therefore always equates downloading with uploading

      from the article "Now, while you were downloading, you were simultaneously making available for upload what you already had; this is how BitTorrent works, "
      not a wholly accurate statement-

      it's the uploading.. if I want to set emule to ZERO upload, I'll download at a rate of .000

  • by VE3ECM (818278) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:33PM (#11633697)
    Hell, I'm off to J&R to 'pick up' the latest DVD I was going to d/l...

    And you figure, because the tangible good is pressed, not burned or stored in a HDD, it'll last a lot longer...
    All this article does is show how unequal punishments are in the Western judicial system.

  • Differences Abound (Score:4, Insightful)

    by syntap (242090) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:33PM (#11633701)
    When you are downloading the movie via BitTorrent you are also farming it out to multiple other clients. So the anology is more like going into Best Buy with your DVD-burning laptop, sitting there and making copies and handing them to customers, then leaving with your own copy.
    • by Anita Coney (648748) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:36PM (#11633744) Homepage
      You don't get it. The more severe sentence is true whether you use BitTorrent or simply download them from an FTP server.

      The additional penalties have NOTHING to do with the sharing. It's simply because the movie industry has more power and influence with Congress than local retailers. (Which is shocking when you consider that Wal-Mart is a local retailer!)

      • by DrEldarion (114072) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:56PM (#11633989)
        Actually, no, you only get the more severe sntence when you're sharing the files, otherwise YOU aren't actually infringing on anything, just the person sharing it is. This is why the RIAA can't just sit there sharing copies of all its songs on Kazaa and then prosecuting anyone who downloads them.

        With BT, you're automatically sharing with all other peers, that's why there's a problem there.
        • by Anita Coney (648748) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:07PM (#11634122) Homepage
          That's one of the largest myths about copyright. The copyright industry could easily come after you for every infringing song or movie on your hard drive. It'd rather go after sharers, because in a public relations point of view, they seem more culpable.

          Downloading a copy of a song you have no right to have IS infringing a copyright. Whether you keep it or not.

        • by Bodysurf (645983)
          "This is why the RIAA can't just sit there sharing copies of all its songs on Kazaa and then prosecuting anyone who downloads them."

          The **AA certainly could do this! In civil court, there is no law against entrapment. The **AA could put their stuff up for download, log the people downloading it, then sue them. And it would be totally legal. And the **AA would win. Ask any lawyer.

    • I want to see the look on a Best Buy manager's face when he realizes I'm sitting in the corner of his store, burning DVDs on a laptop, and handing them out to people.

      Would I get both punishments, then?
    • Good comparison. Except in a store they can catch you physically holding a DVD in your hands. Point you a thief, end of story.

      It's very hard to prove you are really holding a giant mpeg on your filesystem.

      -Is it really on a filesystem?

      -What if it's a shared filesystem on someone else's network?

      -What if it's a split in parts. With other files on other networks.

      -Wouldn't you also have to break the law and break into someone's PC to see the filesystem too. It's tricky.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What's a "government store"?
  • by testednegative (843833) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:34PM (#11633708)
    ... if you downloaded a movie which you own because you stole the dvd from a store :S
  • If you are using P2P software, you are not only downloading, but also uploading, which helps other users infrginge the copyright too. This is far more worrying to the copyright holders than one person stealing one copy. Also it is much easier to get away with downloading so a harsher penalty acts as more of a deterrent.
    • Good point, and also the fact that you are getting it online means that somebody else had to put in there, so it is like you are freely getting already stolen goods...sort of like a double whammy.
    • If you are using P2P software, you are not only downloading, but also uploading, which helps other users infrginge the copyright too. This is far more worrying to the copyright holders than one person stealing one copy.

      Actually copyright holders don't care if you steal their stuff from stores because they still end up getting paid. The store loses, but not the copyright holder.
  • It does take more resources to find you online than it does to post you picture from the security camera on TV and the web.

