I have had some time to think about this recently, especially after a debate with a friend, turned incredibly vicious on facebook recently. I am referring, of course, to the concept of internet piracy or the illegal copying of computergames, movies and music. In this post, I will be using computer software as an example, but the arguments I make would be valid for music or movies as well.
I’m going to keep this pretty short, or at least try to, but one argument my friend made not once, but repeatedly, struck me even while it happened as absolutely absurd. The more I have thought about it, the more I realize that this seems to be a general idea amongst pirates … but the number of adherents to this thought does not lessen its absurdity in any way.
The idea is as follows, and PLEASE be aware that anything between the hashtags does NOT represent my own opinion on this matter:
#”Internet piracy cannot and should not be prosecuted as theft, as nothing is actually stolen. A pirate hurts no one as he only makes a copy of something which already exists, leaving the original intact.
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that a pirate had any intent to purchase an original to begin with, and consequently, by making a copy he is not taking money from the owner of the rights to the original, since you cannot take money or value from someone, if you never intended to spend that money in the first place.
For that reason, Internet Piracy is in no way theft, and can never, under any circumstance, be prosecuted as such. At most, it can be prosecuted as copyright infringement.”#
This seriuosly constituted his entire argument, and at first I was so stunned by the lack of afterthought or legal understanding in this, that I found it hard to reply. Not because I couldn’t reject the concept completely … I not only can, but I WANT to … but because I had no idea that pirates use an argument that feeble to justify themselves.
First of all, Copyright Infringement is theft. It is explicitly the term used to describe the illegal use of intellectual property, belonging to someone else, without rendering due payment for it. Thusly, it means having used a service or a product for which payment is demanded in order to obtain rights of usage, without paying for it.
This, in any definition of the English language, constitutes stealing, a.k.a. theft.
When a software-company (and I remind my readers, that at the moment I work for such a company, but that regardless of that fact, this is my actual, personal opinion), produces a piece of software, be that a computer game, an operating system or software like for example the Microsoft Office package, tens of thousands thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands, of working hours have gone into it. Hundreds of people have been employed for a long time to create the product. The production costs are likely astronomical, but because we don’t see a finished building, a new ship in the harbor or a squadron of airplanes fly past us, we tend to forget that this is the case. However, it IS the case. Many, many hours of work have gone into the production of this. For something like a major operating system, not hundreds but tens of thousands of people are involved in its creation, not in one country but all across the globe, where production is spread on on programming teams, testers, support staff and gods know what else. It is a massive, monumental effort that I have truly come to appreciate in the past year or so.
It is also … most importantly … an investment.
So when the finished product is complete, and the new version of this program is available for sale in any computer store out there, there is a price-tag attached to it.
After all, the incredible production-cost has to be made good, and the money spent on paying the many people involved in the development of the product, has to be brought back in, preferably with a profit. This, after all, is how market economics work.
What a pirate is doing is saying, when he decides he wants for example the new, up-coming Windows 8 without paying for it, is “thanks for spending hundreds of thousands of hours developing this new piece of software. But because I don’t know if I’m going to like it or not, I’m not paying you for it. I’ll just make a copy of it and use it anyway”.
It doesn’t matter if we are talking Windows 8 … an operating system … or the much-anticipated, up-coming game called Mass Effect 3 (which is pure entertainment). What matters is that no payment has been rendered.
But what if that person did not want to go out and buy it anyway? This is the crucial second half of the argument. What if the pirate is simply making a copy of something he would otherwise not have bought?
That is no excuse. If he does not want to pay for the use of the product, he doesn’t have to pay. Despite all rumors to the contrary, Microsoft representatives do not actually come into your living room and threaten you at gunpoint to buy their latest product. There ARE alternatives to Microsoft’s products on the market, and people are absolutely within their right to choose to use those instead. Nobody FORCES anyone to buy Mass Effect 3 or any other new game coming out. If you don’t want to pay for it, then don’t play it. It is NOT A HUMAN RIGHT to have free access to all new software developed, NOR SHOULD IT BE.
Computer programmers, tech support people and software vendors are people too, with families who need clothing and feeding, and mortgages that need paying. There are massive, massive costs involved in creating these things, and when people simply make a copy … they are in fact stealing the rights to use the program from those who own the interlectual property.
That is why Internet Piracy is theft. I don’t care if one wants to mince words and call it “copyright infringement”. In the end, an internet pirate is a common thief, taking something without paying for it.
Let me make an example that you may think is utterly, deeply hilarious. About a year ago, before I left Denmark, I heard a news-story on the radio which dealt with a rising culture amongst young people, who thought that they could go to really mega-expensive stores, and buy a new suit or a new dress, then wear that suit or dress for one night at some wild party, and then return it for a full refund, even though the clothes had clearly been worn, and in some cases damaged. These kids thought they could sue the stores for refusing to give them a refund. After all, most stores have a “return within a week for a full refund”-policy, and they had returned the clothes within that time-limit. They were outraged, furious and feeling legitimately insulted that these stores would not simply take the clothes back, regardless of the state of the garment, and provide a full refund.
I’m pretty sure there isn’t a person amongst those coming to this page, who wouldn’t consider this downright laughable. A return-for-refund policy is and always has been conditioned on the state of the object purchased. You can’t buy a vase, smash it on the way home and go back with the broken shards and expect get a full refund either.
But this is what a growing group of especially young people think they are entitled to doing.
It is, in a twisted way, the exact same kind of thinking that tells people that it is okay to make a pirated copy of a program or a computer-game. They don’t feel they should pay for something they never INTENDED to pay for to begin with.
But they still want the right to use it.
There’s a very old saying for that, about cakes and eating them … or in the Danish version, wanting to exhale while keeping a mouth full of flour.
If you want something in this world, you need to pay for it.
I agree that you should be allowed to make copies of things you own originals of. If you own a movie and it is on your shelf at home, I see no good reason why you should not be allowed to make a copy of it on your laptop so you can watch it somewhere else. After all, you DID pay for the rights to watch that film. But making a copy of something that has a price-tag attached to it, without paying that price is not an easy way to escape the label of thief.
Because in my opinion, and under the letter of the law, it is still theft.
This entry was posted on Monday, March 5th, 2012 at 6:43 pm and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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