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The Semantics of File Sharing 506

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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  • Read the FA (Score:5, Informative)

    by Protonk ( 599901 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:24PM (#22509828) Homepage
    This is very much worth the read. It is surprisingly erudite for a newspaper and it is also pretty nuanced. The critical points are illuminated (theft as deprivation of a good or theft as an unjust enrichment), the debate is balanced and excellent sources are used. Well worth the click away from /..
  • by DreadPiratePizz ( 803402 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:31PM (#22509914)
    Your red dwarf and muppets tapes are protected under the time shifting ruling many years ago, that established that taping shows off of broadcast tv is not infringement. I also personally believe that the only people engaging in semantics are those who say that downloading music/movies isn't theft. Yes, to the letter it may no be, but you're enjoying a commodity without paying for it (and it otherwise isn't free), which is in spirit theft.
  • by Hoplite3 ( 671379 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:33PM (#22509930)
    I think what's really positive here (besides the very good article) is that these ideas have finally hit mainstream. There's at least acknowledgement of a debate, and I think that will really help to move things forward. About the only point that's missing is that the temporary (I use the term loosely) monopoly provided to creative works should be set so as to balance the production of work with the public interest. We've seen several lengthenings of copyright, but there was no discussion of whether or not these were a good deal for the public at large. Greg London's Bounty Hunters (http://www.greglondon.com/bountyhunters) gives a good picture of this side of the issue.
  • Re:No better then /. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gideon Fubar ( 833343 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:36PM (#22509968) Journal
    The difference is, of course, that everyone already knows about it on slashdot, and has a dedicated opinion. This is the LA times, a somewhat more mainstream publication, ne?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @08:46PM (#22510046)
    Internet Protocol theft? How is that done exactly?

    If you meant Intellectual Property theft then it is not theft as Intellectual Property is a nonsense term invented by greedy lawyers for something that does not exist.
  • by isomeme ( 177414 ) <cdberry@gmail.com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:27PM (#22510364) Homepage Journal
    The thing is, IP theft really does deprive owners of that IP of money. Ask Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens, all of whom had to go to court to prevent IP pirates from profiting from their works...and depriving them of those same profits. IP law got careful coverage in the US Constitution for a good reason; the Framers were well aware of its benefits.

    I'd readily agree that current US law has gone much too far in reducing the scope of fair use and overestimating the monetary value of piracy in civil and criminal cases. But it's not fundamentally wrong, it just needs tuning.
  • by Petrushka ( 815171 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:36PM (#22510434)

    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,

    The truth, as always, is more nuanced than attempts to simplify it to nothingness can ever be. If you were actually to read the article, you'll see that it puts forward a very good case for refusing to label file copying either as "stealing" -- because it manifestly isn't -- or as "sharing" -- because that is equally loaded.

    "Stealing" and "sharing" are both weasel words. The article does go into more depth about how the term "stealing" could be rationalised, without giving the "sharing" side equal treatment, so it's a little bit inequitable. But I am persuaded by its core argument: if you want to think of file copying as "sharing", go ahead, feel free. But if you do, your using loaded language is going to legitimise the **AA using loaded language. Of course the **AAs and their equivalents in every other country are complete bastards, but that's not the point. If you want fairness, it has to start somewhere. It sure ain't going to start with the **AA, so ....

  • by LuYu ( 519260 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:43PM (#22510488) Homepage Journal

    Excellently put. Let me just add a little about why privacy is different than copyright:

    If I shared the contents of your PC with the world, would that be OK?
    That's a privacy issue. It's completely different.

    The main difference between privacy and copyright is that copyrighted materials are not secrets. Copyright seeks to protect the materials after they have been published and disseminated to the public. Copyright does not and cannot influence information that is not shared publicly for profit or for free. Copyright does not restrict whether information can be shared. It restricts who is allowed to share that information.

    Privacy is about protecting one's personal business from the outside world. Originally, this was just the government and neighbors. Now the scope has grown to include corporations and other malicious multinational entities. In other words, privacy is an opposite of copyright because no one seeks to share their private secrets while copyright would be meaningless in the absence of publication and dissemination.

