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The Semantics of File Sharing 506

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-say-tomato-i-say-cease-and-desist dept.
ethericalzen writes "The LA Times has published an opinion article about the legal semantics and analogies of file sharing. The article includes arguments from those who believe file sharing is theft and those who strongly disagree. As it points out, the common analogies to theft are often incomplete or inaccurate. The author states, "balancing the interests of content creators against the public's ... is a much more complicated task than erecting a legal barrier to five-fingered discounts." He recognizes that it is not a trivial concept, and that the clamoring from both camps about definitions and moral boundaries will dictate how businesses and users function in the future."
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The Semantics of File Sharing

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  • No better then /. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by webmaster404 (1148909) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:21PM (#22509794)

    The article includes arguments from those who believe file sharing is theft and those who strongly disagree. As it points out, the common analogies to theft are often incomplete or inaccurate


    So in other words its just an article that is what Slashdot is like every time an *AA story gets posted? Some calling it theft and others saying its not?
  • Ahhh, Semantics... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Wandering Wombat (531833) <mightyjalapeno AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:23PM (#22509814) Homepage Journal
    The last resort of the desperate Internet argument.

    Still, this will either a) finally put down on paper that file sharing is not theft, or b) put down on paper that the exchange of copyrighted information is, in fact, theft, and then everyone is in a world of poop. My old VHS recordings of Red Dwarf and The Muppets will suddenly become a complicated legal quagmire.

    Now, quagmire is semantically defined as...
  • by susano_otter (123650) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:25PM (#22509832) Homepage
    Some things really just need to be explained in terms of themselves. Computer networks are not highway systems. They're not houses. They're not cars, or floor waxes, or dishwashing detergents. They do a totally unique thing, using technologies and paradigms that didn't even exist before computers were invented to make use of them.

    OF COURSE analogies don't work.
  • by Protonk (599901) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:26PM (#22509840) Homepage
    Semantics does not always have to be used in the perjorative sense. Here we are literally parsing the terms to determine what might be good or bad for society. Semantics is legally important because most legal arguments are made by analogy (fundamentally, that is what a reference to a prior case is).
  • by Goldberg's Pants (139800) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:28PM (#22509862) Journal
    It always amused me how the popular analogy from the other camp was "Oh, so if you want a car, it's okay to steal it is it?" So they can get all high and moral. But when you break it down and say "Okay, I'm going to make an exact duplicate of your car, never once depriving you of the usage of it. It will not inconvenience you in any way." The argument rather falls flat on it's face.

    The whole "filesharing = theft" equation is almost entirely down to MPAA, RIAA and other organizations brainwashing people. Saying something a 1000 times doesn't make it true. If it did, downloading WOULD be theft by this point. But it's still copyright violation, which is why these groups, with their large political donations, have made copyright violation are far FAR harsher crime than theft ever was.

    I break into your house and nick your Transformers DVD, at worst I'd probably go down for 30 days, unless I'm haibitual. Small fine probably. The charge will be breaking and entering, theft etc... I download Transformers from you instead, we BOTH face tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and many years in jail.

    You're better off, from a jailtime perspective, heading into your local WalMart, nicking a few DVD's, then rape the cashier on the way out. You'll serve less time than if you get caught downloading the movie.

    The semantic aren't really the issue here, as the powers that be want to have their cake AND eat it too. They want the association in the public eye to be IT'S THEFT! IT'S NO DIFFERENT THAN STEALING A CAR! But in the back rooms they know this is bullshit, and continue to push on with copyright violation punishments being exponentially increased.

    What you or I call it is irrelevant.
  • by Pearson (953531) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:28PM (#22509864)
    "Downloading a movie off of the Internet is the same as taking a DVD off a store shelf without paying for it," adds the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

    If this were true, the punishment would be the same.
  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:29PM (#22509884)
    Actually it's very similar. He points out the arguments on both ends and comes to a middle ground by concluding that it's like stealing cable, which is much closer to the same thing. And as we all, they both happen a lot and only cost the companies in lost revenue that they may or may not have lost otherwise.
  • Greed on all sides (Score:5, Insightful)

    by syousef (465911) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:29PM (#22509886) Journal
    Any time you find weasel words and bad analogies going unchecked, follow the money trail. This isn't about artist's rights. If anyone gave a crap about that there'd be an uproar about unfair record contracts and middle men getting all the money. Basically in this case you have:
    1) Artists who hope to get rich by gaming the system (as a few artists certainly have).
    2) Middle men going to extreme measures (like bankrupting or jailing people, draconian drm) to protect their "right" to collect most of the money.
    3) Lots of people who are happy to take content without compensating anyone for it.

    There are exceptions but the status quo is pretty bad. Still, the human race has bigger problems. Pollution. Overpopulation. War. Disease. Compared to that this is all petty bullshit and a waste of words. All these people just need to stop grubbing for every last dollar and accept that sometimes life isn't going to hand them what they're due, what they're worth, or what they've earnt. Other people will take you for all that you're worth if they can - it doesn't give you the right to adopt the same attitude.

    In other words: Life ain't fair. Get over it. There are many more important things than the latest film or pop song. Stop penalizing everyone you can to protect your own money grubbing arse.
  • by Protonk (599901) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:31PM (#22509910) Homepage
    where does this literal thinking come from? Legally we need analogies because past cases dictate future decisions and past cases can't possibly be written with the future in mind. This does not mean that analogies are by themselves valid, we are not excused from thought and judgement. What it does mean is that we make connections between the past and the present and we reason based on those connections. Both the reasoning and the connection should be scrutinized.