    Oh wait.... ;-D
  • Easily explanable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:35PM (#11633715)
    For stealing the DVD you could face no more than up to 1 year imprisonment and up to a $100,000 fine; for downloading the same material you could face statutory damages of up to $3,300,000, costs and attorney's fees

    It's a question of risk: if you shoplift, you face a much higher chance of getting caught, thanks to CCTV, security guards at the exit, and the silly square bulge in your pants that doesn't look so natural to the cashier. If you download a movie, there isn't remotely as much risk (remember the last time you had an adrenalin rush when clicking on a .torrent link?).

    So therefore, the only way to instill fear in the mind of "internet shoplifters" is to up the possible penalty.
    • by ivan256 (17499) * on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:46PM (#11633859)
      So therefore, the only way to instill fear in the mind of "internet shoplifters"...

      The only time quantity of punishment will affect the behavior of somebody breaking the law is when it is accompanied by certainty of punishment.

      They can make the punishment for internet copy infringement as large as they like, but they won't reduce the amount of copying that occurs as long as they are only capabale of catching one in a ten million infringers. All raising the penalty in that case does is unfairly punish the few people they do manage to catch.
      • Re:Easily explanable (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:57PM (#11633995)
        The only time quantity of punishment will affect the behavior of somebody breaking the law is when it is accompanied by certainty of punishment.

        Not at all: that's the very reason people play the lottery: their chances of winning are nearly naught, but millions play everyday because they reckon the enormous bounty is worth the ridicule odds.

        Likewise, that's the reason a big drop was observed [wired.com] at the height of **AA-instigated lawsuits last year: chances of losing at the P2P game (not winning this time :-) are very small indeed, but the stiff penalty puts many people off, just in case they end up losing.
    • Bulge? (Score:3, Funny)

      by Ibag (101144)
      "and the silly square bulge in your pants that doesn't look so natural to the cashier"

      Its a medical condition, you insensitive clod, and I'll thank you not to stare. This is why I have to spend so much time on the internet downloading...tv shows.
    • I would bet the costs of catching and gathering evidence on a file-sharer are much higher as well.
    • Re:Easily explanable (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LuxFX (220822)
      It's a question of risk: if you shoplift, you face a much higher chance of getting caught

      I don't think it's so much to do with risk, although that might be what lawmakers tell themselves so they can sleep at night.

      The thing is, if you steal a DVD, you steal it from WalMart or Best Buy, not from ABC or Warner Brothers, because the retailer has already purchased it from their supplier, etc.... If you download it, you are stealing it 'directly' from ABC or WB, at least in their eyes. And it's the studios
    • Re:Easily explanable (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pofy (471469)
      >So therefore, the only way to instill fear in
      >the mind of "internet shoplifters" is to up the
      >possible penalty.

      This doesn't bode well. Me, using a pencil and paper copying a poem from a book I have is next to impossible to find out. The chance of getting cought approchaes zero. So the penalty would approach infinity. At the very least the panlty should start in the billions of dollar.

      On the other hand it bodes well for my planned bank robbery. I intend to call the police before hand, not use mas
  • by julesh (229690) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:35PM (#11633721)
    My understanding of the situation is that the statutory damages are only available if the file was available for other people to download from you (and it is therefore assumed that they did).

    They're not just damages for a single instance of copying, but also for the contribution you made to those other people downloading from you.
    • That is incorrect.

      The only obstacles to an imposition of statutory damages are at 17 USC 412 and extremely rare cases (they won't apply to anyone here) under 504(c)(2).

      Even one single instance of infringement, such as by reproduction, will permit a claim of statutory damages that can be as low as $200 per work, or as high as $150,000 per work. It's fairly simple: just read 17 USC 106(1), 501, and 504(a),(c).

      The other people who downloaded from you have also infringed, and if the plaintiff wants damages f
  • So my choice is (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the_skywise (189793) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:35PM (#11633727)
    1 year in jail and up to a $100,000 fine.

    or no jail time and up to a $3 million fine.

    I dunno... I think the latter is still a "lesser" punishment as the judge will probably still put the fine at about $100,000 depending upon the # of downloads.
  • but (Score:5, Funny)

    by Quasar1999 (520073) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:36PM (#11633730) Journal
    Can I shoplift from a store in my underwear? I think the extra 3.2 million is a convenience fee for being able to commit crime in my parent's basement...