    Think of a video. One might film a video of an interesting story and sell or share it. It would make no sense to keep something like that locked up as the creator already knows the story and could easily just imagine it.

    On the other hand, who would want to share a video of a secret love affair. The leak of such information would be devastating to both lovers.

    Copyright proponents also often seek to violate privacy. DRM systems often include schemes which allow copyright holders to scan and sometimes even delete files on your computer from a remote location. Publishers also often compile lists of who reads what books and sell those lists for a profit (I hope you did not buy Catcher in the Rye from Amazon).

    Can anyone still have any confusion about the difference between copyright and privacy?

  • by d34thm0nk3y ( 653414 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:46PM (#22510500)
    Funny you should use Ben Franklin as an example. Those evil pirates profiting from his freely offerd work.

    From Wikipedia:

    Franklin was a prodigious inventor. Among his many creations were the lightning rod, the glass harmonica, the Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, and the flexible urinary catheter. Franklin never patented his inventions; in his autobiography he wrote, "... as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously."[8] His inventions also included social innovations, such as paying forward.

  • by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <silas&dsminc-corp,com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @11:00PM (#22511020) Homepage
    OK you have two types of things property, it just is at the founding of the US that potentially included other people but it was something had. The right to own property and keep is is a basic fundamental right, it can be taken away via the courts or via eminent domain but otherwise it's yours to do what you please with.

    Copyright created IP and is supposed to last for a limited time only to foster the creation of more creative works. We started going down the slippery slope when it got extended further and further. As people had control over things via copyright for longer and longer it looks more and more like property.

    There needs to be a balance between the two competing forces some copyright holders have lots of money and have been buying congress critters for years (Disney and others) to keep expanding the scope of copyright. The people who have a lot of money as a whole but little on the average have a desire to be able to use things freely after copyright has expired. It would appear that the people in general ignore copyright it does little for them in there view. Striking a balance does not seem to hard music more than a few years old is past it's peak same for movies. Software is a bit of a special class as it's iterative so lets put that as maybe a few years without updates. To some extent go back to requiring registration of copyright but add a copy be sent to archive at the library of congress in it's most complete form (copy's of the original film or studio master as released, binary and source for software). Mix in the freedom to format shift copyright material. Allow the import of materials legally acquired in the source country. Ban any technical/contractual means restricting the application of users rights. After thats done you could look at making personal copyright infringement a minor criminal infraction like j walking or speeding nothing to go to court for and leave egregious forms like mass duplication of fake DVD's where they are. You might end up with a working system at this rate IP is the prohibition of our age it looked good on paper but not in application.
  • by Mr2001 ( 90979 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @11:50PM (#22511332) Homepage Journal

    Taking something without permission where permission is clearly required to do so is a transgression.
    Well, it's illegal, but if that's what you meant, you should've just written "you're being punished because you broke the law" and avoided getting into the reasoning behind the law.

    Thus, I can only conclude that you weren't talking about mere legality, in which case I maintain that no transgression has been committed against anyone (in any but the most basic legal sense).

    Quit trolling.
    Quit dishonestly accusing people of trolling just because they disagree with you.

    First and foremost, the free section on Craigslist is a section where individuals with title are offering to transfer it to you for the low, low price of coming to pick it up.
    The Pirate Bay is a web site where individuals are offering to transfer files to me for an equally low price. "Title" is irrelevant here because we're not talking about mere legality.

    Second, "taking the free one" isn't done without permission and contrary to the law, because they're offering it to you.
    Taking the free album off a torrent site isn't done without permission either: everyone else in the swarm is offering it to you. (Once again, "contrary to the law" is irrelevant here because we're not talking about mere legality.)

    Now, you might point out that it's being done without the permission of someone else who isn't party to the transaction, namely the copyright holder. But that's true of the microwave too! Sears certainly didn't give me permission to get a free microwave somewhere else instead of buying one from them, and neither did any of the people selling free microwaves on eBay. Of course, their permission doesn't matter; they don't get to veto my craigslist transaction just because they'd like to sell me a microwave.