    Take, for example, the current case law surrounding IR surveillance by cops. The case was basically decided by treating heat radiated from a home as "waste" so the person involved forfeited their right to privacy to that waste heat. This may seem like a bad decision, but realize that it was made in a time when IR sensors couldn't 'see' through walls effectively enough to make out features, body parts, etc (they still really can't). Once that happens, the case will come up again and the reasoning will probably be revised.

  • by Wandering Wombat (531833) <mightyjalapeno AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:33PM (#22509926) Homepage Journal
    In that case, please send me 75 cents for reading my post.
  • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:34PM (#22509940) Homepage Journal
    Seriously. The copies have value (otherwise, why would you spend the time to get them?). When you download something, the result is that more people have these valuble copies. For some kinds of things, this may even increase the value of copies that other people already have (anything that has network effects). So by downloading a copy of something, you create value. The only catch is, the copyright holder isn't able to take out their cut.
  • We use analogies to explain something people don't understand by using something they are familiar with. If you hate arguments by analogy, you simply hate people who don't have the same knowledge set as you.

    Now, arguments by analogy can and are often abused, and analogies are easy to overextend, but basic logic and common sense are tools in preventing these problems. Maybe you hate logic and common sense, too. I don't know. Understanding your position is like ...
  • Its not semantics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:36PM (#22509970) Homepage Journal
    Copyright violation is not theft. Period, and end of story. There is no semantical issue here, its simply not true.

    Now, that said it may ( or may not ) be a civil offense, and even may become a criminal offense if the IP industry gets it way, but its not by definition theft nor will it ever be.
  • by Damon Tog (245418) * on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:48PM (#22510064)

    Let's consider your analogy of cloning a car:

    It doesn't deprive the original owner of anything, but modern cars do require a considerable amount of investment to design and test. By cloning a car, you are taking advantage of the work and investments of the company that builds them, while choosing not compensate them for it.

    The logical conclusion of your analogy is not that it is OK to clone cars, but that the clones themselves would have to be sold in a manner that reflects the fact that copies are unlimited (even if the resources and time that goes into designing and testing a car is not unlimited).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:49PM (#22510074)
    No.

    Theft is Theft.

    Copyright infringement is Copyright infringement.

    Both illegal, but both very distinct and seperated.

    Why do people not get this?
  • If I shared the contents of your PC with the world, would that be OK?
    That's a privacy issue. It's completely different.

    How about sharing the contents of your bank account?
    If you could make a copy of it without taking away my copy, sure. But bank accounts don't work like that, do they? So this is also completely different.

    Let's face it folk. IP theft is theft.
    Why, just because you say so?

    Just because it is easy to do or everyone does it does not make it right.
    It also doesn't make it wrong.
  • by susano_otter (123650) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:51PM (#22510092) Homepage

    Legally we need analogies because past cases dictate future decisions and past cases can't possibly be written with the future in mind.

    There's a first time for everything. Why can't novel situations produce a novel body of laws based on consideration of the actual harm actually caused by those novel situations per se, rather than a derivative body of laws based on some poorly-conceived and thoroughly inaccurate analogy?

    A man's life is not analagous to his property. We don't use property law to try homicide cases.

    And why not be literal? Are the basics of computer networking too difficult for judges and lawyers to understand on their own terms? Let's take a literal look at bandwidth "stealing" for example:

    When I "steal" you bandwith, what is literally happening is that my device is making a request to your device. Your device, configured by you, activated by you, either approves or denies my request. If it approves my request, there is literally no theft--I have your written permission, recorded in the configuration of your device, to use your bandwidth. And if it denies my request, there is literally no theft, because I cannot use your bandwidth. That's the way the protocol is written, that's the way the protocol is enforced. It's literally that simple and straightforward. No need for analogies. The thing is completely understandable in terms of itself.
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:52PM (#22510106) Homepage Journal

    Stating something forcefully as a fact does not make it a fact.
    Agreed, but in this case it IS a fact. Go look up the definition of theft. It is not the same as IP infringement.

    Again, im not debating if IP infringement is right or wrong as that is a totally different discussion, the only point im making here is that its NOT theft. The continued labeling of it as theft is dishonest marketing.
  • by mapkinase (958129) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:52PM (#22510108) Homepage Journal
    Why do we need analogies? Why do we need to find similarities? It is a simple case of two parties, one of which is accusing the other as the source of their financial losses. It does not matter what do you call it. If one side can prove that their losses were because of the actions of another, that's it. Copyright violation is already a crime. If I make a VHS tape of the Seinfeld episode, they will have hard time proving that I incurred significant losses on NBC. If I made a torrent out of it and put it on the seeder it's another issue.

    See? No need for bad or any analogies.
  • by CSMatt (1175471) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:01PM (#22510156)
    You can legitimately argue that something like unauthorized file sharing is like theft, but not that it is theft.
  • I Call It "Speech" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LuYu (519260) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:02PM (#22510172) Homepage Journal

    I have a word for "file sharing": I call it "speech". I have the Right (as in God-given, inalienable, fundamental, and/or natural -- take your pick) to repeat any speech that enters my realm of experience from any source.

