Steal this Derail November 4, 2010 8:05 PM   Subscribe

There's a legal term for violating a copyright owner's exclusive rights: it's "infringement," not "theft." And to this day I have not heard a single justification for why not to use it. I'm done with this derail, but I look forward to having it again every time this subject comes up" - Well, me neither. How about we don't?

cobra_high_tigers has a perfect right to prefer that term. Hey, if we were in law school maybe we'd get docked points for using a more colloquial term like theft - but we are not in law school, or arguing before the supreme court, and whenever matters of copyright infringement people are going to refer to copyright infringement issues as "stealing" or "theft". I would suggest to cobra_high_tigers and freinds (in particular the user who kicked things off with a deleted comment calling other users "morons") that they don't play language police and not to belittle other users when it happens.

Or you could just say "That's not my preferred term" and be done with it.
posted by Artw to Etiquette/Policy at 8:05 PM (227 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

What is it you hope to accomplish with this MeTa, exactly?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:09 PM on November 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


I would like to encourage anyone who is prone to pulling that shit to stop, because it is a waste of every-bodies time.
posted by Artw at 8:14 PM on November 4, 2010


Your link...it does not go where you think it goes...
posted by BlooPen at 8:15 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


link
posted by Artw at 8:17 PM on November 4, 2010


But you willfully miss his point and don't quote his stated reason for insisting on the technical term:

Saying there's no reason not to refer to infringement as theft is the same thing as saying there's no reason not to refer to first-person shooters as "murder simulators," to the estate tax as a "death tax," and so on. There is a reason: the latter terms are loaded, and intended to influence discussion of the topic by appealing to the reader's feelings about unrelated things.

Many people feel that "steal" and "theft" imply depriving someone of their property, and that that is what makes it morally as wrong as it is. "Copying" does not cause deprivation, at least not ipso facto. Calling "copying" "theft" tries to get that moral outrage to carry over to something that it may not apply to.
posted by tyllwin at 8:20 PM on November 4, 2010 [45 favorites]


"Murder simulators" That's going in the daily lexicon. I'm off to go practice on my murder simulator, see you guys later.
posted by 517 at 8:21 PM on November 4, 2010


I would like to encourage anyone who is prone to pulling that shit to stop, because it is a waste of every-bodies time.

But the actual comment itself is a civilly written critique, which has nothing to do with any deleted dumb insults...I don't think subjective pedantry is anywhere near as bad as NO U.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:25 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Calling "copying" "theft" tries to get that moral outrage to carry over to something that it may not apply to.

Exactly. Banning discussion of whether copyright infringement is equivalent to theft is caving to purposely imprecise prescriptivists.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:25 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


But it's not really the same thing conceptually as theft. Referring to it as such is really just a way to sensationalize the idea of infringing on someone's exclusive rights to distribute their stuff. People didn't take away something from the owner, they did something that only the owner was supposed to be allowed to do. In a way, they took money from that person, but not directly. Not saying people shouldn't be allowed to say it, but people are allowed to say stuff all the time that is just plain wrong.
posted by elpea at 8:26 PM on November 4, 2010


Copyright infringement is not theft, though both are currently illegal. That isn't the point, however -- people make the distinction because saying you want the laws around copyright changed sounds a hell of a lot better than saying you want less penalties for thieves.
posted by flatluigi at 8:34 PM on November 4, 2010


When I say "abortion is murder," you could just say "That's not my preferred term" and be done with it.
posted by straight at 8:38 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


next up - does anyone really believe in an invisible old man with a beard in the sky?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:39 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Who, Crom?
posted by breezeway at 8:42 PM on November 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


Since Art opened this, may I say that I find it a derail to have to discuss music downloading in every single thread that has anything at all to do with electronic theft or infringement, especially as it always seems to be phrased "Oh, this is a problem but you pirates will steal whatever music you want you hypocrites?"
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:43 PM on November 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


USians.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:45 PM on November 4, 2010


gender is binary.
posted by philip-random at 8:46 PM on November 4, 2010


You know, he owns the copyright to that comment. It seems to me that reproducing it here without permission must be an infringement of some kind. Or theft. Whichever.
posted by pompomtom at 8:46 PM on November 4, 2010


especially as it always seems to be phrased "Oh, this is a problem but you pirates will steal whatever music you want you hypocrites?

Don't forget her cousin: the phony naivete expressed when people act as if they have never before heard of the notion that infringement by professionals and for profit might be viewed differently by some than infringement by ordinary individuals for personal use.
posted by tyllwin at 8:51 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


When you use the word theft to describe copyright infringement you are literally stealing the word from the English language and its speakers.
posted by finite at 8:56 PM on November 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


As with piracy, but it's a bit late to fix that one.
posted by Ahab at 9:00 PM on November 4, 2010


Crom? CROM HAS NO BEARD! He knows the riddle of steel!

Which allowed him to corner the market on disposable razors. How do you think Conan kept so clean shaven?
posted by Ghidorah at 9:03 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Artw, I like you man, but seriously you are like the Joe Beese of copyright infringement (no disrespect, Joe). Let it go, dude.
posted by smoke at 9:07 PM on November 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Ghidorah I always felt it had something to do with his steely thews. Man, that Conan had some thews on him.
posted by smoke at 9:07 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


you are literally stealing the word from the English language and its speakers

I totally read that as "sneakers" and I was like, well yeah, stealing somebody's sneakers is wrong!
posted by rtha at 9:12 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


You spent a bunch of time in the thread complaining about something that was barely relevant to the topic at hand and contributed to a messy derail even though at least one person asked you to stop by name, and now you're posting a MeTa because you're refusing to acknowledge his (as far as I can see, accurate) point or accept the fact that he's not interested in arguing with you anymore?

Let it go.
posted by zarq at 9:15 PM on November 4, 2010


we are not in law school, or arguing before the supreme court, and whenever matters of copyright infringement people are going to refer to copyright infringement issues as "stealing" or "theft".

Your argument is that everyone should give you a pass to intentionally use an incorrect and inflammatory term. You cannot in good faith expect others to accept this.
posted by Marty Marx at 9:15 PM on November 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


I apologize for my words if they belittled anyone. (I phrased it this way instead of "if you felt belittled" because I mean it as a sincere apology, not a political-style) It wasn't my intention.

I know we could fire up the languagehatsignal and get into a discussion of prescriptivism, but I think it's fair to argue that precriptivism more acceptable when it's applied to terms of art. I don't think anyone has a problem when people object to others diagnosing themselves with Asperger's just because they focus intently on complex problems and get nervous in social interactions - that's a medical term, it doesn't just mean what you want it to mean. Hell, people don't even seem to have a problem in design/font threads when someone inevitably comes in and says "you guys really mean 'typeface,' not 'font.'"

As tyllwin pointed out, my objection isn't because nyah I think my term is better, it's because terms like "theft" don't mean the same thing as "infringement,", and are used to influence the perception of the debate. It's like the way people opposed to health care reform used the term "death panels" - insurance companies make decisions to deny claims all the time, but if you want to convince people not to let the government do the same thing, suggest to them that the government wants to kill your grandparents. In the copyright debate, calling infringement "theft" is shorthand for the analogy in those ads that come before movies on DVD, where they say "YOU WOULDN'T STEAL A CAR, WOULD YOU? THEN WHY WOULD YOU STEAL A MOVIE?" Look, downloading a movie is wrong, but it's pretty different from stealing a fucking car. And the people analogizing the two are trying to establish a link between the two so that the next time someone discusses infringement, the person who watched the DVD relates it to stealing a car.

This isn't just an academic issue. Capitol v. Thomas-Rasset is about to go to trial for a third time on the issue of damages because the court said "look jury dudes, $80,000 is really too much to charge someone for sharing a $0.99 MP3." Of course, it wouldn't be too much to charge someone for stealing an $80,000 car, but it isn't analogous - an owner whose copyright is infringed isn't deprived of the ability to exercise any of their rights prospectively the same way that a title holder whose car is stolen would be. And there isn't a 1:1 correlation between copies infringed and copies that would have been licensed/sold. But people who have an interest in high statutory damages don't want others to make that same distinction, so they say "theft" instead of "infringement." If Congress eventually does tackle the issue of statutory damages reform, as two different courts have begged them to do, it makes a big difference what the teeming masses think of infringement. (obligatory this won't happen in the next two years)

I'm not saying that everyone who uses the term "theft" in this way has this ulterior motive, but it distorts the debate either way. It's like having a debate in 2008 against someone who asks why they should vote for a Kenyan Muslim socialist who gives terrorist fist bumps. Everybody knows what's being referred to, but they aren't starting the conversation on even grounds.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 9:16 PM on November 4, 2010 [88 favorites]


Also, I make it a point not to have friends
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 9:23 PM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Your argument is that everyone should give you a pass to intentionally use an incorrect and inflammatory term. You cannot in good faith expect others to accept this.

Exactly what I came here to say. Repeated for emphasis. Seriously, it's not a "preference", any more than this comment is a banana.
posted by fake at 9:28 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


you are like the Joe Beese of copyright infringement (no disrespect, Joe)

There's no such thing as bad publicity, they say.

I find "theft" a bit obnoxious myself. But I certainly wouldn't brave the MeTa spanking machine over it.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:32 PM on November 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


whenever matters of copyright infringement people are going to refer to copyright infringement issues as "stealing" or "theft".

Not if we know better.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:36 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


cobra_high_tigers just leaped onto my list of favorite mefites.

I once had a discussion with someone about cloned cell phones costing phone companies "millions of dollars per day."

That can't be right, I said. They're not out of pocket millions per day. I'm sure there's a cost somewhere, somehow, in terms of service usage ... but it's not millions per day.

That'd be insane. You'd be losing $365 million in cash per year, and that figure would only go up as more people bought cell phones, so why the hell would anyone ever sell another cell phone that could be cloned! It'd be like shooting yourself in the foot and then reloading the gun.

No, what was happening was the "millions per day" metric was really "calls for which we cannot bill anyone that we could have billed for millions per day if they were made by paying customers." An entirely different metric.

It's a figure of speech intended to sway public opinion about the relative costs of cell phone service and the enormous profit margins that can be made in the telecom industry.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:44 PM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


whenever matters of copyright infringement people are going to refer to copyright infringement issues as "stealing" or "theft".

And whenever people use the words "stealing" or "theft" to imply that copyright infringement is the same as these crimes, other people are going to point out that this is incorrect.
posted by John Cohen at 9:44 PM on November 4, 2010


But I certainly wouldn't brave the MeTa spanking machine over it.

There's a MeTa spanking machine? The mind boggles.
posted by jonnyploy at 9:45 PM on November 4, 2010


There's a MeTa spanking machine?

Yep.

posted by Joe Beese at 9:55 PM on November 4, 2010


Note: Everyone needs a spanking.
posted by not_on_display at 10:05 PM on November 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Eh? One time I said "hey guys, maybe don't link to torrent sites here, it's not everybosdies bag" and got a similar pile on. Other than that - ???

So anyway, yes I am aware that you think calling copyright infringement theft implies it's a bad thing and you strongly reject that notion.

And I'm also aware that by starting a meta I'm the target and you're all going to have a swing at me for what an idiot I am for doing that.

But when you're done with that could you consider NOT to automatically kicking off a derail everytime some says Judith Griggs stole an article or what have you, everyones quite capable of picking up on context and understanding she didn't physically break into Illadores office and take the only copy. No, really, people understand that without a tedious lecture or being insulted.

You may now continue your pile-on.
posted by Artw at 10:25 PM on November 4, 2010


Look man, she did not eat an article, she did not throw an article, and she did not steal an article. The right verb for the job, K?
posted by fake at 10:32 PM on November 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


because it is a waste of every-bodies time.

Grammar pedant: "everybody's time."

Otherwise, this is useless. Seriously. The moderators may have a different perspective, but from where I am sitting this is trivial layered on trivial, multiplied by inanity.
posted by Forktine at 10:36 PM on November 4, 2010


Look man, she did not eat an article, she did not throw an article, and she did not steal an article. The right verb for the job, K?

But what is the right verb in this case? It is not plagiarism if the authorship was left intact as it appears to have been the case in this instance and describing it as copyright infringement lays one open to the same charges of deception as describing downloading as theft since it fails to distinguish if form the act say of going into a library and photocopying the original without further distribution.
posted by tallus at 10:48 PM on November 4, 2010


It's a figure of speech intended to sway public opinion about the relative costs of cell phone service and the enormous profit margins that can be made in the telecom industry.

Whenever "copyright infringement" is mentioned on Metafilter, 99% of the time it is always as an argument against using the word "theft" insofar as the real goal is to discount the shadiness of the act that is taking place. One percent might perhaps use it in a vaguely legal context, but its use in these 99% of all cases is as much of a rhetorical tactic, one used to sway opinion in the other, "information-must-be-free-man!" direction.

I've settled on using "ripping off" and would propose using it here, since it seems a pretty accurate place to start with respect to language. It avoids use of the legal trigger word "theft" or "thieving", and it correctly and fairly describes the scenario where a creator is not receiving compensation for her work being heard, read, viewed or otherwise consumed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:54 PM on November 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Didn't we, like, just do this?
posted by paisley henosis at 11:05 PM on November 4, 2010


But what is the right verb in this case?