    I contend that the copyright holder's permission doesn't matter either: they shouldn't get to veto my Pirate Bay transaction just because they'd like to sell me a copy. If I can find someone else who's willing to give me the product for free, whether it's a song or a microwave, I should be able to take them up on that offer.
  • by llamaspit ( 923994 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @05:13AM (#22512688)
    Ok, ok, so it's not theft, using the definition you cite. I can understand that you and others feel as though you have to be in possession of something tangible for something to be considered theft. And I also understand that you feel that for an action to be theft, then the victim then has to be without said tangible object.

    It doesn't mean it's not a crime. And if it's not a crime, it's at the very least wrong, by any stretch of the imagination. And even if you don't feel it's wrong, it's a violation of the rights of the entities who sell the licenses to listen to that music.

    What you're paying for when you buy music is the right to listen to that work. It matters little whether it's digitally downloaded, on cd, or whatever. You are paying for a license. That license gives you the right to do what you want with that music, so long as it's used for your own private purposes. You can play the song, you can even play it for your friends at a party. You cannot, however, transfer that license to anyone else. They have to buy their own license. Meaning you can't give them a copy, at least not legally. Unless you have the rights, given by the distributors of that license, to do so, which I suspect you don't.

    When you listen to music on the radio, your license to listen to that music is paid for by advertisers, or in the case of XM, by your subscription fees. If you go see the band perform live, your ticket price gives you license to see and hear the performance of that music. That's why when you sneak in to a concert, you can at the very least be thrown out.

    So when the RIAA or whomever wants to prosecute, ok, it may not be a criminal act, so they may not have legal rights to do so (although I'm thinking about the FBI notices at the first of my DVDs, so why is music different?). However, they have more than enough legal ground to sue you, and they should. They are bound by the agreements with their artists to protect the artists' interests, and although I know the argument can be made that their track record isn't great in that respect, the duty still exists. And the fact remains that the record companies paid good money to have the music recorded, hire producers, engineers, pay for studio time, packaging, promotion, and loads of other costs, and they have every right to see to it that they can recover those costs and make a profit on top of that. And you, by not buying a license, are infringing their rights to recoup those costs and make that profit. So they have been damaged, in a legal sense, and the court can and will "make them whole". Which means you can be sued.

    And whether you want to cite existing laws, make analogies, convict the RIAA, stand on principle, it's stealing, in the truest sense of the word. Someone has created a work, released it, made it available for purchase, and if you circumvent the part where you pay for your enjoyment of what they created, you have stolen. And here's to your bread analogy: yeah, you didn't steal bread. But you've, in essence, stolen bread from the artists' mouths.

    Think about this as well. The more people download music without paying for it, the more the RIAA perceives value in their product, and the more dogged they will be in stopping downloaders. If you don't like what the RIAA is putting out enough to pay for it, don't download it either. And if you don't like what the RIAA has to offer, explore independent music, and purchase from entities who guarantee that the lion's share goes to the artist.

    What irritates me is that for some reason, there is a large group of people out there who think they have some right given to them by someone to share things that should be paid for.

    Pay for the music. It won't hurt you. It will hurt the artists if you don't, and will ensure that fewer artists get to do their thing. It's a symbiotic relationship that music fans are hurting.

    Don't have enough cash to pay for it? Then get a better job. I don't have enough cash to pay for a Ferrari, but I'm not about to go for a joy ride in someone else's. I just have to work harder so I can buy my own.
  • by Haeleth ( 414428 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @04:26PM (#22519838) Journal

    Violating copyright is a crime, but you'll never convince me that it's immoral.
    Actually, violating copyright is generally not a crime,* which is why pirates are being sued by the recording industry, not arrested by the police.

    It is always illegal, but it is generally a violation of civil law rather than criminal law, which is a very important distinction. In countries like the USA and UK, some forms of copyright infringement are indeed crimes, but IIRC that's generally reserved for cases where someone is actually running a commercial counterfeiting operation or something along those lines. The exact threshold varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

    * Unlike theft, which is always a crime. You may draw your own conclusions.

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