    • If a picture is worth a thousand words, I have the Right to repeat those thousand words.
    • If I hear a tune, I have the Right to sing it.
    • If I read a book, I have a Right to repeat any or all of the information in that book.

    Before the internet became popular, copyright did not very significantly encroach upon the territory of Free Speech. Now, no one can reasonably claim that copyright does not restrict Free Speech and education. Obviously, Free Speech is more important than copyright, just as Democracy is more important than monopoly privileges.

    File sharing is Free Speech.

  • by RedWizzard (192002) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:03PM (#22510176)

    It always amused me how the popular analogy from the other camp was "Oh, so if you want a car, it's okay to steal it is it?" So they can get all high and moral. But when you break it down and say "Okay, I'm going to make an exact duplicate of your car, never once depriving you of the usage of it. It will not inconvenience you in any way." The argument rather falls flat on it's face.
    One of the very goods point TFA makes is that this argument from the industry associations is not helping them because it's so clearly false. It really is a sophism, and by persisting with it they are effectively saying that either they think we are idiots or they are idiots. Either way the argument ultimately hurts their position.
  • by shentino (1139071) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:12PM (#22510246)
    Not always.

    Suppose that I am an incompetent nincompoop who couldn't figure out how to secure my wireless router. You, looking for a hot spot, decide to leech, and as a result, you run up my wireless bill.

    Now maybe my router did give you permission, but maybe it (and me) just either didn't want to, or couldn't figure out how to tell your device apart from my own devices.

    It's just like an idiot who leaves his front door unlocked. An unlocked door does not automatically give you permission to enter. You set foot in my house without my OK, you are trespassing, lock or not. A lock doesn't grant or deny permission, it's merely an enforcement mechanism.

    I may be stupid and lazy if I don't put a lock on my door, but a lack of lock doesn't give you the right to just barge in.

    Similiarly, whether or not my device elects to service yours may have nothing to do with my property rights. You are running up my wireless bill without my consent, and it's just as if you stuck a machine into my outlets and ran up my power bill. My device might accept your device's requests simply because it doesn't know any better (the "no lock on the front door") part. It's still not my device that's accessing it, and furthermore, I'm not even sure if my "device" has legal power of attorney to grant access on my behalf.

    Two cases where it most DEFINITELY doesn't follow is if you use forged credentials or MAC addresses to masquerade or bypass my security, and cracking my passwords and then leeching.

    Just because my *device* says it's ok, doesn't mean that *I* do. There could very well be a hardware defect that lets you in. Almost like some nut case putting a sign on my front door without my permission that says "come in"
  • by emjay88 (1178161) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:13PM (#22510254)
    Clearly, you've never had an idea that you could sell.
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:18PM (#22510288)
    The biggest lie out there is that file sharing equates to lost sales on a 1:1 basis. In fact, the record industry is hard pressed to make the case that file sharing results in ANY lost sales. They don't have some line of reformed file sharers testifying that, "I didn't buy that single/record/cd because I downloaded it on KaZaA instead." But with NO EVIDENCE to back them up, they continue to insist that:

    Every illegal download is a lost sale.

    Their entitled to THOUSANDS OF TIMES THEIR ACTUAL LOSSES from every infringer they haul into court.

    You can absolutely identify the infringing user and computer from nothing more than an IP address and a timestamp.

    There is no other explanation for the overall decline in CD sales.

    We're only doing this for the artists.

  • No. Theft is Theft. Copyright infringement is Copyright infringement. Both illegal, but both very distinct and seperated. Why do people not get this?

    Either way, you're getting something you haven't paid for, so the distinction is lost on most people.

    "No, having a copy of this CD isn't stealing because it's intellectual property!" doesn't make sense to most people.

    How about "No, having a copy of this CD isn't stealing because I didn't take it away from anyone!"?
  • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:37PM (#22510448) Homepage Journal

    That's not very helpful.

    You're right - copyright violation in its current definition is not theft. And that's because both have clear definitions in whatever jurisdiction you happen to live in.

    Now what happens if your jurisdiction changes its definition of theft? Say, to something broad like "the appropriation of property, tangible or otherwise, without explicit permission of the property owner". That encompasses copyright infringement right there. This is what a lot of IP-bound countries may well end up doing.

    Does it really? You haven't "appropriated" anything, you've created a new copy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:38PM (#22510458)
    How did parent get modded insightful?

    You wrote that post and expressly released it to slashdot to reproduce for people to read without compensation. You could have demanded a share of their ad revenue, sure, because your contribution adds value to their site. But then they wouldn't have used it.

    That is not true of Cloverfield or the latest Nickleback CD.
  • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:50PM (#22510524) Homepage Journal

    In my example, however, there is no conflicting information that might suggest I'm doing anything wrong.
    Except for generally established common sense.

    But it would still be a bad analogy, if for no other reason than because it adds a layer of abstraction that isn't necessary. The thing is understandable on its own terms. You can describe it on its own terms. You can measure the harm on its own terms. You can determine whether or not it's theft on its own terms.
    I have asked the electronic door lock for entry. It has granted me entry. This is completely understandable on it's own terms... and yet there is some very important external information that looking at things in this narrow technical way completely misses. Namely, that the electronic door lock isn't able to "grant" permission for me to do something I don't already have permission to do. Just like your router can't "grant" me permission that I don't already have to use your bandwidth. It can grant me access to that bandwidth, but that's all it can do.
  • by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:51PM (#22510530)
    This article gives a surprisingly nuanced and fair overview of the issues at hand. We've been over these things a million times on Slashdot, of course. Still, it's encouraging to see the greater public getting their heads around what really is a complex issue.