The Washington Post (specifically, one of their blogs) seems to prefer "copy", "rework", "take", "plagiarise", and "copy-and-paste" in this case.
posted by Ahab at 11:06 PM on November 4, 2010


Also: there is a big difference when you are violating someone's copyright and taking credit for the creation vs when you are simply enjoying there work for free.

It is 100% possible to think that enjoying someone's work for free isn't a BFD, but that claiming it is your work and redistributing it is shitty.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:11 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]



The Washington Post (specifically, one of their blogs) seems to prefer "copy",


that's verging on misquoting. The original says:
"[Cooks Source] saw fit to copy and rework an article found online"
but then goes on to say
"Anyway, within hours after Gaudio posted that last night, her story of copy theft had begun richocheting around the Internet." (My emphasis).


A quick scan of US copyright law (United States Code Title 17, Circular 92, Chapter 5)
via the U.S. Copyright office suggests it might be rather more that just copyright infringement (which is normally a civil matter).

Section 506 Criminal Offenses:
(a) Criminal Infringement. —

(1) In general. — Any person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed —

(A) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;

(B) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000;

The fact that Cooks Source is a commercial magazine could fall foul of A (though if it is given away it might escape B).

So it is possible by a strict definition this should be Criminal Infringement.

IANAL etc.
posted by tallus at 11:27 PM on November 4, 2010


that's verging on misquoting

My apologies. I missed that instance.
posted by Ahab at 11:35 PM on November 4, 2010


"Theft" and "copyright infringement" are terms whose distinction has been muddied by modern technology obviously. "Theft" has an implication of invasion and personal threat that is not likely suffered from those whose copyright has been infringed. I think this distinction makes sense as to the seriousness of the crime.

A distinction does not equal a fundamental difference though. I would work backwards: If the product has no value why did you choose to copy it rather than create it yourself?

I would judge both as wrong and both would fall under my definition of stealing.
posted by vapidave at 11:48 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would judge both as wrong and both would fall under my definition of stealing.

fuck judgment.

I just finished watching Season 4 of SKINS which I didn't rip-off (but a friend did). And frankly, it blew my middle-aged mind. Best damned TEENAGE anything I've ever seen ... and fact is, given the current techno/economic reality (not some prozac-addled 1994 when everybody still paid for everything, in blood if nothing else, and gangsters always prospered), the only way it could have crossed my path is the way it did (stolen, ripped off, SHARED).

So yeah, all power to the pirates, setting culture free. And the instant they're doing otherwise, well fuck them, too.
posted by philip-random at 12:35 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we just agree to call it what it is, "Genocidal Circumcision?"

I'd go listen to some music now, but home taping killed it twenty-five years ago.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:42 AM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


So yeah, all power to the pirates, setting culture free. And the instant they're doing otherwise, well fuck them, too.

YEAH!
posted by clavdivs at 12:49 AM on November 5, 2010


Haha, best thread ever. Seriously, it's like all my favorite people got together here to put on a Friday morning pick-me-up show about grammar, IP, and a wrap up of this week's MeFi memes.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:08 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


! Shit, now that you put it that way I have only one question: Which torrent did your "friend" use?

(About 2 years ago I pocketed one of those packets of mixed dried mushrooms because they are too expensive, or rather cost above what they should. I've stolen in the past. The first two car stereo's that I was relieved of I just laughed. Karma or whatever. I'm an outlier here. I still have larceny in my heart when it comes to dried mushrooms: They are too expensive, they have a mark-up that would make an illicit mushroom dealer blush. But when I stole them I was stealing.)

Think of it any way you like I suppose but I tend to believe that if you are using something that was produced by another without their permission then you are using something that was produced by another without their permission. Produce it yourself if it is so easy to produce or pick whatever word you find convenient. Martha and the Muffins (before they were famous and on vinyl) said "We're afraid to call it love, let's call it swimming".
posted by vapidave at 1:20 AM on November 5, 2010


(Just to be clear, when I say "put on a show" I mean "have an intelligent and civil discussion about some of my favorite topics. With panache and a dash of playful snark." I very much enjoy that.)
posted by iamkimiam at 1:22 AM on November 5, 2010


You know how if somebody makes a post that has happened before it gets marked as a double and deleted? I wish that would happen for comments as well. Huge screeds of copyright or I/P or Tea Party stuff replaced with [double--cortex]. That would be even more awesome than a good macaroon in the morning.
posted by Hartster at 2:17 AM on November 5, 2010


The only way it could have crossed my path is the way it did (stolen, ripped off, SHARED).

I'm all about the k-drama, baby.

There's no way in hell I could have gotten hooked on this televisual crack if it weren't for the rippers and sharers. The Korean community in the UK is about three people. And there's a huge industry of people, fansubbing it so that those of us who don't speak English can watch it.

Personally, I think the rippers/fansubbers are building an audience for this work in the non-Asian world. As soon as they start showing these series on cable over here, I'll start watching that way, but until then, I depend on pirates to bring me my latest episodes from the Hong Sisters.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:30 AM on November 5, 2010


When it is your copyright it is THEFT and when it is someone else's that you are using it is infringement. Since more people consume creativity rather than create we see more people complaining about the term "theft" here.
posted by caddis at 4:13 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm now imagining a big Broadway production of "Copyright! The Musical!"

With show-stopping numbers such as "Piracy Has Been Used To Mean Copyright Infringement Since The 18th Century", "It Can't Be Theft If It Doesn't Deprive You Of Property", and the big climax at the end : "Information Wants To Be Free".

Maybe we could base it on the pop music of a moderately successful 70s band and get Ben Elton to do the book.
posted by Electric Dragon at 4:14 AM on November 5, 2010


GRAR!

I am the horrible GRAR MONSTER and I'm running through your threads, eating all your favorites!!!
posted by nomadicink at 4:23 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you copy my answers during an exam so you get the same grade, you aren't taking those answers away from me, but you make my answers worth less. If I create a new painting to sell and you make counterfeit copies of my work for free distribution, you aren't taking my original away, but you are probably making my original worth a lot less. When you lessen the value of a work, what you take from the owner of the work is the difference between what the owner could have charged if you hadn't copied the work and what the owner can charge now that you have copied the work. That could be a substantial amount of money. If people want to call that "infringement" or "five-finger discount" or whatever, that's cool as long as they acknowledge that the result is like picking the owner's pocket.

Not that there's anything that can be done. Copies of digital works will be made and distributed one way or the other. No one here is smart enough to think of a way to stop it.
posted by pracowity at 4:29 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Nothing about making digital copies will every be proved by comparing it to other forms of copying. It's the endless and frankly boring exercise in trying to assert morality by comparing something to something else that we either feel bad about or feel good about.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:51 AM on November 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


If I copy your answers during an exam, the effect on you is determined by the grading math, but what I have done is committed a species of fraud in presenting your work as my own. I see students confusing the fraud of plagiarism with the theft/infringement of copying all the time, like some weird collateral damage from the industrial copywars.
posted by Mngo at 5:05 AM on November 5, 2010


But I certainly wouldn't brave the MeTa spanking machine over it.

And here I've been getting all of my spanking done manually! I could have saved so much time with the machine!
posted by sonika at 5:21 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm done with this derail, but I look forward to having it again every time this subject comes up"

This is the part that sets off my flags. "This is my pet issue and I will bring it up every time I possibly can, suckers."
posted by smackfu at 5:41 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I said:
Someone remind me again how this is different than downloading music you haven't purchased?
posted by andreaazure at 11:50 AM on November 4


I used to use words like "steal" and "theft" to describe downloading (content) you haven't purchased. I don't any more - and that is in part due to the blue.

I got some good replies, too. Some I agree with, some that just want to lampshade my comment. Fair enough. It is different, but in my view it is related.
posted by andreaazure at 5:54 AM on November 5, 2010


You know how if somebody makes a post that has happened before it gets marked as a double and deleted? I wish that would happen for comments as well.

Just start issuing DMCA takedowns for comments that so infringe.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:15 AM on November 5, 2010


It's like the difference between "murder" and "manslaughter," except without the laughter.
posted by Eideteker at 6:16 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: trivial layered on trivial, multiplied by inanity.
posted by Floydd at 6:30 AM on November 5, 2010


So anyway, yes I am aware that you think calling copyright infringement theft implies it's a bad thing and you strongly reject that notion.

That is really not cobra_high_tiger's point at all and I suggest you reread his/her comment in this thread, when s/he explicitly says that copyright infringement is a bad thing.
posted by dfan at 6:47 AM on November 5, 2010


Copyright infringement: Reproducing a copyrighted work without permission
Plagiarism: Claiming another's work as your own
Theft: The taking and removing of personal property

Does it matter for casual conversation? Probably not -- it's most people treat 'plagiarism' and 'infringement' as subtypes of 'theft' even though they lack the essential 'removal of property' element.

It's an intangible assets version of the "Begs The Question" debate in many ways, with one fun twist: The RIAA is suing people for millions of dollars if they beg the question, and congress talking about passing more draconian laws to punish question-beggars. In that context, the proper definition of 'begging the question" feels very important.
posted by verb at 7:04 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


> So anyway, yes I am aware that you think calling copyright infringement theft implies it's a bad thing and you strongly reject that notion.

> Whenever "copyright infringement" is mentioned on Metafilter, 99% of the time it is always as an argument against using the word "theft" insofar as the real goal is to discount the shadiness of the act that is taking place.

No. Unauthorized copying has different economic consequences for copyright holders than theft of physical objects has for their owners. Unauthorized copying deprives the copyright holder of the revenue they could have obtained if the copier had paid for a copy. It does not deprive them of the cost of producing or purchasing the "stolen" copy. It does not deprive them of the ability to sell "the same" copy to someone else. Distributing digital copies free of charge is also not the same as giving away physical objects. (This not to say that material that can copied digitally has no value, that producers of such material deserve no compensation, or that unauthorized copying is ethically OK.)

You are insisting that unauthorized copying is morally equivalent to theft, and other accept the equivalence of the two terms, when there is in fact a debate about this. You are also insisting that anyone who points out the differences between unauthorized copying and theft of physical objects is endorsing copyright infringement.

If you want to make your moral position clear you can refer to it as "illegal copying" or something similar without muddying the economic distinctions. (I'd even endorse a neologism like "copy-theft," but the distinction is economically important.)
posted by nangar at 7:18 AM on November 5, 2010


The hat trick, of course, is physically stealing someone's journal, claiming that it's yours, then giving away copies of it.
posted by verb at 7:20 AM on November 5, 2010


The hat trick, of course, is physically stealing someone's journal, claiming that it's yours, then giving away copies of it.

Sell it back to them for the superfecta.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:26 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm with Art on this one, and it has nothing to do with copyright law. It has to do with language policing and bullying people over their choice of a colloquial term in preference to a more technical description. This was the issue on the recent MeTa hand-wringing over various definitions of the word racism, it's the issue here, and it will be the issue in other discussions until we all learn to be a little more gracious and respond to the meaning and essence of what our fellow MeFites are saying, rather than their choice of words.

Do we, as a community, really not have any idea what people mean when they say "copyright theft?" Is there any chance that someone will misinterpret that as meaning, "Holy shit(e), now artist x no longer owns the copyright because of this copyright theft!" And is it really such a problem that some people think copyright infringement is akin to theft, or constitutes a kind of theft? There is some validity to that viewpoint, after all. You may disagree with that viewpoint! You may argue that it is nothing like theft at all. Speak your mind, but don't dismiss someone else because they use "theft" as shorthand, or because they actually, morally speaking, equate infringement with theft. Cases like this make me wonder if some members are intentionally quashing discussion by attacking the phrasing of contentious ideas.
posted by Mister_A at 7:51 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I find it a derail to have to discuss music downloading in every single thread that has anything at all to do with electronic theft or infringement, especially as it always seems to be phrased "Oh, this is a problem but you pirates will steal whatever music you want you hypocrites?"

I don't agree that it's a derail. There's a certain number of MeFites who believe that downloading music, movies, TV shows, etc., without permission of the copyright owner is not immoral. If those people believe that other forms of copyright infringement are immoral, it's legitimate to explore what they believe the distinction is that makes one form moral and one immoral (which, indeed, at least a few people did in the thread). It may be a tired retread of arguments which have been seen here before, but it's not a derail.

That said, yes, the question isn't always phrased in the best way, and it's often made worse by the fact that the person asking it assumes (incorrectly, IMO), that since they've seen 10 or 15 people express the opinion that such downloading is moral, it is an opinion held by the vast majority of MeFites.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:53 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huh, I've never noticed that slaughter and laughter are only one letter apart.
posted by slogger at 7:54 AM on November 5, 2010

Do we, as a community, really not have any idea what people mean when they say "copyright theft?"
I actually don't care much which term people refer to in casual conversation until they start talking about what the terms mean, what they imply, and what they are analogous to. The "No, it's theft!" side of these arguments tends to be just as demanding in their arguments. Even in this thread we've seen it. There's a difference between, "Yeah, yeah, 'infringement isn't theft,' but you know what I meant" and "Bite me, it is too theft, you're just one of the pirates trying to rationalize the picking of an artist's bones!"

