Stealing vs. File Sharing

Stealing vs. File Sharing

In this article, I want to discuss the differences between stealing and downloading creative content. I’m not going to get into the morality of it until the end, as I am not claiming either is right or wrong; however, I will give some examples.

Internet piracy appears to be a growing problem, whether its music, books, games, movies, television programs or computer software; however, it’s usually the corporate entities calling foul, not the actual creators and artists. There are of course exceptions. The bottom line is that they say internet piracy is stealing. Here’s an example from the RIAA’s website that explains their point of view on piracy: “we enforce our rights against people who steal music.” They further explain that “copying CDs to give to friends and downloading music illegally rob the people who created that music of compensation for their work.” That may or may not be true, because despite the internet piracy “problem,” most people still pay for their entertainment; and, as far as I know, no one has suffered because of possible loss of revenue. Again, though, I don’t want to get too far into the morality of it and say that piracy is okay, so I will end that there. Let’s take a look at what stealing actually is.

Stealing, or the root word steal, and in the context assumed in this article, is defined by as “to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force.” Obviously, this word was created before the invention of the internet; however, when it comes to internet piracy, it is in fact a digital copy that is being taken, and not the physical, tangible property. For example, if a person goes into a music store, grabs a CD and runs off without paying, that is without a doubt stealing. When it comes to internet piracy, again, it’s just a digital copy.

Imagine if you will that someone came in the middle of the night, broke into your house and took your 50 inch LED HD Television that you just spent a thousand dollars on. You would be pretty upset, even if you had insurance. Now imagine, someone came into your house, and was able to magically make exact duplicates of your belongings for their personal use, including your brand new HD television, but never actually took anything of yours. If that were me, the only thing I’d be upset about is that someone entered my home, but obviously the point, is, no property was physically taken from you.

The only difference between that example and the content downloaded by pirates is that artists made the original property – it wasn’t just something they already owned in their house. Right or wrong, once again, isn’t the issue – but more the definition of stealing. I don’t think that internet piracy is stealing. It’s not even really “piracy,” as real pirates steal property from people as well. I think the original terms that were used when Napster first came out, file sharing and downloading digital copies should be the terms expressed. If you want to place morality and legality on it, then call it illegal file sharing, but please, stop calling it stealing – no physical property is actually being taken.

Now, if you want to commence with the morality of it, be my guest. In my own personal opinion, I think the attitude of the artist plays a major part on the morality aspect. Artists like Radiohead, who release albums online at a “pay what you want” price, even if it’s zero dollars, would make it safe to say that it’s not immoral to download a copy of their music for free. Another example is the stand-up comedian, Louis C.K. He recently funded and released his own hour long comedy special in high quality mp4 format on his website. The cost was five dollars to download it up to three times or stream it online, but Louis said once you download it, it’s yours and distribute it how you wish. This made it possible so that theoretically, only one person had to pay for it, and then he or she could spread it on the internet causing Louis to only make five dollars from his comedy. This was not the case. Enough people bought digital copies, despite being allowed to distribute them for free that Louis C.K. not only recouped his costs from filming the special, but made a profit and donated half a million dollars to charity. This is why earlier I suggested that people probably aren’t suffering a loss of revenue from internet piracy.

Quotes are from and

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