    The one point I don't think gets mentioned nearly enough is the potential value of free copying to society. We hear plenty about the supposed cost. But in a world with liberal sharing of creative works, those works will get into the hands of many more people, including people of limited means. People will be exposed to amazing works they might have otherwise missed. Works will have to compete for attention based more purely on their content, rather than on the marketing muscle behind them. New works will be created that are inspired by, and in some cases built from, the numerous creative sources made available through sharing.

    Best of all, free copying creates a worldwide decentralized backup system for these works. Many works will be saved which might have been otherwise lost because they were copyrighted for far longer than they were profitable.

    We are witnessing the beginning of a new era, where creativity spews forth from all corners and mixes in many unexpected ways. Much of it will be crap, but some of it will be mind-blowingly fantastic. An environment of sharing with few restrictions will make this possible, and it will preserve the best of what is produced for generations to come.
  • by Romancer (19668) <romancer@deaths[ ]r.com ['doo' in gap]> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:54PM (#22510562) Journal
    A: It's theft. The theif gets something they want and they value it, yet do not pay.
    B: There are widely known methods to aquire the exact same or better object. (ripping to lossless from CD for example) But there is both the cost to leagally aquire the original and the time converting it to consider.
    C: The major excuse "there isn't a legal alternative" is lost by point B. since ripping for ones own personal use has not been solidly confirmed as illegal. Yet filesharing or "Making available" is much more obviously in that area.

    1: The content developers/distributors lose sales since the people downloading have at least once claimed in court under oath that they didn't think it was illegal and would have purchased the cd if they thought it was.
    2: These lost sales are in no way a direct representation of actual lost dollar amounts since the choice is between free and not free, DRM'd and non DRM format. Not authorized vs identical bootleg at the same cost.
    3: There must be some damage to the seller if the product is being downloaded and no monetary compensation for the production of the good is received.

    This whole argument about the definition of theft is manufactured just as much as the amounts being claimed lost due to piracy by the other side.

    Thery're both wrong and need to get over themselves and admit what we all know.
    It's theft, but not of the things that they are trying to sell us. The two are not equal.

    It doesn't cost the same to manufacture and ship a CD as it does in bandwidth to download a set of 13 songs. The price/ea of other objects goes down when the number produced goes up but with CDs and downloads the price remains the same. If they sell 1 million CDs they make a certain amount of money, they make more than double if they sell 2 million because of reduces retooling and shipping discounts alone. If they sell 1 million downloads they make a certain amount. If they sell 2 million they make more than double that because of les web delevopment and bandwidth discounts. Yet we see absolutely no effort by the labels to reduce the price per song that we pay and instead see them trying to reduce the amount paid to the artists that actually make the content that they are selling. They are the most horrible group of middle men around.

    The users that download the songs must activly be searching for ways not think of it as theft. Since no money leaves their pockets and they get something that they would normally have to pay for, it's an effort not to equate that with stealing. The same people would have a hard time justifying to a friend that they downloaded their software or song without paying for it (if it weren't GPL or CC licensed). Just because a big corporation is running the show the facts don't change. Theft is theft. If you want it and can get it legally and choose not to, you're a theif. You are making the *AA look good in comparison by not admitting it.
  • Free as in...? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jumperboy (1054800) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:59PM (#22510594)

    I like this quote:

    Copyright and the regulations that follow from it should, according to [Milton] Friedman, be described primarily as a limitation of free speech.

    Put this way, it seems obvious that the sharing of ideas (and intellectual property is essentially ideas, isn't it?) is free speech. So, the question is: Is free speech free as in beer, or free as in... my head hurts.

  • I've seen this argument before, verbatim. It's bunk, of course.

    The contents of a CD, DVD, or book have been released to the public already; they're copyrighted materials. The contents of my bank account or computer, are more akin to trade secrets.

    In short, you fail at analogy.

  • the internet (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rastoboy29 (807168) * on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:07PM (#22510658) Homepage
    The internet IS a peer to peer file sharing tool.
  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquar ... m minus language> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:17PM (#22510716) Homepage Journal
    have been giving away free content since inception. this is of course supported by advertising. the business model works just fine

    business based on the distribution of books, dvds, cds, etc., meanwhile is based on the control of tangible media you need to manufacture, put on a truck, and ship to a store

    what the internet did was force the radio/ tv economic model on the book/ dvd/ cd distributors

    it's disruptive technology defined. and, unfortunately for entrenched business interests based on distribution of tangible media, completely irreversible and completely unstoppable

    meanwhile, all of the moral arguments are complete bullshit. it's just a business earthquake, plain and simple. pointing to morality is merely crocodile tears on the part of some very powerful, but dying businesses
  • by wilko11 (452421) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:24PM (#22510762) Homepage

    It always amused me how the popular analogy from the other camp was "Oh, so if you want a car, it's okay to steal it is it?" So they can get all high and moral. But when you break it down and say "Okay, I'm going to make an exact duplicate of your car, never once depriving you of the usage of it. It will not inconvenience you in any way." The argument rather falls flat on it's face.