It takes two to have an argument about language, and in this particular case one side is demonstrably, factually, definitionally correct. Accept it and move on, express your concerns that one of the kinds of crime isn't being taken seriously, and discuss that as its own issue. We're big boys and girls, and we can have discussions about infringement being bad even after clarifying that it's not the same thing as theft.
posted by verb at 8:01 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


It has to do with language policing...

Casually calling it "theft" is one thing. Insisting that it is in fact "theft" is something completely different.
posted by Maximian at 8:02 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It has to do with language policing and bullying people over their choice of a colloquial term in preference to a more technical description.

Gods save us from people trying to be technically correct.

Huh, I've never noticed that slaughter and laughter are only one letter apart.

So are pirates and pilates.

Makes you think.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:09 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Do we, as a community, really not have any idea what people mean when they say "copyright theft?"

Part of the problem with situations like this is that "we, as a community" don't exist as a monolithic entity that either does or does not agree with any specific definition or lay use of a term or any particular point on the various continua of ethics that come into copyright/plagiarism/distribution/licensing discussions.

This is a big, heterogeneous crowd, filled with people who share any one to the other some level of agreement and disagreement over (a) what a term does mean, (b) what a term ought to mean, (c) the ethical valence of acts that term refers to, (d) the applicability of different-but-related acts to the one in question, etc.

And the complex overlapping of these similarities and differences in position and interpretation make for a really rich bed of potential discussion when everybody is chill and approaching what one another is saying with maximum generosity and respectfulness. But, in practice, this is a topic that gets some people hot, in part because of personal or general ethical or creative or legal stakes in the question; and when that happens, "here is my best understanding of what you've said about your position on circumstance x" tends to give way to "mefites like stealing" or "oh what hypocrites to object to plagiarism now" or other such unhelpful generalizing nonsense.

So. Can people work out that there's a lay meaning of "theft" that differs from the legal term? Sure. Not everybody is going to agree with any given analysis of that difference, though, or think it's meritorious or relevant in every case. What folks need to do is not insist that any given usage is unobjectionable or intolerable but just take a deep goddam breath if this is something they know they're likely to respond poorly to, and either throttle their participation in the discussion back to a cool and civil and restrained approach to what people are actually saying in the conversation they're currently having or just give the conversation a miss.

Obviously this applies to a lot of topics besides intellectual property hooah. But it most certainly applies to this one as well.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:16 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just to duck in here for a second:

The derail was at least partly my fault. It came from responding not just to the one reasonable question about what the differences were between this plagiarism and downloading, but also to the follow-ups.

I know it's the recurrent MeFi trap, where people comment without reading the article (there was some particularly aggressive evidence of that in the thread) and don't read the other comments. And what really set me off, at least with this derail, was fourcheesemac's bald assertion that "stealing is stealing."

So, yeah, I'm sick of having this argument again and again too, but it's not fair to put it on cobra_high_tigers — that was pretty much the tail end of the derail, and focusing on that seems to miss where the train really left the tracks, which was much earlier. Even Sidhedevil was asking people to stop using the thread as an excuse to cluck their tongues at downloaders.

And rather than use this thread as an excuse to argue further on this, I have no problem in joining ArtW to ask for restraint on both sides when it comes to having to hash this shit out at every possible instance. I'll be trying to hold back on it.
posted by klangklangston at 8:25 AM on November 5, 2010


Why did you just call us hooahs?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:25 AM on November 5, 2010


It boggles the mind that there people whose names aren't Jack Valenti or Hilary Rosen who get so bent out of shape about the act of copyright infringement. Do you guys stand on empty streets and harass jaywalkers, too, or is MeFi the secret hangout for industry bigwigs and assorted fatcats?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:28 AM on November 5, 2010


Huh, I've never noticed that slaughter and laughter are only one letter apart.
posted by slogger at 10:54 AM on November 5 [+] [!] No other comments.


check *this* out: therapist/the rapist
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:28 AM on November 5, 2010


an album cover / anal bum cover
suck it, trebek!
posted by entropicamericana at 8:33 AM on November 5, 2010


I'm going to risk sounding like/actually being a terrible suck-up and note here that I love reading the mods' contributions to these metatalk threads. There's a tone of exasperated intelligence to the mod comments here that never fails to entertain me, and I only wish that they weren't as often made necessary by tiresome, foolish behavior as they are.
posted by Ipsifendus at 8:34 AM on November 5, 2010


check *this* out: therapist/the rapist

Yes, man, but does it work?!

rue the day
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:34 AM on November 5, 2010


This is more a case of borrowing than theft.
posted by gman at 8:35 AM on November 5, 2010

It boggles the mind that there people whose names aren't Jack Valenti or Hilary Rosen who get so bent out of shape about the act of copyright infringement. Do you guys stand on empty streets and harass jaywalkers, too, or is MeFi the secret hangout for industry bigwigs and assorted fatcats?
Having taken my stand on the theft/infringement divide, it's also worth noting that I make my living writing copyable software, producing training materials that are protected by copyright, and I spent a year plus of my life helping to co-author a bestselling tech book that can now be found on RapidShare.

I have skin in the copyright game, though I understand that traditional models are just really badly suited to a digital world. I just want to make clear that we're not talking about two "camps," the pro-infringers and the anti-infringers, with a proxy war being waged around the definition of theft.
posted by verb at 8:36 AM on November 5, 2010


I know it's the recurrent MeFi trap, where people comment without reading the article (there was some particularly aggressive evidence of that in the thread) and don't read the other comments.

Part of the problem here was the lack of the 'offending' article in the original post. Without that, it's impossible to tell if the accusations were justified. I was able to get a link to it further down in the comments (and may well have missed it earlier, as it was an embedded image and not a text posting.)

...intellectual property hooah

That "hooah" is the restriction of free speech. It may or may not be justified, but the question deserves a bit more respect, I think.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:43 AM on November 5, 2010


I'll be trying to hold back on it.

Thank you. Sincerely.

I had originally planned on commenting further in the thread, because I know some freelance writers who have claimed over the years that their article ideas and sources (not finished, published articles, but pitches) were stolen by magazine editors. But when it became apparent that no one being asked to stop arguing was going to do so, I decided the thread had passed me by.

I harbor no delusions that any comment from me would have been integral in any way to the thread. Just a personal anecdote. But I wonder if other people saw the post's topic, decided they wanted to weigh in on it and after skimming or reading the thread decided no one would care about what they had to say.
posted by zarq at 8:43 AM on November 5, 2010


That "hooah" is the restriction of free speech. It may or may not be justified, but the question deserves a bit more respect, I think.

I sometimes use "hooah" as a generic placeholder. I apologize if I've bumbled into some offense here, but I think the tone and content of the entire rest of that comment should make it reasonably clear that I'm not dismissive of the subject.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2010


pracowity: If I create a new painting to sell and you make counterfeit copies of my work for free distribution, you aren't taking my original away, but you are probably making my original worth a lot less.

That may be true, if I sell the forgery within the same community that places value on the original, especially since part of the value of owning a painting derives from owning something unique.

If, on the other hand, you are a band, and you record an album, and I make a copy of the album without your permission, changing nothing, making no claim that I created it, and leaving your name attached to it, and then I distribute it for free, then the affect I've had on the value of the album depends on a number of factors, some of them very difficult to quantify.

Among them are the question of whether my free copies have brought knowledge of your band to a population that may not otherwise have heard of it, the question of how many listeners got it for free who would otherwise have paid for it (and, even now, never will), and the question of how much the free distribution is cutting into the profits of the label and other middlemen vs. the profits of the actual band.

You and I may not agree on the answers to these questions, but it's intellectually dishonest to act as if they don't change the equation.
posted by bingo at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


And for what it's worth, I agree that some of the "infringement = stealing" crowd are being just as inflexible as the other sneetches, and I don't condone that. I do feel, however, that there is a good deal of dismissiveness toward people who use colloquial meanings of terms that also have technical definitions. "Theft" and "stealing" are good examples, to be honest! THere's a legal definition of theft, and there are broader everyday meanings. Again, I urge everyone to approach other members with respect, and try to focus on and address what you perceive as the meaning of their comments, rather than "OMG THATS NOT WHAT THEFT MEANS MORAN".
posted by Mister_A at 8:52 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't believe we've gotten this deep into the thread without someone reposting recipes.
posted by Skot at 8:53 AM on November 5, 2010


Gussy it up all you like, if the penis mightier works, I'll take a dozen!
posted by sonika at 8:53 AM on November 5, 2010

I do feel, however, that there is a good deal of dismissiveness toward people who use colloquial meanings of terms that also have technical definitions.
Yeah, that's definitely true. I think the fact that there are legitimate legal issues involved -- not JUST casual opinions being tossed around by members of the general public -- makes it thornier.
posted by verb at 8:56 AM on November 5, 2010


... but I think the tone and content of the entire rest of that comment should make it reasonably clear that I'm not dismissive of the subject.

To be honest, I wasn't sure if the rest of the comment should color my interpretation of that sentence or vis versa.

Perhaps appropriate in a thread that's essentially about the fact that the choice of words means something.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:58 AM on November 5, 2010


"I had originally planned on commenting further in the thread, because I know some freelance writers who have claimed over the years that their article ideas and sources (not finished, published articles, but pitches) were stolen by magazine editors."

Yeah, though in my experience, those either tend to become a REAL BIG DEAL really fast, or to not actually be the swiping that they thought they were (having been accused of stealing the idea for an article on ElvisFest by a freelancer, when I'd already filed my story in the hopper by the time he pitched, was uncomfortable because I liked the guy but he was so insistent and held a grudge). But I've also gotten more than one email forward with titles like DO NOT PITCH TO THIS EDITOR and usually that editor ends up not working at the venue that much longer, though some folks who are reputed to be serial swipers manage to keep working for years…
posted by klangklangston at 9:00 AM on November 5, 2010


Without that, it's impossible to tell if the accusations were justified.

It's really not. Cooks Source didn't have permission from the author to reprint the entire piece, and they did not have permission to make changes to it and reprint it under her name, as if she had authorized the changes.
posted by rtha at 9:09 AM on November 5, 2010


I do feel, however, that there is a good deal of dismissiveness toward people who use colloquial meanings of terms that also have technical definitions.

Yeah, this was a big deal in the Rand Paul "curb-stomping" thread and I hit my "commented twice, about to have to say the same thing again, remove from Recent Activity" limit over that. I thought that case was particularly bizarre because it's not like unpaid-for downloading/copyright infringement/whatever, which is a regular discussion here and one where criminal and civil penalties are an issue. "Curb-stomping" isn't a legal offense, it's some form of assault, misdemeanor or felony depending on the jurisdiction. I was more sarcastic than I might have been and didn't help things in that thread, but I really did feel that some of the folks insisting on their definition of "curb-stomping" thought those of us who hadn't seen American History X or watched a bunch of documentaries on skinheads or were otherwise unfamiliar with that jargon term were unfit to comment on the thread.

Correcting people's technical definitions in AskMe is one thing, but I hope I don't have to be an expert to comment on the blue, too.
posted by immlass at 9:14 AM on November 5, 2010


I do feel, however, that there is a good deal of dismissiveness toward people who use colloquial meanings of terms that also have technical definitions. "Theft" and "stealing" are good examples, to be honest! THere's a legal definition of theft, and there are broader everyday meanings. Again, I urge everyone to approach other members with respect, and try to focus on and address what you perceive as the meaning of their comments, rather than "OMG THATS NOT WHAT THEFT MEANS MORAN".

Two problems with that.

1. Some people who use the term "theft" for copyright infringement are, as you say, just being colloquial. But many of the people who use the term on MetaFilter are doing so in bad faith. They know the difference, but they are trying to win an argument by begging the question, by redefining words, just like the Republicans did with their "death panel" crap.

Maybe you feel morally justified in doing that, like some people do when they refer to anti-abortion people as "anti-choice" instead of "pro-life," but if you've made that choice, you're basically saying, "Dialogue with these people is impossible, I'm just going to condemn them."

That's what Artw is doing here. He's saying, "I'm right, you're wrong, I'm not going to discuss it, now shut up about it."

2. Many, perhaps most, of the people on MetaFilter are guilty of copyright infringement. When you refer to copyright infringement as theft, you are calling me a thief. I think I have a right to object to that, particularly since it isn't true (at least here in the United States).
posted by straight at 9:17 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cooks Source didn't have permission from the author to reprint the entire piece, and they did not have permission to make changes to it and reprint it under her name, as if she had authorized the changes.

No arguments there, but without a link to the offending piece we're just left with accusations and mea culpas. Neither of which is, sadly, indicative of actual guilt.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:20 AM on November 5, 2010


"Huh, I've never noticed that slaughter and laughter are only one letter apart."

Meet me at the laughterhouse. Come pre-tenderized.