  • I guess (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WormholeFiend (674934) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:36PM (#11633733)
    the penalties are commensurate with the impact they want to make in the media.

    If you publish a story about a guy who got caught shoplifting, nobody's going to care.

    However, make a big splash about a 12 year old girl or a 80+ year old grand-mother and their dog being sued into oblivion, and the story gets everybody going "WTF".

    They're obviously going for the shock-therapy/re-education treatment of the masses.
  • by QuantGuy (654249) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:36PM (#11633741)

    More proof that the entertainment industry has Congress in its pocket.

    I'd love to see the RIAA and MPAA prosecuted under the RICO statute. (Wishful thininking, I know.)

  • I'm going to steal a DVD... and then upload it! (jk)
  • Motiviation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by teiresias (101481) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:38PM (#11633762)
    While I agree the punishment seems harsh in contrast to petty crime (stealing), I think the biggest difference is the ability to do that makes the difference.

    It takes a different type of motivation to go into a store and steal a DVD. It's much more offical physically stealing something. We've been taught that this is a crime and there are reprecussions.

    Whereas with access to a computer, the only person to guilt you is uh...no one? With no one else in your room, no shop keeper, a vague moral lesson going around, it's a lot easier to justify.

    A lawmakers response is the only one they know. To ratchet up the punishment and cross their fingers it'll solve the problem.
  • downloading one season of a TV show with BitTorrent
    AFAIK in the USA, downloading a season of a TV show is OK if it was recorded from an over the airwaves broadcast. I feel that over the air broadcast is covered under fair use and timeshifting. Now if I downloaded a season of a TV show that was ripped from DVD or VHS then it is illegal.
    Is it now automatically illegal to download a TV show?
  • It takes a lot more time and effort in order to find and prosecute a P2P pirate than a shoplifter. As well, P2P piracy is a more pressing problem. And furthermore, when you use BT or some other programs, you're not only doing the equivalent of "shoplifting" the DVD, you're also distributing copies of the DVD illegally - which carries a much higher penalty than simple shoplifting in it's own right.

    What's the solution? DON'T STEAL/PIRATE MOVIES/BOOKS/SOFTWARE/MUSIC/etc.! It's VERY simple to avoid being c
    • Punishments that are not commesurate with the crime are stupid, whether the law itself is just or not. I'll also take issue with whether or not p2p is a more pressing problem - shoplifting, which is literal outright theft, costs *billions* every year. It can cripple a small business. The indirect costs, in the form of store security are huge. P2P is simple a) newer b) more high profile. The reason it's high profile is because it's a) new and b) directly affects the companies responsible for deciding what ge
    • I see nothing wrong with this....P2P piracy is a more pressing problem.

      Except that P2P isn't a real problem just one made up by the RIAA, MPAA to account for theoretical sales that in all likelyhood WOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED ANYWAY.

      For the most part people who steal music would have just went without, P2P has not changed the buying habits for the worse, on the contrary studies show P2P has even elevated sales in some cases.

      You should probably take into account that the current MPAA, RIAA situation is bad for

  • There's a bit of a false dichotomy at work here. The issue as it is presented is not the same at all. And the heart of the problem is bitTorrent itself. Lets use an older P2P protocol like GnuTella or something where you get a copy of Alias but you don't share it back. And you can somehow prove this.

    You haven't committed copyright infringement. In the P2P case, you have. As the law sees it, even though in reality you only shared a few bytes of each episode's MPEG.

    So, the analogy breaks down. It would
  • by Monkelectric (546685) <slashdot AT monkelectric DOT com> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:43PM (#11633814)
    Look people, the US government does NOT SERVE YOU. It serves the interests of the moneyed and corrupt corporations which support it.

    Shopplifting: not a threat to said corporations.
    P2P social revolution: threat.

    From that perspective, its quite easy to see WHY the penalties are set up the way they are.