    Let's assume that you have the magic Star Trek matter replicator and can make a copy of the car, although it is true that you haven't deprived the owner of the car, you have deprived the manufacturer of the car. Car manufacturers do not charge the sum of the input resources; they charge extra in order to recoup the value of their design, the costs of building the factory and yes, a profit; so if you could replicate the car you have pretty much the precise analogy of copying/sharing a copyrighted item - There has clearly been a financial impact to the car manufacturer.

    Of course the number of people who would replicate a free Ferrari vs. the number of people who would actually purchase one are clearly not the same, so it would be wrong of Ferrari to claim that every replicated car was a lost sale and the same is true of the entertainment industry (although that is not how they see it). I thought the article brought some interesting arguments and attempted to break down the highly polarised way in which this issue is typically presented; The entertainment industry claims that every copy cost them a billion dollars and is the same as stealing the Mona Lisa (or some such hyperbole) and file sharers claim that the entertainment industry is a bunch of monopolistic assholes who charge too much and give nothing to the artists anyway so why not steal it.

    What I think is interesting about the car theft analogy is that entertainment industry seems to ignore the fact that while car theft is wrong, it does still happen. While people take reasonable steps to prevent car theft they are unwilling to, say, encase their cars in concrete (Which I guess still wouldn't prevent a thief with a big enough crane from taking the car). The entertainment industry seems to think they should be immune from theft and work with their lobbyists to further increase their (artificial) monopoly protection (which further alienates from many people) rather than accepting that a certain amount of theft will happen and working to find a new business model that works in the digital world. The success of music stores like iTunes shows that some people will still buy music if the price vs. convenience equation stacks up. (And yes for some people even 1c is too much to pay)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:40PM (#22510908)
    I'm not the choir. If anything, I'm the altar boy you keep trying to drag into the narthex to bugger. And I say, "No thank you." I like that analogy, because the pro-theft chorus sounds religious in its fanaticism.

    Believe it or not, intelligent, technologically literate people can hold the opinion that copyright infringement is in fact theft. I think it takes some empathic faculty that the pro-theft crowd just doesn't have.

    My sympathy for the copyright holders comes from the same source that tells me that people should not be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, limbs or lives, regardless of whether I am in one of those vulnerable groups. I am unlikely ever to write a popular song, sonnet or novel, but it is perfectly obvious to me that you have no right to steal copies of those from people who do.
  • by mr_matticus (928346) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:41PM (#22510914)
    That's crap.

    Stealing is a verb. It is an act that involves taking something to which you're not entitled. That's it. You are, once again, conflating theft (a legal construct which involves deprivation of property) with stealing (a verb). THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. You are also conveniently ignoring the fact that the onus under the law is on the person committing the act, not the impact on the owner.

    It doesn't matter that the owner has more, even if there are infinitely many more. You aren't punished because someone has lost something; you're punished because you have committed a transgression against someone. We don't care, as a legal matter, whether you took a dollar from a dishwasher or from Donald Trump, who'd never even know it was gone. It's something that is legitimately and legally for sale, which you acquired without paying for. You have stolen. Idiotic semantic arguments (which use 'steal' and 'theft' interchangeably, but try to split hairs on fractional parts of hand-picked definitions) notwithstanding, there's no issue here.

    This is worse than the utterly moronic "piracy is only on boats" horseshit that is scattered around Slashdot. Newsflash, Dexter: 'piracy' has been used in the modern sense since the 1880s. It's a word more deeply established than "computer".
  • by RockModeNick (617483) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:44PM (#22510926)
    The real problem here is that the RIAA exists in it's present form in the first place. Why should the distributor make most of the money? They aren't a hard working group of people that earn a small honest margin spreading the word about musicians, they are a cartel that controls the music industry. If I download, they have effectively done nothing anymore. They have offered no service, no physical media for my convenience, nothing at all. Why should they get any money? The one tiny thing they do for the artists is obsolete, only their totalitarian control of the industry keeps them where they are, and they are frightened because they know their currently existing power is the only thing keeping them around. If we bought direct from artists at several times what they make now from the RIAA, we'd be paying next to nothing for music, benefitting the artists more, and be exposed to more varieties of better music. I say steal from the RIAA until they rot and die and their bloated carcass has to be dynamited after washing up on the beach, just send a few $ to the artists.
  • by Gideon Fubar (833343) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:49PM (#22510950) Journal
    If that's the assumption we're working with, then ok, sure.

    I don't think i've bought an album without hearing what's on it in a long time though, and i'm really not likely to either. I prefer (morally, if you will) to support artists i like directly, and that's because i know the money won't actually make it to them otherwise.
  • by Paua Fritter (448250) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:49PM (#22510954)

    But what if tomorrow I invented a replicator just like you'd see on Star Trek. ...and I replicated myself a nice new car, just like yours. Then I go and find Linus and replicate the uber-badass laptop I imagine he must have, and finally I go next door and replicate my neighbor's candybar. Is that illegal? Hell no.

    Oh yes it would be!!

    If such a replicator existed, then the manufacturers of cars, candy-bars and computers absolutely would be claiming copyright (or whatever kind of "intellectual property" they could muster) on their products.

    Sure it would be a stupid idea, and sure it wouldn't work ... but since when has that stopped people?

  • by invader_vim (1243902) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @10:10PM (#22511080)

    • If a picture is worth a thousand words, I have the Right to repeat those thousand words.

    Provided those words are your own and do not infringe on any copyrighted material. Also, you do not have the right to reproduce the original picture without the authorisation of the copyright holder.