"check *this* out: therapist/the rapist"

Either way, your copay is $20, SAIT.
posted by Eideteker at 9:31 AM on November 5, 2010


straight, I just don't see what you're after here. I think some people are using the term "theft" colloquially, while others really feel that copyright infringement is akin to theft in the moral sense. Why is that position bad or disingenuous? I'm not seeing it. I mean, argue that copyright infringement is not harmful, or should be encouraged, or what have you—address the essence of the argument; don't get bogged down in some perceived insult, eg, "You just called me a thief!"
posted by Mister_A at 9:41 AM on November 5, 2010


No arguments there, but without a link to the offending piece we're just left with accusations and mea culpas.

You're weirdly hung up on this. OI don't think I'm going to convince you, but for the sake of people who didn't follow your tortuous track from "recipes can't be copyrighted" to "maybe she changed it enough to be derivative," there really isn't any need to see the original piece, as the offending party has agreed with the original author that she took the piece without permission, made some edits, and printed it. No facts are in dispute. And "editing a piece" does not equal "changed it enough to be derivative" unless she substantially changed the article -- say, 60 percent of the original text is gone. Which, based on the fact that she republished other pieces in entirety, seems unlikely, and would have come up. Otherwise, it's just editing, which I have done professionally and in no legal system constituted changing a piece enough to make it legally mine.

What a werd pharsing. "We're just left with accusations and mea culpas." Yes. One person accused. The other confessed to what she was accused of. In any court, that's exactly enough to render a verdict.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:41 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


phrasing, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:42 AM on November 5, 2010


No arguments there, but without a link to the offending piece we're just left with accusations and mea culpas.

We also don't know what font the article was set in, what color paper it was printed on, or whether it began on the recto or verso side of the page. I mean, how can we even begin to think about the possibility of discussing this alleged admitted copying without all the facts!
posted by Rock Steady at 9:45 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


When you refer to copyright infringement as theft, you are calling me a thief. I think I have a right to object to that

This is what I've always thought most people getting panties bunched over infringing music/tv downloads being called "theft" were up in arms about. Collectively, people don't want to think of themselves as doing wrong, and where "infringing" is bad but not bothersome, we all think of theft as wrong.

I say this as a person who both believes that uncompensated infringing downloads are theft, at least in the colloquial sense, and someone who occasionally downloads (almost always TV shows I can't get in my area or I'd rent/buy).
posted by immlass at 9:48 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe you feel morally justified in doing that, like some people do when they refer to anti-abortion people as "anti-choice" instead of "pro-life,"

umm, anti-abortion folks are often anti-choice in their pursuit of a pro-life end .... [he said realizing full well he was risking a derail of the discussion of a derail. But it had to be done as it illustrates just how touchy word choice is, and how very much it can impose a bias, even if the utterer of said words is perhaps unaware of that bias]
posted by philip-random at 9:53 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is what I've always thought most people getting panties bunched over infringing music/tv downloads being called "theft" were up in arms about. Collectively, people don't want to think of themselves as doing wrong, and where "infringing" is bad but not bothersome, we all think of theft as wrong.
Yeah, that's an assumption that I think the most vocal "Noooo, it's INFRINGEMENT" types disagree with, and consider a needless ad homenim. Some of us object because we think that compensating creators for their investment is a worthwhile goal, but muddling the terms to drum up support for the current conceptually unsustainable system doesn't help.

I want content creators (such as myself) to be compensated. I think that ratcheting up the accusations until we're shouting, "GENOCIDE!" at anyone who torrents a PDF of my book is not helping matters.
posted by verb at 9:58 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


You're weirdly hung up on this.

Possibly.

What a werd pharsing. "We're just left with accusations and mea culpas." Yes. One person accused. The other confessed to what she was accused of. In any court, that's exactly enough to render a verdict.

True, but if you follow enough of these things you realize that a lot of settlements are done just to make things go away. Good financial sense, given the current court system in the US, but not the same as evidence of actual guilt, sadly.

I'm more interested in the latter.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:59 AM on November 5, 2010


True, but if you follow enough of these things you realize that a lot of settlements are done just to make things go away.

Oh my god. In this particular case, there was no offer of a settlement. There was no effort to make things go away.

There was Cooks Source telling the original author the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace.

Cooks Source wasn't admitting it had done wrong to make things go away. It offered no mea culpas. It claimed that what it did was perfectly legal and common and told the author to buzz off.
posted by rtha at 10:10 AM on November 5, 2010


Some of us object because we think that compensating creators for their investment is a worthwhile goal, but muddling the terms to drum up support for the current conceptually unsustainable system doesn't help.

Yes, and noted for posterity. If you take a generally anti position on the filesharing argument, and yet earnestly do not understand why those who differ with you take umbrage when accused of thievery, please re-read verb's statement again (and perhaps again and again and again). I'm a creator of stuff (some dare call it art), sometimes a musician. I share files and have had my files shared. I'm chronically broke so yes, money is an issue. But I see the way out of this current dilemma is not to move back to the 20th century, but forward to some paradigm that manages to both remunerate creators of stuff and NOT neuter one of the most hopeful evolutions in communications technology since ... ummm, since good ole Jehovah invented the WORD.
posted by philip-random at 10:21 AM on November 5, 2010


You mean they stole her recipe????

/winks
posted by Mister_A at 10:21 AM on November 5, 2010


I'd be much more OK with using "steal" and "theft" as colloquialisms, if that didn't open the door to snippy dismissive comments like "Stealing is stealing" or "theft is theft." Just like "information wants to be free," they contribute nothing.

It matters, because to me, if case 1 is "I copy your thing, and now we both have one" and case 2 is "I take your thing and you no longer have it while I do," then those are two very different things. I view that way regardless of whether case 2 is immoral or not. Illegal copying doesn't have to be moral for the difference to matter. If I punch someone in a drunken bar fight, and he hits his head and dies, it's immoral, and a crime. But it's not the same thing as blowing him up in his car because I was paid to do so.

It's not that I do or do not want to be called on what I've actually done. That's a different discussion. I first off don't want to be tarred with a brush that implies I've hurt people in a way that I haven't. I'd be perfectly willing to say to one my favorite musicians: "I downloaded a couple of your tracks off the Pirate Bay and loved your work so much I went out and bought all your CD's." It's a true statement. They may be angry or they may not care, or they may be pleased. But I'm unashamed to say it. I would be damned ashamed to say "I broke into your house and stole your daughter's kitten." Because I see a difference whether others do or not.
posted by tyllwin at 10:25 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cooks Source wasn't admitting it had done wrong to make things go away. It offered no mea culpas. It claimed that what it did was perfectly legal and common and told the author to buzz off.

Well, the FPP claimed to offer evidence on multiple fronts, but the Cooks Source and CJR* links were just to the top level of the sites, which was confusing.

I beg pardon if my attempts to figure out what the frak was going on was a derail.

(*in double-checking this, it looks like the CJR link was supposed to be a deep link, but it doesn't resolve that way in Safari.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:31 AM on November 5, 2010


I think that ratcheting up the accusations until we're shouting, "GENOCIDE!" at anyone who torrents a PDF of my book is not helping matters.

Whereas I think anyone who thinks calling uncompensated digital takings "theft" is the equivalent of dragging allcaps GENOCIDE! into the discussion cannot have a discussion about copyright rationally. Colloquial definitions of the word "theft" apply to uncompensated digital takings. Accusing people who use the term theft in that way of making an argument that's at the level of accusing downloaders of genocide is exactly the sort of gentleperson-doth-protest-too-much argument that suggests a guilty conscience or the lack of one to me.

to drum up support for the current conceptually unsustainable system

The current copyright system has nothing to do with thinking people who infringe copyright are committing theft. Content creators in many different areas (music and comics) come to mind as having been historically ripped off by their distribution systems. Sure, the copyright system needs to be overhauled and publishing systems need to evolve or die, but people taking something that they ought to pay for and haven't isn't striking a blow against The Man or forcing the system to change, it's just taking stuff without paying.

You're a content creator, verb. What are you doing to change the system other than ratcheting up the heat in this discussion?
posted by immlass at 10:34 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Collectively, people don't want to think of themselves as doing wrong, and where "infringing" is bad but not bothersome, we all think of theft as wrong.

This line of reasoning essentially assumes that people who don't want to call certain actions "theft" are motivated by a desire to protect their egos.

It's just not true, and it's also not true that everyone thinks of theft - actual theft - as wrong.

Some people really do have fundamentally different values from others. Coming to common ground in such cases is not facilitated by insisting that the other party already knows in their hearts that they are in denial of the truth.
posted by bingo at 10:36 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


On non-preview:

I'd be perfectly willing to say to one my favorite musicians: "I downloaded a couple of your tracks off the Pirate Bay and loved your work so much I went out and bought all your CD's." It's a true statement. They may be angry or they may not care, or they may be pleased. But I'm unashamed to say it.

I'm not saying I personally think you should be ashamed (I don't), but what if there are people who do think you should be ashamed? Then you really are having an argument about morals.

(I have younger friends who've told me they're not ashamed to tell bands they've torrented the band's whole discography and they're not ashamed to tell that to the band because they gone to the show and bought maybe one album from the band. Personally, I'd be ashamed to do that. I've also seen people ask bands to sign discs that they've burned from torrents, and I can't imagine having the chutzpah to do that.)
posted by immlass at 10:43 AM on November 5, 2010


This thefting, I don't get it. How do you theft?
posted by Free word order! at 10:45 AM on November 5, 2010

You're a content creator, verb. What are you doing to change the system other than ratcheting up the heat in this discussion?
Helping build and distribute -- for free -- turnkey video portal systems for people or small groups that need a good distribution platform.

Building tools for webcomic creators to distribute their works and offer value-adds for paying customers.

Releasing my work as Creative Commons after sales drop below a specific point.

Traveling around the country explaining to other intellectual property owners the implications of open source and creative commons licensing, and what revenue models can be maintained in a zero-marginal-cost environment.

Working with local bands to build and promote online sales of their work without label support.

Discussing with other content creators and tech builders how to improve the situation, then working to build the tools we think could help.
posted by verb at 10:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


I have younger friends who've told me they're not ashamed to tell bands they've torrented the band's whole discography and they're not ashamed to tell that to the band because they gone to the show and bought maybe one album from the band. Personally, I'd be ashamed to do that.

With the bands I like, that's pretty much standard form. They're generally happy you paid for the ticket to the show.

Yeah, it's a bit of a different model from the sixties-to-eighties, but that was a blip on the 'how musicians get paid' radar.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:48 AM on November 5, 2010


I'm not saying I personally think you should be ashamed (I don't), but what if there are people who do think you should be ashamed? Then you really are having an argument about morals.


Absolutely. But isn't that a different argument from saying there's no difference in downloading to see what you think of them and stealing their children's pets?

An argument of "there's no difference, so if you reject stealing pets, you must also reject downloading the TV show you forgot to DVR last night" seems to me to be an argument in bad faith.
posted by tyllwin at 10:50 AM on November 5, 2010


Oh, I forgot. Also working with one of the largest book distributors in the country on a system that allows new writers to receive editorial assistance, put their works online in downloadable ebook form, AND be published in physical form, after an American-Idol style vetting process.

Will all of those things work? Will they help 'change the system'? Don't know. But I'm not just sitting here trying to justify torrenting a Britney Spears song, either. I take these issues really seriously and I care about the future for content creators.
Whereas I think anyone who thinks calling uncompensated digital takings "theft" is the equivalent of dragging allcaps GENOCIDE! into the discussion cannot have a discussion about copyright rationally.
I didn't say anyone was doing that, or that using colloquialisms was equivalent. What I said was that simply ratcheting up emotional language for the purpose of convincing people not to infringe, collapsing two different crimes into a single one because we think it has more emotional heft, doesn't help. Shouting "GENOCIDE!" is the absurd end-point of that.
posted by verb at 10:53 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


verb is winning here because verb is right
posted by philip-random at 11:03 AM on November 5, 2010


O hai is this the right thread to share that we got an NPR shout-out for being an "interesting-stuff-finder," and ahead of BoingBoing, vis-a-vis the Great Pie Article Scandal of Yesterday?
posted by pineapple at 11:08 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


You wouldn't download a car, would you?
posted by mullingitover at 11:10 AM on November 5, 2010


re the above: (as promised)
posted by pineapple at 11:11 AM on November 5, 2010

You wouldn't download a car, would you?
I'm pretty sure that's in next month's MAKE.
posted by verb at 11:11 AM on November 5, 2010


Maybe a compact, but an SUV would blow my private tracker ratio
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 11:12 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


You mean they stole her recipe????

/winks
posted by Mister_A at 10:21 AM on November 5 Other [4/4]: «≡·


Well, duh. And forwarded it to their entire contact list too, because, damn, she was charging, like $250!!!!!! For a recipe for apple pie!!!!!!111!
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:15 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Steal this Derail

Thousands of people have died in train derailments, and I wish you wouldn't be so insensitive and offensive as to trivialize that by comparing it to something as inane as arguing about diction.
posted by Zed at 11:16 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


simply ratcheting up emotional language for the purpose of convincing people not to infringe

And I don't believe most people who refer to infringement as theft are using emotional language to convince people not to infringe. I use the word 'theft' because it means taking something (even if it's a digital copy) without paying. You can argue how much the cost is to the person who generated the content/intellectual property based on their contracts with their publishers/distributors or whether the person who downloads would actually buy it, or in the case of the Cook's Source thing, how much revenue Cook's Source made from it and/or deprived the author's site from in ad revenue, but it's theft to me in principle because infringement results in a loss of income to artists and creators.