  • by juvlaw (858253) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:43PM (#11633824)
    Shoplifting of an item under 500 bucks is a class A misdemeanor governed typically by state statutory code unless it occurs on federal land. Range of punishment is in most states up to 1 year in the county jail and up to a measely 1,000 fine. Restitution can be assessed for the amount of actual loss. When the value of the item taken exceeds 500 dollars it becomes a C felony and the range of punishment bumps up to 7 years and a 5,000 fine, plus restitution for the actual harm. Just my two cents as prosecutor.
  • by mr.newt (244023) <xxnewt34&yahoo,com> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:44PM (#11633838)
    This is just more evidence of the irrationality of copyright law, and particularly the DMCA. Copyright law is, at its roots, defined to create an artificial scarcity so people will continue producing creative works. I know this has been said to death, but no one seems to be listening: if copyright law is no longer serving its purpose (it isn't) then it should be done away with.
  • Uhhh, no kidding (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:46PM (#11633862) Journal
    C'mon, you guys know why this is -- it's the same excuse you always throw around to explain why piracy isn't "stealing".

    The cost of duplication of copyrighted goods, particularly in digital form, is trivial. Accordingly, it's a much bigger threat to the legitimate owners than is theft of physical objects, and is punished accordingly.

  • Here's a hypothetical:

    Person walks into Best Buy, opens a DVD, copies it to their laptop hard drive, leaves Best Buy. Copyright infringement. Sentenced to a Federal Pound Me in the Ass Prison for years.

    Person walks into Best Buy with laptop. Shoplifts DVD. Gets caught. Misdemeanor - usually a $500 max fine, 90 days in jail, depending on jurisdiction.

    Person walks into Best Buy with laptop. Shoplifts DVD. Doesn't get caught. Gets home and copies DVD to Laptop Hard Drive. Fair use. No penalty. Whe
  • Well, suppose you get a letter stating you have downloaded copyright material and you are being sued to the tune of $$$.

    Would it not be cheaper just to run over to the local Walmart and purchase all the stuff that was downloaded? Buying real copies from Walmart to prove prior ownership has got to be way cheaper than paying the fine/legal charges/etc.

    This way, you can say that you actually have the copies and you were downloading mp3s, dvds to have backups and different formats.
  • That's it, I'm uninstalling BitTorrent and buying a trenchcoat with deep pockets.
  • Compare this... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PortHaven (242123) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:54PM (#11633965) Homepage
    Compare...selling me low-quality cheesy ringer towns of songs I already own at twice the cost of the actual CD cost.

    Then don't give me a license. And tell me that I'm SOL when my phone dies.

    Then explain to me why i should give a crap about copyrights and theivery?
  • by Speare (84249) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @02:56PM (#11633986) Homepage Journal
    This is based on somebody's little rant in a personal blog? Wake me up when CNN actually publishes anything that even remotely resembles introspection on copyright laws. Better yet, write these screeds to congressfolk, not to kitty14@aol readers. The world won't change just because people are bickering around in blogs.
  • by luwain (66565) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:03PM (#11634062)
    Who cares what the penalties are?
    If you're an honest person and you don't do the crime, then whatever penalties are irrelevant. I think the real problem is that people are being tried, convicted and punished without due process. The RIAA is wielding power like the IRS, but they are NOT a judicial body or a government agency. As us chessplayers like to say," the threat can be more effective than the execution..." Many people are forced to settle out of court, and more than a few innocent people have been harrassed. In a democracy this shouldn't happen. So the real problem with the overblown penalties is that the threat of such draconian penalties leads to extortion by the RIAA. The penalties don't work that well as a deterrent, millions are still downloading copyrighted material, but they do give the RIAA leverage to pressure money out of people without having to actually prove their case in a court of law.
  • by Richthofen80 (412488) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:04PM (#11634076) Homepage
    Punishments aren't meted out to fit crimes, they are created to compensate for enforceability. It is MUCH easier to enforce shoplifting at a retail store than it is to enforce filesharing copyrights.

    The idea behind this is that while punishments are low for shoplifting, the chance of getting caught is high. In the filesharing situation, the chance of getting caught is low, so they try and jack up the punishment to make it that more serious if you do get caught.