    • If I hear a tune, I have the Right to sing it.

    But not to release it publicly without compensation to the creator(s).

    • If I read a book, I have a Right to repeat any or all of the information in that book.

    But not to repeat the information without acknowledgment of the source, or to pass it off as your own work.

    The distinction here is that you are entitled to use the work (or the information provided therein), but are not entitled to the work itself. You are still expected to provide some compensation to the artist for the work, be it a painting, song or book (e.g. you can repeat the information in the book, but you still have to buy/borrow/steal the book to begin with). That is the distinction which needs to be made when comparing your definition of 'free speech' to file-sharing.

    File sharing is Free Speech.

    Which is the same fallacious argument as 'File sharing is Stealing'. Both are incorrect because they attempt to prove by analogy. Essentially,

    • Proof by analogy = fallacy
    • Illustration by analogy = enlightenment

    which is the basis on which the article made its points. It's not stealing, nor should it be entirely free. The distribution technology evolved faster than the industry was able to, so we're left in an undefined grey area (with an industry which remains reluctant to evolve, unfortunately).

    Really, file-sharing is just the next generation of tape-trading, which was never (to my knowledge) prosecuted by the RIAA. Sure, it's faster and allows more freedom in the choices (and conversely, easier to track), but the basis is the same: unauthorised (in the sense that the creator has no prior knowledge) duplication of work.

    Call it semantics if you will, but your argument is flawed. (Please note that this does not mean I am against file-sharing, I am merely illustrating the flaws in the argument, which are the same flaws suffered by the RIAA/MPAA arguments.)

  • by darkpixel2k (623900) <aaron@heyaaron.com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @10:11PM (#22511094) Homepage
    What the real problem is is the view in our society that monetary value is the ultimate achievement, that piece of paper with the number on it or the number in your bank account has no more real value than the ASCII code of the song you download

    Apparently you don't understand money. Yes, some people may value the piece of green paper, but it's not the paper or what's printed on it that is important.

    The important part is what the money represents.

    Yeah, I could trade you 10 cows for a new car, but what if I don't want your car. What if I simply want to give you the 10 cows for the promise that you will give the car to whomever I denote. It's really a standardized form of bartering.

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @10:23PM (#22511160) Homepage Journal
    Copyright infringement is more like trespass than like theft.

    In trespass, you're violating the property owner's legally conferred right to control use of his/her property.

    Trespass law balances social good against property rights. For example, in the UK (if I understand right) you can't stop hikers from crossing your meadow. The analogy to hiking would be the activities that constitute fair use.

    Trespass, like copyright violation, can be commercial or non-commercial. Commercial copyright infringement is like subletting your apartment without ever leasing it in the first place.

    Where the analogy breaks down is that even just walking across someone's land is more intrusive than sharing a file. Another breakdown is that there's no common meatspace equivalent to inviting thousands of people to bypass a toll booth.
  • by aeschenkarnos (517917) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @10:34PM (#22511230)
    But you do not have an right to not incur losses. Every time I buy a Subway sub, McDonalds and KFC incur a loss, because I did not buy my takeaway meal from them. What if I made a sandwich myself? What if I picked an apple off a tree? Would you argue that the fast-food companies have a right to be compensated?
  • by Gideon Fubar (833343) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @10:58PM (#22511372) Journal
    You're both quite correct.. Money is supposed to be a representation of personal bartering power, and it is also becoming increasingly abstracted from the physical medium it's used to represent. These two things aren't mutually exclusive at all, and that poses some interesting issues.
  • by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @11:07PM (#22511400) Journal

    In the digital age, if you come over to my house and take a copy of my CD, you are in possession of a CD, and I am *STILL IN POSSESSION OF MY FUCKING PROPERTY*, you just have an exact duplicate.

    It's not theft.
    OK, let me explain why I personally consider it theft:

    Copyrights have a certain commercial value, which is derived from the saleability of whatever the copyright applies to, and the fact that the copyrighted work should be unavailable from anywhere else. You can buy and sell them as much as you want, but the copyright will be commercially worthless unless its potential for money-making is used. that potential is in the form of sales, where money is handed over in exchange for a copy of the work. Value is exchanged for value.

    Every time you pirate a CD, you are undermining the copyright. You have created another source from which copyrighted works can come, which eats into the value of the copyright itself. You are gaining the value of the copyrighted work, yet there is no equivalent exchange. The copyright holder ends up with a slightly depreciated version of what he owned before you pirated the work. You are stealing value from the copyright holder for your own gratification.

    But that's just the way I rationalise it. I can see why people would not see piracy as stealing. I was pretty sympathetic to your viewpoint right up until here:

    The music companies want you to believe you have harmed them out of their fair share.
    You have. They have entitlements to their fair share, being the ones who have and who are paying for those copyrighted works, and their distribution. They are the ones lowering the barrier of entry for artists. They spend lots of money promoting artists, encouraging them, and risking their all important finances (they're a corporation after all) in doing so. They at least deserve some money if you like the music.
  • by Mr2001 (90979) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @11:54PM (#22511668) Homepage Journal

    The transgression, if you want to separate it from the law, is that a person's work is his own and it is not for others to take without consent.
    So, who gave you consent to use the English language? Did you make up words like "transgression" and "work" all by yourself, or did you take them from someone else without his consent?