I'm glad you're working on different ways of helping creators monetize their work, verb, because somebody needs to be doing that work and a lot of people in these arguments don't seem to be interested in that nearly as much as they are in getting what they can out of the internet without paying. "I don't want to pay for it" is an argument I understand and can agree to disagree with, if not respect. "I don't think artists should be compensated; they should just make stuff for free" (an argument I've seen on the blue) or, as suggested upthread, "I don't think theft is wrong" are disagreements on first principles, and that's OK too, but personally I'm not interested in engaging with those folks.

So is "getting paid for your content is a historical anomaly", which is one I could engage with in a broad sense, but generally don't bother. A lot of art and music has historically been commercial because it's been paid for by individual patrons. Patronage has produced some great stuff, but I'm not sure I want to go back to that system as a primary means of paying for art and music. We're already partway there with corporate sponsorships for art and music and selling songs for ads and movies.

The interesting moral stuff about copyright is along the (Carol) Gilliganesque line of least harm in an increasingly fucked system or how to build a new system that fairly compensates creators and people who add value to content while cutting out middlemen who add no value to the process or whose roles have been diminished or eliminated by changes in technology. This is a discussion I really want to have: what can we do as producers (my content creation has all been for-hire, so I don't qualify) or consumers (in my case, see and buy local music, look for ways to compensate artists like buying the CD at the show or the local independent shop, introduce friends to local music, etc.) to put money in the hands of artists. The fact that talk about these subjects consistently derails into technicalities about infringement vs theft and thence into "I did not steal my favorite band's dog" or "genocide!" or whatever is immensely frustrating to me.

(And I am off for a while, so a lack of replies is not indicative of me having stomped off with my ball and gone home. I may sound all het up, but this is a very interesting discussion and I'm glad you keep coming back, verb.)
posted by immlass at 11:30 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think some people are using the term "theft" colloquially, while others really feel that copyright infringement is akin to theft in the moral sense. Why is that position bad or disingenuous?

Because the "colloquial" use is just an incorrect legal use. They are still saying they have committed a crime.

And you know, that's not really a big deal most of the time. Hell, the crime of theft varies from place to place, and the distinctions between theft, larceny, robbery, etc. are famously fine, and we all know what the speaker means. "I can't believe Cooks Source stole her work!" isn't a big deal on its face, I should think.

But sometimes, people are using "theft" rather than "infringement" because they "really feel that copyright infringement is akin to theft in the moral sense." They're packing their moral argument into their definition, and when they're called on it, claim (as Artw has here) that they're just speaking colloquially and why are we getting upset since we know what they mean and besides copyright infringement is practically theft anyway, right?

That's disingenuous. Make your argument that they're akin in the moral sense without playing these transparent language games. Now, I'm going to go play my murder simulator for a bit to blow off some steam. I'm still upset that Barry Hussein Obama didn't lead the Democrat Party to victory, and need something to take my mind off of the potential repeal of death panels and anti-life legislation.
posted by Marty Marx at 11:52 AM on November 5, 2010


If you want pedantic (and this is MetaFilter after all) copyright infringement is much worse than theft as far as our legal system goes. After all, when was the last time you saw somebody fined $80,000 for stealing a $.99 pack of gum?
posted by entropicamericana at 11:58 AM on November 5, 2010


> you aren't taking my original away, but you are probably making my original worth a lot
> less. When you lessen the value of a work, what you take from the owner of the work is
> the difference between what the owner could have charged if you hadn't copied the work
> and what the owner can charge now that you have copied the work. That could be a
> substantial amount of money.

Could be. But it's pretty hypothetical money, which is to say insubstantial. There's seldom any way to know how many of the unauthorized copies actually correspond to sales at the asking price that would have taken place but now won't. I'm thinking of, oh, music companies' hilarious estimates of how many CDs they would be selling now if it weren't for the damn downloaders, and also of those news photos of cops posing with confiscated bags of dope with the $3,447,455,329,000.12 "estimated street value." There's an obvious temptation here to count unhatched eggs as chickens; but as for demonstrating actual damages, that could require some pretty slick work with Ouija boards, crystal balls, and tea leaves.



> Part of the problem with situations like this is that "we, as a community" don't exist as a monolithic entity

Favorited for its applicability to "we as a society."
posted by jfuller at 12:12 PM on November 5, 2010


Accusing people who use the term theft in that way of making an argument that's at the level of accusing downloaders of genocide is exactly the sort of gentleperson-doth-protest-too-much argument that suggests a guilty conscience or the lack of one to me.


Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
posted by clavdivs at 12:18 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying I personally think you should be ashamed (I don't), but what if there are people who do think you should be ashamed? Then you really are having an argument about morals.

No, you're having an argument about opinions, which some people confuse with facts and then insist are morals-based in order to somehow "win."
posted by coolguymichael at 12:34 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Patronage has produced some great stuff, but I'm not sure I want to go back to that system as a primary means of paying for art and music.

"Salve Signor Medici. Thank you for the invitation to dine, I am ashamed to say I cannot attend as I am finishing the statue you commissioned, please forgive the late arrival as one of the stone masons has fallen ill. All shall be in order soon."
with respect my patron
bill.

I agree, not back to those days.
posted by clavdivs at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2010


Yeah, Patronage is interesting but these days a lot of what constitutes patronage is actually work-for-hire funded by someone who expects to monetize the end results as if they had created it themselves. So while it works in some cases, in others it just turns into pass-the-buck.
posted by verb at 12:47 PM on November 5, 2010


the Law tells me 75,000,000 americans and counting could be held accountable.

common sense tells me you cannot fit that many people in a court room, not even 5 at a time.

MOZART WAS ROBBED.
posted by clavdivs at 12:52 PM on November 5, 2010


To quote Marx...
posted by Eideteker at 1:03 PM on November 5, 2010


If I create a new painting to sell and you make counterfeit copies of my work for free distribution, you aren't taking my original away, but you are probably making my original worth a lot less.

But not every action that makes your painting lose value is theft.

If I steal your painting right off the easel, your painting loses value.
If I counterfeit your painting and people buy my copies instead of yours, your painting loses value.
If I start a fire in the gallery and your painting burns, your painting loses value.
If I convince the media that you are backed by a Muslim terrorist organization and galleries drop you like a hot potato, your painting loses value.
If I'm a better painter and everyone buys my artwork instead of yours, your painting loses value.

But in only one of these cases have I committed theft.
posted by straight at 1:43 PM on November 5, 2010


The hot potato case?
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:13 PM on November 5, 2010


the medici way
posted by clavdivs at 2:15 PM on November 5, 2010


But in only one of these cases have I committed theft.

yes and your other examples actually involve more crimes then mere theft.

next case.

If I'm a better painter and everyone buys my artwork instead of yours, your painting loses value.


taste in ones art is not directly linked to theft.
unless...
posted by clavdivs at 2:20 PM on November 5, 2010


Patronage is interesting but these days a lot of what constitutes patronage is actually work-for-hire funded by someone who expects to monetize the end results as if they had created it themselves.

Agreed. Of course, that's not really patronage proper, and there are a lot of other issues to do with corporate work-for-hire creation (see: Siegel and Shuster, frex). I suspect actual corporate patronage would also tend to produce (culturally) conservative works because corporate patronage is in large part about PR. Culturally conservative works are what you can get an agreement on most easily and what's most likely to engage/least likely to enrage customers. You can already see this in patronage areas like sponsorships of museum exhibitions; it's just easier to get sponsors for popular and noncontroversial exhibitions.
posted by immlass at 3:37 PM on November 5, 2010


Indeed. Last time there was a thread about this topic that popped up, I mentioned the fact that most of the software development work that I do is essentially patronage: I build open source software, and clients understand that the works they are sponsoring will (in many cases) be available for public re-use after the fact. It's gratifying, to me at least, to be able to turn the artifacts of large corporate projects into tools that can be used by individual creators.

But that isn't necessarily a great fit for purely artistic works: although there are interesting analogies the open source model is still much more focused on tool-users creating tools they want to use.
posted by verb at 3:52 PM on November 5, 2010


But that isn't necessarily a great fit for purely artistic works: although there are interesting analogies the open source model is still much more focused on tool-users creating tools they want to use.

Actually, the reuse component is a great fit with a lot of culture creation. The Creative Commons licenses (aside from the No Derivatives option) are built around that.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:31 PM on November 5, 2010


Well, the reuse is definitely there (at least in certain kinds of artistic subcultures). I was thinking more of open source software being dominated by tools built for tool-users, rather than folks who want to enjoy an end product. Creative works released under CC licenses tend to be created by those who have an ideological reason to do so, and I'm trying to figure out how nontraditional models can make economic sense. In some situations CC licensing works, but it's a hard sell and lots of hand-waving and magic fairies must be promised if someone is just interested in making art and selling it.
posted by verb at 4:49 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


... I'm trying to figure out how nontraditional models can make economic sense.

Well, there's no hard and fast rule, but there are plenty of business models out there. It's a young field, so new ones pop up all the time.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:05 PM on November 5, 2010


caddis wrote: "When it is your copyright it is THEFT and when it is someone else's that you are using it is infringement. Since more people consume creativity rather than create we see more people complaining about the term "theft" here."

No, when people republish images I created without my consent, I say they took from me (although that's nearly as inaccurate as saying they stole) or that they infringed my copyright. I don't say they stole from me or that they committed the crime of theft, because that's simply not what happened.

It annoys me to no end when it happens, but I still have the image to do with as I please.

By the standards that some people use to justify labeling copyright infringement theft, I'm stealing from other photographers when I license my work, since it's not my main source of income. By creating and distributing an image that competes with theirs, I have (possibly) deprived them of income, after all.

That simply makes no sense at all.
posted by wierdo at 7:17 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: there is a big difference when you are violating someone's copyright and taking credit for the creation vs when you are simply enjoying there work for free.

This is a pretty good point. The world "theft" as applied to music or other IP would naturally mean for you to take ownership of, credit for, and copyrights to, music that you did not in fact create yourself (and did not buy) but which you are pretending is your own work, whether for profit or status.

That's a useful way to illustrate the distinction between theft and infringement.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:01 PM on November 5, 2010

"I don't want to pay for it" is an argument I understand and can agree to disagree with, if not respect. "I don't think artists should be compensated; they should just make stuff for free" (an argument I've seen on the blue) or, as suggested upthread, "I don't think theft is wrong" are disagreements on first principles, and that's OK too, but personally I'm not interested in engaging with those folks.
The weird one I keep winding up with is "I would pay for it, but they don't want to sell it to me." Note the comment above about the ripping/fansubbing communities, where the "pirates" are distributing something that the content owners won't sell to certain markets. On top of that, the paid versions are so frequently of worse quality than the "pirated" copies (for example, scenes shown in the original are missing for certain regions, or the subtitling is poorly executed, or the music CD has a rootkit on it, or you have to sit through 15 minutes of mandatory ads every time instead of just watching the movie...)

Sometimes I think that content producers might need to do what shareware does and just put a note on digital copies saying "if you liked this, please send a couple of bucks to..." Though I suppose that would get hijacked pretty quickly. Maybe just, "this can be purchased legally at..."
posted by Karmakaze at 8:42 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I don't think artists should be compensated; they should just make stuff for free" (an argument I've seen on the blue)

Good to see that nobody's trying to oversimplify things here (a strategy I've seen on the blue).
posted by philip-random at 10:11 PM on November 5, 2010


Veni Vidi Cecidi
posted by clavdivs at 12:44 AM on November 6, 2010


Good to see that nobody's trying to oversimplify things here

That was empath's argument, specifically. It may be shared by others.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:36 AM on November 6, 2010


"I would pay for it, but they don't want to sell it to me."

Regional distribution is one of the serious problems of the change to digital distribution. The systems that are in place to distribute content worldwide don't acknowledge the new ability to move content worldwide easily. They rely on a scarcity, and a price that reflects that scarcity, that doesn't exist any more. The lack of scarcity of content is driving down content prices overall (music, books, tv/movies) but it's particularly apparent with imports.

I can think of a half-dozen albums I'd buy but am not willing to spend the $30 or $40 (plus shipping) it would cost to buy as a physical import, which I can only find through Amazon, if there, or would have to buy and ship from the UK, but that I'd buy if I could find at US album prices.

Not to mention all the damned British TV. At least Sherlock on iTunes is the UK episodes and not the edited US episodes. But, for instance, I'd love to the Mark Gatiss history of horror mentioned on the blue, and the only ways to get it involve either torrenting it or proxying in to watch it on the BBC's web player if it's there. I'd buy (inexpensive) digital copies if I could get them, but they're just not there.

But yeah, overall, agreed, there's stuff that somebody (generally distributors) makes it easier to rip off than to obtain legally, or just makes it flat out impossible to buy. This is where I tend to trip over my own ethical standards on infringement.
posted by immlass at 9:01 AM on November 6, 2010


This is a pretty good point. The world "theft" as applied to music or other IP would naturally mean for you to take ownership of, credit for, and copyrights to, music that you did not in fact create yourself (and did not buy) but which you are pretending is your own work, whether for profit or status.