    Also, it is interesting to note ownership of property at time of theft for these crimes, as a comparison. In shoplifting, the retail chain has paid a distributor, record label, or movie production firm for the merchandise. The theft of a product still benefits those distributors. However the theft of a movie before a retail establishment purchases it means it hits the bottom line of the distributor directly. Personally, I bet the distributors couldn't give a rat's ass whether you shoplifted, since that copy was already paid for, and now the retail store has to buy another copy to replace the one you stole.

    But copyright-infringement means that demand for the items on the shelf don't change. IE the retailer doesn't need to reorder another copy to fill the empty shelf.

    PS don't take my observation as a support for copyright-infringement. I don't believe it to be right.
  • by D4C5CE (578304) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:14PM (#11634195)
    Take the case of a small station or cable company retransmitting or "time-shifting" a show (that has already aired a gazillion times before) e.g. in one isolated breach of 17 U.S.C. 111, 501 et seq. - the law itself suggests that the award of damages (if anyone bothered to go to court over the issue at all) would be fairly minimal, and criminal prosecution highly unlikely, given the fact that an umpteenth re-broadcast watched by a few hundred viewers is of almost negligible impact on the rightholder.
    On the other hand, demanding entirely overblown surveillance, censorship, damages and punishment, just for going after alleged one-time infringers sometimes not far from the borderline of fair use (excerpts on fan pages being taken down "at lawyerpoint" etc.), and even if the "suspects" happen to be minors, or 83 years old (let alone...deceased!), seems to appear perfectly adequate to many people if one sticks a label like "pirates" on such "bad" guys to mislead observers into believing someone else had actually been disposessed of an irreplacable piece of physical property merely by copying (part of) it.
    IIRC there used to be something they called the First Amendment... [chillingeffects.org]
  • by RmanB17499 (829438) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:17PM (#11634239)
    18 USC 641 which it cites as an example to be used for application in a shoplifting casing couldn't apply to almost any situation.

    Which government stoare have you been to that sells DVD's?

    Also, very importantly, the intent of the law is to help differntiate between different crimes.

    If I were to shoplift a fur coat or nice cell phone no copyrigh law could obviously apply in this case. But on the other hand I could shoplift a DVD or computer software and then go further and help pirate it: now I've broken more than one law, obviously. First, I have stolen from the merchant and his or her harm is limited to the $20 in retail sales lost. But my piracy activity takes on another crime in another form: criminal copyright activity.

    I think the difference isn't neccesarily the same. If I were an author, publish, programmer I would want me original creative work to be more protected than just one copy that got the "five finger discount." I would see the greater danger to my business, my property, and livelihood in the rampant privacy not in the occassional theft. That's why the crimes are differentiated. Also, the harm to society is worse if on a grand scale my copyright is abused and damanged then if one merchants single copy is lifted.

    Shoplifting isn't a violation of Federal law in any case.

    Virginia
    18.2-96. Petit larceny defined; how punished.

    Any person who:

    1. Commits larceny from the person of another of money or other thing of value of less than $5, or

    2. Commits simple larceny not from the person of another of goods and chattels of the value of less than $200, except as provided in subdivision (iii) of 18.2-95, shall be deemed guilty of petit larceny, which shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

    (Code 1950, 18.1-101; 1960, c. 358; 1966, c. 247; 1975, cc. 14, 15; 1980, c. 175; 1992, c. 822.)

    And in Virginia:

    (a) For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.
  • by Captoo (103399) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:17PM (#11634245)
    If you shoplift a movie, the store pays for it. The store already bought the movie from a distributor, so the MPAA already has their cut of the pie and they don't care what happens to it. If you download a movie, the MPAA doesn't get the revenue that it feels it deserves.

    While the net cost to society is probably about the same either way, people get punished more if they steal from organizations with large legal budgets.
  • by crovira (10242) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @03:24PM (#11634323) Homepage
    or listen to their crap. Fair use is immaterial. If they could they'd wire your ears and eyes up directly to a meter and change you for every second of your life.

    As it is, its hard enough to get away from the ads, promos and all the other schlock.

    I'd rather think than be considered as a money pump. Hence, I don't listen, I don't watch... At least not what they'd want me to. I'm ann unplugged-in subversive.

... when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. -- Fred Brooks

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