    The principle that "a person's work is his own and it is not for others to take without consent" is pure fiction, at least when applied to works which are composed of information. We use other people's work all the time, without obtaining their permission first, and no one bats an eye except when those works happen to be the kind that are sold on shiny plastic discs.

    Once again, you're dropping the issue entirely. Individuals on Pirate Bay don't have any right to offer the work of others to you. You don't have a free speech right to the verbatim work of others.
    You mean the law doesn't recognize my right to speak the verbatim work of others. Aside from the law, I have exactly the same right to speak it as I do to give away a microwave: it's a voluntary transaction for everyone involved, so I have the right by default.

    You don't have a right to co-opt someone else's work, waiting until their labor has produced it, and then take it as your own.
    The only way to "take it as your own" is to claim authorship, and I agree, no one has the right to lie about having written something that was actually written by someone else.

    Some random person can't agree to give you something that isn't theirs to give, whether it's a microwave or a movie.
    But it is theirs to give; it's right there on their hard drive. Just like the microwave, they may not have designed or built it, but that doesn't mean they can't give it away.

    It's simply not possible in a society valuing individual autonomy and privacy to argue that one has a right of any kind to the work or thoughts of others.
    What a bizarre thing to say. Of course it's possible, and in fact it's quite reasonable to argue that everyone has a right to share information.

    Privacy doesn't even enter into it, because we're not talking about information that was meant to be kept secret. If you offer some information for sale to the public, giving it away to every stranger who shows up with money in his hand -- and especially if you give it to radio stations to be broadcast to millions of people who didn't even request it -- you can't claim that it's somehow still "private" after all that and expect to be taken seriously.

    It would be possible if such works were without value, but because they unquestionably have value, there are boundaries to it.
    The value of a copy is approximately zero, since copies can be made for next to nothing. The true value is in the labor that went into producing the works in the first place.
  • by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @11:58PM (#22511684) Homepage
    If you went into somebody's house while they were at work and copied all their CDs, would they be angry??

    I think the answer is "only if you made a mess or broke the door lock".

    If you left everything just as it was, most people would just shrug it off.

    If they called the police and said "somebody was in here and I think they copied some CDs" I'm betting they'd just shrug as well.

    Favourite quote FTA: "I like the MPAA's logic that downloading a movie is the same as stealing a DVD. That would mean that those folks who get caught should be punished the same way as you would punish someone who physically stole a DVD or CD. Submitted by: Mark"

    At the moment the punishment for file-sharing is much greater than the theft of physical CDs. How is this possible?
  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:29AM (#22511838) Homepage
    What was the RIAA doing in the 70's and 80's, during the explosion of home taping where everyone and their mothers were making mix-tapes for their friends and relatives ? Did they run around suing everyone that just happened to own a dubbing deck ?

    The problem is that today, the concept of "friend" has expanded far beyond the dozen classmates and neighbors. On the internet, everyone is your "neighbor". The music industry was not prepared for this social shift, and the retail world doesn't have any idea how to adapt - it's quite likely not even possible. Distributors, wholesalers, retailers, they've all become obsolete overnight. Who needs a middleman when you can service the customer directly and all it takes is a free (or cheap) web host ?

    The internet effectively disembowels a trillion-dollar industry with a single mouse click. If we must use analogies, then how about the farmer's market ? You go directly to the producer, pay a much better price for fresher produce. The grocery chain gets nothing, the truck drivers get nothing, the ad agency gets nothing... but the farmer's market, unlike the internet, is tied to a very specific physical location. You can't buy fresh tomatoes unless you live near the market. On the web, you can buy anything anywhere from anyone, and that's why the RIAA is in trouble. It's one company vs the world.

  • by infonography (566403) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:59AM (#22511968) Homepage
    It used to be that if you wanted to hear music you had to;

    A. Learn to play or know someone who does

    B. Wait for someone who was able to play to come by.

    Since we live in a capitalist system the way to get them to come was to pay them. Been that way since forever really.

    Up until about 1950 or so being a Musician was a respectable profession. You could make enough to live on. And you didn't have to go on tour, the speakeasy or night club paid you well enough.

    Then along came Record Companies.

    Now if you know a Musician, he or she is treated kind of like a Junkie without the fun of the Heroin. They have to have second "REAL" jobs. Artists are in the same boat. People had real paintings on their walls and you could make a real living at it. Oh and Actors too, don't forget them. And Stagehand, Ushers, ticket takers, bouncers, barkeeps, cigarette girls, hatcheck girls, etc etc etc....

    Record Companies threw all these people out of work but thats ok, because they could hear music on phonographs and radios, watch TV and Movies in the theater and the productions values were much better but the plots kept going down hill. You get the picture. If not watch a movie called That Thing You Do! (1996) [imdb.com] Pay attention and you will understand what I am getting at.

    Fast Forward, but before the Computers and CDs, then DVDs. Most of the people who threw those people out of work back in the 50's realized in the 70's that they were next. Nobodies could make their own music and publish in on cassettes. DIRECTLY TO THE PUBLIC!!!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warning:_Parental_Advisory [wikipedia.org]

    Hello RIAA/MPAA

    Well they claim that downloaders are putting people out of work, but how come the Chemical Brothers shows are always sellouts and the never get airplay? Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand tickets sell for $200 a pop. Bands don't make money from records anymore, they make if from shows. Like they used to. The ones I know (I'm from Seattle) like it that way. Give it some time, well do in the MPAA too. Seriously Hollywood blows chunks.
  • by erikharrison (633719) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:47AM (#22512166)
    I realize you're making the reasonable, moderate claim that here. I've done the same in the past. But this shit can no longer stand. I'm just gonna come out and say it - you cannot legitimately argue that piracy is theft. You just can't. I've heard all the damn arguments, and not one of them make sense to an unbiased, educated party. It's like arguing that the world is flat. It just isn't fucking flat, I don't care what it looks like in the desert.