That's a useful way to illustrate the distinction between theft and infringement.


Useful, but wrong. If I steal a Chevrolet, I am stealing whether I pretend to be the designer of the car or not.

In fact, I would argue that your illustration is actually backwards: copyright infringement is when you act in a manner reserved to the copyright holder. Infringement is printing and selling books as if you are the copyright holder of the work, theft is stealing a copy of the book.

No. Unauthorized copying has different economic consequences for copyright holders than theft of physical objects has for their owners. Unauthorized copying deprives the copyright holder of the revenue they could have obtained if the copier had paid for a copy. It does not deprive them of the cost of producing or purchasing the "stolen" copy. It does not deprive them of the ability to sell "the same" copy to someone else. Distributing digital copies free of charge is also not the same as giving away physical objects. (This not to say that material that can copied digitally has no value, that producers of such material deserve no compensation, or that unauthorized copying is ethically OK.)

Here is the problem: you are committing one of those logical fallacies that I am too lazy to look up. (Some form of pulling a switcheroo.)

You are saying that classical-theft is bad because the widget cost the owner something and you have not only deprived the owner of use of the widget, but also whatever they paid for the widget. And then you are saying that because the digital copy cost nothing to produce, it cannot be stolen.

While that is an accounting difference, it has no place in the law. What the thing cost me has no bearing on what your punishment will be for taking it. Only its value.

Here is why people get messed up: it is a frame of reference thing. Not just the "how would you feel if you were the copyright owner", but also a macro versus micro thing. When you look at a single mp3, for example, we can see that it has no physical form and the cost of creating it seems to be zero.

However, it isn't zero. It is like trying to measure the thickness of a piece of paper with a ruler- we just can't measure something that small when we only have one of them.

People need to look at it from the other end. Presume I am a musician. I save my pennies and record an album, and I decide to put it up for sale as a digital download. I save even more pennies and buy myself a server and a T1 line and all that stuff. All told, I might be in the hole maybe $5000 before I ever sell one copy. I turn the server on and I start selling my album.

Now yes, I do not have physical inventory. But I have still made an investment of real money into my enterprise. When you distribute my product without my permission, you are cutting into my action. You are creating a real loss to my pocketbook. I still have to pay the phone bill every month.

If this were done through legal competition, great. You are free to make a better song and cut into my marketplace that way.

In other words, the cost of the individual item isn't entirely relevant- when you get caught stealing, you aren't brought up on charges based on the backdoor cost of the item, you are charged based on the retail cost of the item.

Another tortured analogy: you and I live in a town of 10,000 people. Every winter, a quarter of them will need to buy snow shovels. We both run competing snow shovel emporiums, I sell blue ones and you sell red ones. Things go along fairly well over the years, until this year when I design a machine that manufactures snow shovels at zero cost to me. Meanwhile, you still have to buy the pieces and build them the old fashioned way.

I am going to put you out of business, probably, because I am going to drop my price. You decide to get back at me by stealing my snow shovels out of my warehouse and giving them away for free.

Each copy of the shovel has no (discernible) cost, so you aren't stealing. Right?

Of course not, you are stealing. Cost != value.

Property counts as property whether it has a measurable cost or not, and in the same way, it counts whether it exists as a physical form or not. Property is property because it has value. An MP3 has value, both because they can sell it, and because you want it.

Final analogy: suppose you are in a store that foolishly leaves fully activated gift cards out on the retail floor. If you steal a $20 one, you stole $20. If you stole a $1000 one, you stole $1000. Even though the thing you stole is the same, you have stolen two different values, and will likely be charged with different things. The value of those gift cards is not physical, yet unarguably does exist.
posted by gjc at 9:30 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


But yeah, overall, agreed, there's stuff that somebody (generally distributors) makes it easier to rip off than to obtain legally, or just makes it flat out impossible to buy. This is where I tend to trip over my own ethical standards on infringement.

I agree too- it is really hard to care about someone else's rights when they make it almost impossible to do so.
posted by gjc at 9:33 AM on November 6, 2010


I design a machine that manufactures snow shovels at zero cost to me...Meanwhile, you still have to buy the pieces and build them the old fashioned way....You decide to get back at me by stealing my snow shovels out of my warehouse and giving them away for free.

Each copy of the shovel has no (discernible) cost, so you aren't stealing. Right?


In this bizarre hypothetical situation, I would think nothing of giving away your shovels for free, no matter what you want to call it. Breaking into your warehouse and destroying your zero-cost snow shovel machine would also be a very serious consideration. Doing this in the light of day, with you standing right there watching, would be the ideal way for that to happen, if I thought I could get away with it.

When someone gets the unshakeable feeling that the nature of the game has substantially changed, then they are going to start caring less about what's written in the rulebook.
posted by bingo at 10:35 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


You wouldn't download a loaded term
posted by tehloki at 11:57 AM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I design a machine that manufactures snow shovels at zero cost to me...Meanwhile, you still have to buy the pieces and build them the old fashioned way....You decide to get back at me by stealing my snow shovels out of my warehouse and giving them away for free.

Each copy of the shovel has no (discernible) cost, so you aren't stealing. Right?
I love the Flawed Analogy Game.
posted by verb at 12:59 PM on November 6, 2010


Not only is it flawed, but it's nonsensical in both physical and digital terms. Even if you have a magic machine that makes snow shovels at no cost, taking a snow shovel is depriving you of the use of the snow shovel. This is not the case with making a copy.

More analogous would be you having a patent on your magical snow shovel making machine and me making my own magical snow shovel making machine based on the plans for your magical snow shovel making machine. The only thing you are being deprived of is possible future profit, in exactly the same way as my creating a work similar to (but not in any way derivative) another author's deprives some other author of possible future profit.
posted by wierdo at 4:12 PM on November 6, 2010


And somehow, I failed to include my conclusory paragraph:

IP is simply not analogous to physical property. Thinking of it in those terms is either a gross misunderstanding on the part of the person thinking of it that way or is a blatant attempt to garner agreement for their point of view by presenting their argument in those terms, despite the vast gulf between physical and intellectual property.

Depriving you the use of your property is an integral part to the moral calculus. Trying to equate something that doesn't deprive you of that use is simply intellectually dishonest. That copyright infringement upsets you as much as actual theft is irrelevant, and people try to make that equivalence precisely because it seems that most people simply don't agree that copyright infringement is morally equivalent to theft. Drawing that false equivalence is designed solely to make people feel bad, sort of like pro-lifers trying to make me feel bad about my pro-choice position by showing me pictures of bloody fetal tissue, only less intellectually honest.
posted by wierdo at 4:19 PM on November 6, 2010


Depriving you the use of your property is an integral part to the moral calculus.

What about theft of services?
posted by immlass at 5:03 PM on November 6, 2010


re-directing the question.
posted by clavdivs at 5:44 PM on November 6, 2010


Or, for that matter, identity theft?
posted by immlass at 5:53 PM on November 6, 2010


The application of theft of services statutes to anything approaching similarity with copyright infringement is a relatively recent thing. Beyond which, in many states there is no such crime. It is at best a tort. It's definitely a much closer analog to copyright infringement, and if you look at it in just the right way, it seems spot on.

The difference there is the capital cost involved and the deprivation of other users of the service the capability of using the capacity used by the person illegally accessing the services. These are very real costs directly associated with the act of receiving the services in the case of electricity, telephone, water, or sewer service. Because of your use, the provider must expend more resources to provide the service. Only purely broadcast cable television (and OTA/satellite pay TV) are at all close to equivalent.

The electric company has to either buy more electricity or expend more fuel in providing the electricity, in addition to possibly having to upgrade transmission and distribution infrastructure to cope with the extra load. So too with water and sewer service.

The phone company gets a little closer to copyright infringement, but again has to pay for capacity to switch the calls and possibly even settlement fees to other telephone companies as a result of your using their services without authorization.
posted by wierdo at 7:31 PM on November 6, 2010


What about theft of services?

What service? The whole thing is that the supposed 'service' has already been bypassed. That starts to sound like 'felonious interference of a business model.'
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:52 PM on November 6, 2010


The point of theft of services and of identity theft is that both of these involve the common use of the term theft without depriving anyone of the use of property. People who deny that uncompensated unauthorized downloading has anything to do with theft frequently rely on the idea that because no physical object is involved, theft is the wrong term. The common usage of the term "theft of services" and "identify theft" are a direct counter to that argument.

Conceptually and colloquially, theft need not apply only to property crimes.
posted by immlass at 7:58 PM on November 6, 2010


The point of theft of services and of identity theft is that both of these involve the common use of the term theft without depriving anyone of the use of property.

If I, say hack iTunes so that I'm unable to download music without paying, I'm guilty of theft of service. If my buddy gives me a CD that I rip, I'm guilty of copyright infringement.

Identity theft is fraud.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:10 PM on November 6, 2010


17 U.S.C. 1201.

Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems
---------------------------------------------------
47 U.S.C. 605.

Unauthorized Publication or Use of Communications
posted by clavdivs at 8:14 PM on November 6, 2010


(C) Definition.--For purposes of this paragraph, the "value" of a phonorecord, copy, or work of visual art is--
(i) in the case of a copyrighted sound recording or copyrighted musical work, the retail value of an authorized phonorecord of that sound recording or musical work;
(ii) in the case of a copyrighted computer program, the retail value of an authorized copy of that computer program;
(iii) in the case of a copyrighted motion picture or other audiovisual work, the retail value of an authorized copy of that motion picture or audiovisual work;
(iv) in the case of a copyrighted literary work, the retail value of an authorized copy of that literary work;
(v) in the case of a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, the retail value of an authorized copy of that work; and
(vi) in the case of a work of visual art, the retail value of that work.
posted by clavdivs at 8:20 PM on November 6, 2010


retail value is the key
posted by clavdivs at 8:24 PM on November 6, 2010


Identity theft is fraud.

And a lot of "theft of service" is technically larceny. But colloquially they're both "theft". People who call copyright infringement "theft" aren't necessarily trying to score internet points or make people feel bad about themselves, although as at least one person admitted upthread, it sometimes has that effect. It's that some of us see taking stuff without paying for it, even if the "stuff" is a digital copy, as analogous to theft, with the implication that if theft is morally wrong, so is unauthorized uncompensated copying of creative works.

I'm not citing to statute because I'm not an internet lawyer (possibly because I've worked for an actual lawyer and understand how little most internet lawyers know about actual law in the field I used to work in). As I mentioned way upthread, neither the jargon argument nor the legal technicality argument sold me on "curb-stomping", and I doubt they'll ever sell me on copyright infringement and "theft" either.
posted by immlass at 9:36 PM on November 6, 2010


immlass wrote: "It's that some of us see taking stuff without paying for it, even if the "stuff" is a digital copy, as analogous to theft, with the implication that if theft is morally wrong, so is unauthorized uncompensated copying of creative works."

As long as you're aware it's a crappy analogy...
posted by wierdo at 10:34 PM on November 6, 2010


immlass, I agree with a lot of what you've said in this thread, especially this comment. I'm not opposed to people referring to copyright infringement as theft if they consider it morally equivalent. I also have no problem with with people rejecting this description if they don't accept the equivalence. These are expressions of ethical positions.

I do think it's a problem if people insist that stealing or producing a digital copy is exactly the same as stealing or producing physical goods. It is an important consideration that there is no manufacturing cost associated with the digital copy, while there is frequently a considerable design cost associated with producing the item that can be copied. It is important for us to be able acknowledge this distinction if we are going to have a meaningful discussion of the distribution of digital goods and how producers of goods that can be distributed digitally can be compensated.

Typically, in the production and sale of manufactured goods, the manufacturer pays the designer, the manufacturer sell copies of the good to a distributors and recovers the cost of manufacturing the good, including the compensation paid to the designer, and the distributor then sells the goods to consumers. Eliminating the manufacturer in this process does change the equation for producers and consumers. Applying economic common sense to the distribution of digital goods is problematic when economic common sense assumes a manufacturing cost and "a good" is defined as "a copy."

My concern is that overzealous insistence that copyright infringement, or theft of digital goods, is morally equivalent to theft of physical goods, and that any mention of a distinction between the two is derail, will have the unintended effect of shutting down any meaningful discussion of the distribution of digital goods and how producers of digital goods can be compensated.
posted by nangar at 11:02 PM on November 6, 2010


MENS REA REQUIREMENT

The requirement of a mens rea for criminal copyright infringement serves the important purpose of drawing a sharp distinction with civil copyright infringement. Under civil copyright infringement, an intent to infringe is not required, since copyright is a strict liability tort. [FN13] For an infringement to be deemed a criminal violation, however, a specific mens rea must be proved. Even if civil liability has been established, without the requisite mens rea it does not matter how many unauthorized copies or phonorecords have been made or distributed: No criminal violation has occurred.
Under section 506(a) of title 17, United States Code, unamended by the substitute, the mens rea is described as infringement done "willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain." The term "willfully," although used in copyright statutes since 1897 for criminal violations, has never been defined. The substitute to S. 893 does not provide a definition either, since it is the Committee's intention that the standard as construed by the courts continue to be applied. [FN14]
The mens rea requirement serves to leave outside the reach of the criminal law losing parties in ordinary business disputes such as those involving reverse engineering of computer programs [FN15] or contract disputes over the scope of licenses. [FN16] Felony liability is not the result of every unauthorized reproduction or distribution of at least 10 copies or phonorecords having a retail value of more than $2,500 within a 180-day period. First, infringement must be established. Next, the Government must prove that the infringement was done with the requisite mens rea. Unless both these requirements are met, no criminal liability-misdemeanor or felony-will lie, regardless of the number of unauthorized copies or phonorecords that have been reproduced or distributed. In cases where civil liability is unclear-whether because the law is unsettled, or because a legitimate business dispute exists- the Committee does not intend to establish criminal liability.
posted by clavdivs at 1:57 AM on November 7, 2010


As long as you're aware it's a crappy analogy...

