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Monday, April 13, 2009

Piracy is stealing. Not!

Just about every time I put a DVD in, or tune in to commercial television, I see a cautionary advert that says (either) "Piracy is theft" or "Piracy is stealing", or "Piracy is a crime". These relate to movies, music, software. You hear and see these messages a lot.

Now, it might seem unreasonably pedantic, but those statements are misleading. That is, taken literally, they are false.

Theft, and stealing are crimes (actually, they're not always crimes, but they usually are). Theft is... well:

  1. A person steals if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.
  2. A person who steals is guilty of theft; and "thief" shall be construed accordingly.

Look closely: "with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it"

If someone takes your keys, they are stealing. If someone shoplifts a product from a shelf, they are stealing. If someone takes your car, they are stealing. Each of these deprives the owner of the thing that is stolen. Watch? Wallet? Shoes? Fanny-pack? Jewelry? Luggage? Stealing.

If someone rips your texture, photocopies your book, copies your files or plagiarizes your words, that is not stealing. You have not been deprived of your texture, data or words.

What it actually is, is an infringement of your civil rights. That's unlawful, and there's no question about it.

Technically though, it isn't actually a crime. It's a civil infringement and not a matter for criminal law (though there are some circumstances where it can be, but they're not really the sorts of circumstances you're likely to run into commonly).

Saying that Piracy is theft/stealing/a crime is what we call hype (exaggeration for effect). It's essentially a false statement. It's also an insulting one, to some degree, because it suggests that you don't know any better. You can say that someone's future profits are being 'stolen', but that's something they don't have yet, and that's a civil action as well, and not stealing as the law defines it.

I guess saying that "Piracy is a violation of the civil rights of others" lacks the sort of punch that gets it onto the front of tee-shirts. But we're not really talking about catchy tee-shirt slogans here.

Trivia note: Until relatively recently, in historical terms, the term piracy (in the intellectual property sense) wasn't applied to what consumers did. It was something that publishers did. A pirate was a publisher who used your work, music, or ideas and didn't compensate you fairly (or at all) for it.

Now I'm not saying that the violation of the civil rights of others is right. I'm just a bit fed up with being bombarded by false statements. Are you?


  1. Those clips are quite annoying, especially since the reason I'm being made to watch it is because I went out and paid for the darn DVD or cinema ticket in the first place. Being greeted with that garbage really puts me in the mood -- to never see another movie again, that is.

    On the plus side, it did provide fodder for a funny anti-piracy parody on The IT Crowd!

  2. I guess the 10 Commandments and morality mean nothing to you.

    Piracy *is* stealing and is a crime. You seem to think that if something is a violation of property rights or civil rights, it's not a crime. That's a curious notion. What legal system did you base that concept on, the Extropian system?

    Yes, Tateru, you're definitely part of the technocommunist conspiracy, always looking for loony ways to undermine property rights, commerce, capitalism -- to keep yourself in power. People keep walking around you; there are more and more lawsuits and more and more efforts to stop the piracy. It is wrong; it is a crime. That isn't just hype; it's the law.

  3. Actually, that came straight out of our local law books. You'll find an identical definition under US and UK law.

    I support property rights, commerce and capitalism. I can define them and I know what they are far beyond any vague and sloppy notions.

    People who try to change and blur the meaning and definitions of rights out from under people - that's subversive.

    Piracy is wrong. It is unlawful. It's not stealing. It's not a crime. That's the law.

  4. If you're still confused, Prokofy, you might want to read section 17 of the United States Code. That should clear things up nicely.

  5. Tateru: sorry, you're wrong. Piracy is *not* stealing. If you think otherwise, please tell why.

    I've read section 17, more than once, and there's nowhere there stating that "infringement of copyright" is theft - and it actually isn't treated in the same way as theft is.

  6. Precisely my point, MBN. It also cannot, by legal definition, be a crime, since it is not a part of the criminal code (though as I mentioned there are ways to get to the criminal code from USC17 - they're not very common, though).

  7. Oops, sorry, I intended to rely to Prokofy, not to you Tateru!


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