    Piracy is like sneaking into a movie theatre. Bam. I've done it. I've created a reasonble fucking analogy that I think holds up to moderate levels of scrutiny. Yet no one ever claimed that sneaking into a movie theatre is stealing. What is it you're stealing? You're getting something for free, but that's not stealing.
  • by Morlark (814687) on Friday February 22, 2008 @04:50AM (#22512802) Homepage

    The music companies want you to believe you have harmed them out of their fair share.
    You have. They have entitlements to their fair share, being the ones who have and who are paying for those copyrighted works, and their distribution.

    But have you really? The cost to copy and distribute a digital copy is essentially zero, or close to it. Otherwise everybody and their granny wouldn't be able to get everything they want off bittorrent in the first place. Any share of zero, fair or otherwise, is neccessarily still zero. These companies are trying to claim a non-zero "share" out of a zero-sized pie. It just can't work.

    Now, if you'd said that the content producers, the artists themselves, were being denied their fair share then you'd be right. But lets face it, the artists have already been denied their fair share by the very companies that are supposed to represent them. That's why they make most of their money from concerts and whatnot. They're the ones that deserve some money.

    I'm not trying to justify the flagrant copyright breaches that do take place. But it certainly isn't stealing, because there simply isn't anything to steal.

  • by rainerklang (1244068) on Friday February 22, 2008 @04:53AM (#22512806)
    that is not true. you don't steal the music from your neighbor - but you steal the music from the musician. if you buy a cd - you buy the plastic and the information (the music)- if you buy a download you only buy the information - which is the intellectual property of the musician. you can copy that for your private use - but the musicians make a living from their work - if you want to own the piece of intelectual work they did (and that's immaterial) you should be so fair and pay him (and forget the music industry - it's like in other branches too - the suply and want money for it - ok - shall be) i think it is ok to think that they take a too big share but that doesn't excuse intellectual theft. all the best rainerklang
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 22, 2008 @06:47AM (#22513228)
    Listening to your car stereo at 120dB in a residential neighborhood on a Sunday morning is free speech.

    It is also annoying. So people will (barring other avenues of redress) beat the shit out of you and turn it off. So laws to give another avenue of redress is made to cut down on the beatings.

        Yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater is free speech.

    If there's a fire, it's a good idea to yell it out. If you cause a panic, that's bad and people could sue you for malicious actions.

        Threatening to kill your neighbor is free speech.

    Yup. Else why isn't Ballmer in Jail for "I'll fucking KILL Google"? If it's expected that you'll carry out that threat, rather than wait until the death has taken place, try to prevent it.

        Standing across the street from an elementary school and exposing yourself is free speech.

    How can having your bits out be speech?

        Carrying a sign that says "F*** N***ers" in Harlem is also free speech.

    Yup. See the 120dB example above however. Feel free to do this (and don't use "*"). They shouldn't have killed you, but that doesn't make you alive again. And note, they WILL be done for killing you, if caught.
  • Theft of service (Score:2, Insightful)

    by langelgjm (860756) on Friday February 22, 2008 @08:06AM (#22513572) Journal

    Piracy is like sneaking into a movie theatre. Bam. I've done it. I've created a reasonble fucking analogy that I think holds up to moderate levels of scrutiny. Yet no one ever claimed that sneaking into a movie theatre is stealing. What is it you're stealing? You're getting something for free, but that's not stealing.

    Look up theft of service. [wikipedia.org] It seems to me that that could apply to your movie theater analogy.

  • by monxrtr (1105563) on Friday February 22, 2008 @05:25PM (#22521552)
    Oh sure, there's lots of things different between Terminator 2 and Robocop. But there's *also* many things which are similar, and many things which are exactly the same. It's impossible to not copy innumerable ideas of others in creating anything. Therefore, it's absurd to argue against copying, period. Every single artist copies. The minor areas of their work which is not a direct exact copy of someone else is just conveniently exempt from their embrace of copying the ideas of others?

    Copyright is predicated on fooling people into believing all art is original and granting artists exemption from government interference against copying through monopoly while shutting out competition. None of them invented the words used in character dialogue. And that is just one minor example of the way in which they have copied the ideas of others. Don't even need to begin listing the innumerable other ideas of others they have also copied when copyright proponents continue to close their eyes and not answer criticisms which expose their argument as fraud. So they hypocritically want to copy the work of others but prevent others from copying any original work they themselves might do.

    If these directors, producers, actors, and studios are so against copying, then why are they copying the ideas of others in their own work? They just copied them for their own purposes. All education whatsoever, from K-PhD occurs precisely by copying the ideas of others. Libraries exist precisely to pay for material once to be consumed by an unlimited many.

    So no, it's not a bit silly at all. It's an epistemological fact that they copy innumerable ideas of others in their own work. And they have no moral, ethical, epistemological, or any other basis, upon which to argue against any form of copying, in total or in part, whatsoever.

God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean. -- Albert Einstein

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