I'm aware people with an interest in defending a worldview I disagree with think it's weak.

My concern is that overzealous insistence that copyright infringement, or theft of digital goods, is morally equivalent to theft of physical goods, and that any mention of a distinction between the two is derail, will have the unintended effect of shutting down any meaningful discussion of the distribution of digital goods and how producers of digital goods can be compensated.

This is absolutely not my interest in the matter. For music, which is the system I know the most about, the system needs to change for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that many of the distribution systems in place (labels) are ripping off content producers. That's not a desirable situation IMO any more than end-users/consumers ripping off artists is.

On the other hand, the more I've learned about what goes into making an album, the more I've realized that most people who consume music have no idea what it takes in terms of labor and studio time (for whatever value of studio is being used) and engineering and production and so on without even getting into physical distribution and marketing.

This weekend I'm going to a CD release for an a cappella group that some of my best friends belong to. It's a labor of love and they don't expect to recoup their money, but they've spent thousands of dollars and probably thousands of hours of time and effort getting this CD ready, and they don't even have to pay for instruments. They all have day jobs, so they can support their hobby with their day job money and don't have to worry about whether their CD sales make their nut back or earn them a profit.

Most popular music is made with the expectation that sales of the music will earn money for the artists and production people (engineers, producers, techs) involved to recoup sunk production costs (instruments, studio time, gear). Even if the music is made on spec, there is an expectation of return, or professionals wouldn't make the product (music) as a day job. You can say all musicians who make music that way are stupid, but saying "the music is made and it costs nothing to make another copy, therefore I should have it for free" as a matter of principle is a very radical proposal for cutting off one of the major funding sources for music.

I'm personally not looking forward to a musical future where all albums are made by bored rich folks in their bathrooms, rediscovering every bit of audio engineering pro studio folks used to know from first principles in Garageband, but maybe most people don't like professionally-made music. Or maybe (and this seems more likely to me) a lot of the "it's not theft and I don't care" folks just don't care what it costs to make the music if they get theirs for free, and don't worry about whether the artists whose music they enjoy now can afford to make their next album.
posted by immlass at 8:02 AM on November 7, 2010


"I'm aware people with an interest in defending a worldview I disagree with think it's weak."

Are you aware that impugning motivation rather than addressing the argument is an ad hominem fallacy, and makes it much more likely that, despite claims to the contrary, it's the person committing that fallacy who is more likely to be attempting to manipulate the conversation through framing and rhetorical sophistry?
posted by klangklangston at 9:27 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think what people are missing here is what copyright is supposed to do. It was designed to guarantee creators exclusivity to the fruits of their labors. It was designed to create a monopoly for the creator so that creators could be amply compensated for their creations and continue to create things.

It was NOT designed, primarily, to encourage fair use or force creators to share their works. Those are included because it is silly to say that a work that is out in the world can't be referred to in other works, or quoted in reviews and so forth. And because there needs to be a compromise between the creators' monopoly and common sense.

Theft is the unlawful deprivation of use of something, right? Since copyright guarantees the creator with the exclusive economic use of their works, making unauthorized copies is theft. The same way copying money is a form of theft or counterfeiting gift cards is a form of theft.
posted by gjc at 9:30 AM on November 7, 2010


Are you aware that impugning motivation rather than addressing the argument is an ad hominem fallacy

In this case it's a way of saying I disagree with wierdo's wordview and don't care that he thinks the analogy is weak. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, klang.

"'Theft' means taking goods except for common uses like 'theft of goods' and 'identity theft' but those don't really count because they don't support my argument" is such a Humpty-Dumpty argument that I don't feel it necessary to engage it further.
posted by immlass at 9:48 AM on November 7, 2010


In this bizarre hypothetical situation, I would think nothing of giving away your shovels for free, no matter what you want to call it. Breaking into your warehouse and destroying your zero-cost snow shovel machine would also be a very serious consideration. Doing this in the light of day, with you standing right there watching, would be the ideal way for that to happen, if I thought I could get away with it.

When someone gets the unshakeable feeling that the nature of the game has substantially changed, then they are going to start caring less about what's written in the rulebook.
posted by bingo at 10:35 AM on November 6 [1 favorite +] [!]


That's fine, as long as you admit that you are breaking the established rules for your own personal reasons. Although I'm not sure why you'd want to get away with it if you are so serious about it. I have no problem with someone saying they steal music because they have some moral problem with copyright. The issue here is trying to bamboozle people into believing stealing isn't stealing. They are standing there with the use of something that they didn't pay for, and that the artist didn't authorize, and saying "I didn't steal it because you can't prove you are missing anything."

Or are you an anarchist? Because if so, there's no point in even trying to argue. It's like trying to get a newborn to stop crying by writing it a letter.

I love the Flawed Analogy Game.

How is it flawed? The point is that something can be theft even if it doesn't literally deprive me of that thing at that moment, or if it doesn't cost me anything. But it *does* deprive me of something, the ability to sell my shovels. Every one of my shovels you give away is a shovel I would have sold. Nobody guarantees anyone is going to want my music, but copyright does guarantee that if someone does, I'm the only one that gets to sell it.

Not only is it flawed, but it's nonsensical in both physical and digital terms. Even if you have a magic machine that makes snow shovels at no cost, taking a snow shovel is depriving you of the use of the snow shovel. This is not the case with making a copy.

No it isn't, because I can make another one for no cost. The machine spits them out all the time. I wasn't deprived of anything tangible, I probably didn't even notice. Shovels, like copies, are fungible. As long as I have one, I'm not being deprived of the use of it. .

Maybe a more refined analogy would be that you came in at night and ran the machine to get your own shovels.

Nonetheless, that is the point here. Stealing is stealing.
posted by gjc at 9:54 AM on November 7, 2010


Are you aware that impugning motivation rather than addressing the argument is an ad hominem fallacy, and makes it much more likely that, despite claims to the contrary, it's the person committing that fallacy who is more likely to be attempting to manipulate the conversation through framing and rhetorical sophistry?

I see what you did there. Clever.
posted by gjc at 9:55 AM on November 7, 2010


... the more I've learned about what goes into making an album, the more I've realized that most people who consume music have no idea what it takes in terms of labor and studio time (for whatever value of studio is being used) and engineering and production and so on ...

Most popular music is made with the expectation that sales of the music will earn money for the artists and production people (engineers, producers, techs) involved to recoup sunk production costs (instruments, studio time, gear).


I agree with you and I do actually get this. My choice of the term "design costs" to describe this was unfortunate and inaccurate if you're talking about music. It makes more sense when you're talking about software. Something like "composition and recording costs" would have made more sense in this context.

You can say all musicians who make music that way are stupid, but saying "the music is made and it costs nothing to make another copy, therefore I should have it for free" as a matter of principle ...

I don't know if you're attributing this position to me. But I don't in fact agree with it. It does take lot of time effort and investment make and record music, and musicians need to be compensated for that if they're going to be able to take the time to continue to produce high quality music and make the financial investment in recording equipment or studio time necessary produce good recordings of it.

I don't buy the romantic notion of the crazy, driven artist who will produce anyway no matter what. Most artists aren't crazy, and can't and won't devote a lot of time producing stuff that's a net loss to them, if they also have pay rent, eat, feed their kids, any more than I can afford to build houses for people for free, as much as I love carpentry.

This issue is somewhat personal for me. One of my best friends is really talented poet. Listening to her read stuff she's written has made me hear the modern English language in a way I didn't know was possible. The closest analogues I can think of are in other languages, maybe Chairil Anwar and Goenawan Mohamad in Indonesian, sort of, but English the way she writes it dances with intricate and complex rhythms I can't possibly begin to parse. But there's no market for poetry. She can't afford to spend the time and intense concentration she needs to write it. She's got two kids to feed and needs to take care of them. So she can't write much poetry any more. I think it's a loss for our culture that she can't produce more of it and it can't be published.

(She's not remotely a victim of piracy or the music industry. That's a different problem. But I do wonder how much music we're losing because musicians can't afford to produce it, and how much we will lose in the future because they can't.)
posted by nangar at 10:21 AM on November 7, 2010


Oh, and to follow up with your argument that because people make something expecting to recoup their costs, that's a valid argument for inherent worth:

Aside from your straw man misrepresentation of the position and experiences of people who disagree with you (I know pretty damn well what all goes into making an album), there's no inherent reason why making something with the expectation of return should be treated as an entitlement to that return. Many people bought houses expecting to make money on flipping them, and then the housing bubble burst. That they put a lot of time, money and effort into flipping the houses does not entitle them to earn a return. Likewise, musicians creating music for return know that they are not likely to do so. Certainly, a bit of ego delusion goes into a fair number of cases, just as most Americans believe they will be millionaires any time now, but that doesn't entitle anyone to return.

Further, what the internet and downloading has done is reversed the traditional power exchange of capitalism, turning the public into essentially micro-patrons. I can get nearly any album I want for free; I choose to pay for them when I like them (or for other reasons). The power used to rest in the retailer being able to set a rate of exchange that the consumer could either accept or go without. Now the "going without" has been negated.

But your whole anecdote here has been a mix of misplaced entitlement and paranoid hectoring. Accusing your opponents of simply not liking "professionally-made music" is a particularly egregious example, as it seems to have lept from your mind without any basis in reality. U2 seems to be doing OK, as does Radiohead and any number of other professional musicians.

"a lot of the "it's not theft and I don't care" folks just don't care what it costs to make the music if they get theirs for free, and don't worry about whether the artists whose music they enjoy now can afford to make their next album."

Or a lot of the "it's not theft" folks have complex relationships with the artists they enjoy and resent being stereotyped like you're doing, especially because many of them make music or are involved in the support industries near music production (such as music writers).

And frankly, by making your argument from this a cappella group that you know, you're seating it in the emotional and already setting up the dismissive reply that whether or not your friends' band is able to succeed does not and likely never will matter to me. Likewise, whether or not Ke$ha keeps making music or keeps getting a return on the music she makes, isn't something that will matter to me at all — there will always be a functional equivalent to your friends' a cappella group or Ke$ha. For me, that music has such little value that I'm not even likely to take the time to find it in order to download it.

So, basically, your rhetorical framing is dishonest, your assumptions and aspersions are insulting, and your view of consequences isn't supported by reality. And it's the endless positing of arguments like yours that makes some of us so dismissive when it comes to people endlessly harping on how downloading really is theft, man.
posted by klangklangston at 10:28 AM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Every one of my shovels you give away is a shovel I would have sold.

This just isn't true, especially as an analogy for pirated music and software. I suppose if you want to posit a world where people get snowed in and die if they don't buy a shovel, then it might be true. But if shovels are stand-ins for products that are not necessary to live (music, games, movies, etc.), then for many people it's the choice between waiting out the winter with no shovel, and getting an illegal copy of one of yours.

Some of those people, to be sure, will never become your customers. But some will feel duty-bound to eventually buy a shovel from you when they can afford it. Others will act as free advertising for your shovels; the ethical neighbor of a shovel pirate sees him using the shovel, admires its quality, asks the pirate about it, shakes his head in disgust when he hears it was free, and puts in an order from your warehouse, where you gleefully charge him a ten thousand percent markup.

It's also pretty convenient to think of the shovel manufacturing process as being fully contained within one machine. This handily dodges the problem of who, besides the owner of the machine, is putting their sweat into the creation of the shovels, and whether they are seeing any of the profits.
posted by bingo at 10:41 AM on November 7, 2010


Every one of my shovels you give away is a shovel I would have sold.

bingo just did the long version of eviscerating this sentence. I'll just focus on the word "would". Change it to "could" and I have no argument. But as long as it's "would", I've got all kinds of problems. In fact, maybe this is the singular BIG problem I have with the "stealing is stealing" positions I hear. They're lazy. They want things to be simpler than they really are and as such, they don't take the time to examine what they're actually saying, which any poet will tell you, is just wrong.
posted by philip-random at 10:52 AM on November 7, 2010


something can be theft even if it doesn't literally deprive me of that thing at that moment, or if it doesn't cost me anything. But it *does* deprive me of something, the ability to sell my shovels. Every one of my shovels you give away is a shovel I would have sold.

By this logic, would you say that a used-CD store "deprives" new-CD stores (which charges twice what the used-CD store charges) of the "ability" to sell their CDs? I don't think so. Both stores are "able" to sell whatever they want. They might be more or less effective at doing so. But it's an open question whether the used-CD store hurts or helps the new-CD store.

Say I've heard of Grizzly Bear and would like to own some of their music — but I'm only mildly interested in them. So I go to the used-CD store and buy Grizzly Bear's 2006 album, Yellow House, for $6. I do this instead of buying a Grizzly Bear album at a new-CD store for $12. Under your logic, you might think this entails that some other store lost an album's worth of sales. That's possible, but you can't assume that will happen just by doing an armchair thought-experiment. If I was only willing to pay $6 or less, than a new-CD store selling it for $12 or Amazon selling it for $10 would not have otherwise gotten my money; I could have gone my whole life without buying any Grizzly Bear music. And now that I have Yellow House, who knows what will happen? Maybe I'm satisfied having that album as the sole representation of Grizzly Bear in my record collection. But maybe I get more interested in the band and go online to find out what people have said about them, and I realize a lot of people think their 2009 album, Veckatimest, is a lot better. Later on, I happen to go with some friends to a new-CD store, I notice Veckatimest, and I figure, I might as well buy this as long as I'm shopping here. Sure, I might be able to find it used for less money, or pirated for free, but I'm still motivated to pay full price since now I care enough about the band to spend more money on a more valuable, reliable product (I get the full album art, I know the CD won't be scratched, I know the audio quality is high, etc.).

If these dynamics can work in unpredictable ways with a store that sells CDs at half the normal price, I don't see why they couldn't also work in unpredictable ways with free mp3s. You can't just assume that each time someone illegally downloads 1 free album, it reduces the sales of some other store by exactly 1 album. It might do that, or it might have no effect, or it might cause someone to buy an album at a conventional store that they wouldn't have bought otherwise. It might even cause someone to buy 10 albums.
posted by John Cohen at 2:03 PM on November 7, 2010


immlass wrote: ""'Theft' means taking goods except for common uses like 'theft of goods' and 'identity theft' but those don't really count because they don't support my argument" is such a Humpty-Dumpty argument that I don't feel it necessary to engage it further."

Well, you know, other than the paragraphs I wrote explaining why I thought it was still a poor analogy (although better!). If you don't feel like reading and understanding people's posts, why are you even here?

Even in your free shovel example, someone stealing a shovel from you does indeed deprive you use of that shovel. You could have sold that shovel, set it on fire, or whatever you liked. It is no longer under your control. That you may have ten thousand more is irrelevant. It is simply not the same as a digital copy. Of course, I also note that you didn't bother to engage my assertion that it's more analogous to me copying the plans and building my own free shovel machine.

Copyright gives you control over the first sale market for your work. Nothing less, nothing more.
posted by wierdo at 2:26 PM on November 7, 2010


Sorry, Astro Zombie, it looks like another thread about unrelated copyright infringement has turned into a discussion of music downloading!

immlass: People who call copyright infringement "theft" aren't necessarily trying to score internet points or make people feel bad about themselves, although as at least one person admitted upthread, it sometimes has that effect.

There's probably a high correlation between that effect and:
- Ignoring valid legal arguments for using a particular term of art for a particular legal offense because internet lawyers don't know anything about law
- Dismissing critiques of one's analogy as coming from "people with an interest in defending a worldview I disagree with"
- Casting people who say "copyright infringement is not the same thing as theft" as "'it's not theft and I don't care' folks [who] just don't care what it costs to make the music if they get theirs for free, and don't worry about whether the artists whose music they enjoy now can afford to make their next album."

It's that some of us see taking stuff without paying for it, even if the "stuff" is a digital copy, as analogous to theft, with the implication that if theft is morally wrong, so is unauthorized uncompensated copying of creative works.

Part of what makes having this type of discussion difficult is that any suggestion that infringement ISN'T theft is somehow misunderstood as an argument that infringement isn't wrong. It's to the point where I have to add disclaimers to my comments in discussions like these that I believe infringement is wrong (as I did in the original thread and this thread) to try to keep that ugly assumption from rearing its head, but it never seems to make a difference.

To your point, copyright infringement and theft are analogous. As several people have pointed out, it's a very flawed analogy. This is why a lot of us advocate the use of a less-loaded, legally accurate term for what it is.

I grew up in a very religiously conservative part of the nation. I heard a lot of people growing up say that masturbation is adultery. You're giving yourself sexual gratification and release, and you aren't with your spouse, and you're thinking of someone who isn't your spouse. Christine O'Donnell is the type of person who believes this. In a discussion about masturbation, how would you respond to someone who insisted on referring to it exclusively as "adultery?" What if that person responded to arguments about why it is a poor choice of terminology by saying "I'm aware that people with an interest in defending a worldview I disagree with say it's a poor choice of words," instead of providing any counter-arguments?

Masturbation is analogous to adultery in the same way that theft is analogous to copyright infringement. There are facile, surface-level similarities with enormous underlying differences. There is no one particular "worldview" of people who dislike this use of the word "theft." Many of them hold this opinion for any number of rational reasons, and responding as if they all belong to a monolithic group inventing reasons to prefer a term so they don't feel as bad about participating in conduct that you find morally objectionable disrespects them and doesn't further the conversation. Ask anyone who disagrees with Christine O'Donnell.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 5:31 PM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Disclaimer: I shut up earlier when I realized nothing I could say would sway the opinions of people like Artw. I'm not trying to force anyone to use any particular term anymore. But if people are going to continue arguing over the term, the argument should at LEAST be about the term itself and not about the supposed worldview of the people on either side.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 5:33 PM on November 7, 2010


To elaborate slightly on what a few people said above, the shovel analogy is flawed because the shovels themselves are still finite goods. Unless I have a magic shovel machine, I can't make them.

What your 'analogy' describes is a situation that's essentially that of the media production houses pre-computer/internet, when copying media would in fact require breaking into a production facility and running off your own copies of records or whatnot. So, yes, that would be theft.

But this isn't about some magical-realism view of media houses in the sixties. The entire internet is a gigantic copying machine. Everybody has a magic shovel machine. Moreover, everyone needs it because it doesn't just make shovels, it makes tons of other goods you need including your newspaper and mail. Once you start trying to police that (and you can't do one without the other--what if someone were to mail you a shovel?) you quickly run into some very scary territory.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:45 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


infringement
blah
blah
blah
blah
theft
blah
blah
blah
blah
.......

it is always the same in these threads. why does anybody bother?
posted by caddis at 10:28 PM on November 7, 2010


it is always the same in these threads. why does anybody bother?

Duty calls.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:36 PM on November 7, 2010


bingo just did the long version of eviscerating this sentence. I'll just focus on the word "would". Change it to "could" and I have no argument. But as long as it's "would", I've got all kinds of problems. In fact, maybe this is the singular BIG problem I have with the "stealing is stealing" positions I hear. They're lazy. They want things to be simpler than they really are and as such, they don't take the time to examine what they're actually saying, which any poet will tell you, is just wrong.

I see your point, and it is valid- more people will want something if it is free than those who would pay for it. This is the problem with the intellectual property argument- defining the marketplace is difficult. But among the people who took the free thing, there are people who *would* have bought it. This is an unmeasurable number, but (at any one instant) it is a concrete number. If any of those willing-to-pay customers obtain the copyrighted item without paying (or some other access that is allowed by copyright) some kind of theft has occurred.
posted by gjc at 4:51 AM on November 8, 2010


it is always the same in these threads. why does anybody bother?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I am coming from a personal rights and property rights standpoint. I don't like the idea that because something is easy, or because we think the owner of something won't notice or has too much money or deserves it, we should be able to violate their rights. Copyright is one of those rights- it gives the right of first sale to the creator. When we do something that usurps that, it is a form of theft.

We don't have to like someone else's rights or the way they exercise them- but we can't pretend they don't exist if we want to live in a free society.

And it irks me when people try to argue from the loophole standpoint: it's not stealing because it's not a thing and only things can have value. The more people who are disabused of that notion, the better, because the amount of our societal work-product that is intangible is ever increasing, and it's really not cool to believe that kind of work is any less valuable than another kind.

A world where artists can't get paid (if they want to) is quickly going to become a world with less art.
posted by gjc at 5:13 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


By this logic, would you say that a used-CD store "deprives" new-CD stores (which charges twice what the used-CD store charges) of the "ability" to sell their CDs? I don't think so. Both stores are "able" to sell whatever they want. They might be more or less effective at doing so. But it's an open question whether the used-CD store hurts or helps the new-CD store.

Agreed, and that's the flaw in the diminished marketplace analogy. Those CDs were sold with the understanding that they can be resold when the first owner is done with them. Resale stores don't create another copy. Illegal downloading does create another copy, which does diminish the marketplace.
posted by gjc at 5:28 AM on November 8, 2010


What your 'analogy' describes is a situation that's essentially that of the media production houses pre-computer/internet, when copying media would in fact require breaking into a production facility and running off your own copies of records or whatnot. So, yes, that would be theft.

Suppose you did that- broke into a production house and stole a copy of Star Wars. You get caught. Will you be charged with the retail cost of the filmstock, or with the theft of something of much higher value?

You would be charged, of course, with that larger value. The content has value, which makes it property, which makes it possible to be stolen.

But this isn't about some magical-realism view of media houses in the sixties. The entire internet is a gigantic copying machine. Everybody has a magic shovel machine. Moreover, everyone needs it because it doesn't just make shovels, it makes tons of other goods you need including your newspaper and mail. Once you start trying to police that (and you can't do one without the other--what if someone were to mail you a shovel?) you quickly run into some very scary territory.

Just because you have the ability to do something does not make it right to do so. That was the concept I was trying to think of in one of my earlier comments: the "it's not wrong if you don't get caught" mindset.

The difference between mail and the newspapers is that those entities send them to you of their own will. That is different from taking someone else's content and making copies. If someone mails you an eShovel that you didn't pay for, you delete it unused. Same thing you do now.

Final analogy, for now. Someone makes a copy of one of your personal emails, which just happens to contain sensitive and embarrassing information, and makes it available to the world. (And, for the sake of the analogy, let's assume that this does bother you.) They took something of great value from you- the act of making the copy diminished your privacy, and publishing it diminishes it even more. That is theft just as much as making Xerox copies of your diary would be.

The only difference is that your loss is emotional, theirs in financial. They deprived you of the "use" of that information, because your use of it was to keep it secret.
posted by gjc at 5:47 AM on November 8, 2010


Someone makes a copy of one of your personal emails, which just happens to contain sensitive and embarrassing information, and makes it available to the world. (And, for the sake of the analogy, let's assume that this does bother you.) They took something of great value from you- the act of making the copy diminished your privacy, and publishing it diminishes it even more. That is theft just as much as making Xerox copies of your diary would be.

Actually, whether or not it's theft depends entirely on how they obtained the email to begin with.
posted by bingo at 7:32 AM on November 8, 2010


Agreed, and that's the flaw in the diminished marketplace analogy.

The flaw with most of these analogies is that they attempt to analogize finite goods with speech. And yes, bits are speech.

This is the distinction that throws a lot of people. We live in a world of wizards who can summon an exact copy of your snow shovel with an incantation. Trying to make them all shut up unless they pay for the privilege of uttering it is fruitless in the long run, yet potentially catastrophic in the short term.

Now, the real world didn't go away. There's still finite goods to be allocated, and thus still a market for them. The challenge becomes finding a way to leverage your infinite goods to sell your finite goods. It's a subject that's being addressed, often successfully, by plenty of artists in a variety of ways. Raging against change is one of the poorer ones.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:15 AM on November 8, 2010

A world where artists can't get paid (if they want to) is quickly going to become a world with less art.
That is indeed troubling. It's worth noting, however, that the cat is out of the bag in terms of fundamental media shifts. We've never, ever, ever been able to figure out a good way to capture value for creators other than paying to get in the door of a live performance.

It is as simple as that.

What we have today is a system in which creators give their right to control their creation to someone else in exchange for a share of the profits that someone else will make duplicating and distributing copies of the created work. The problem is that the actual inherent value of that part of the equation has dropped to near-zero. In many cases very act of listening to digital music is an act of duplication: copies of a digital asset are shuffled from hard disk to RAM, over networks to local computers, etc.

That's problematic because we have never, ever, EVER managed to sell the idea of "artists paying off their R&D time" to our culture. Remember when CDs were sold to the public as "expensive because we're ramping up, but eventually they will be super cheap to produce and music will be less expensive?" Now the duplication and distribution cost is zero -- literally. The cost today is not in duplication and distribution, but in building infrastructure for systems that allow limited duplication and distribution.

Anyways, I'm not arguing for "FREE PIRACY WOO HOO!" or anything, just pointing out that the real problem is that we've been coasting on a bad hack that attached allllll of the cost-recouping onto a particular step of the process. Now that particular step is free, unnecessary, and fundamentally inefficient and everyone is flailing around to find better ways to recoup creation costs. OK, not "everyone." Just everyone with a clue. The ones without a clue are trying to build more and more complex ways of crippling technology infrastructure to make the inefficiencies impossible to remove.
posted by verb at 10:18 AM on November 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


We've never, ever, ever been able to figure out a good way to capture value for creators other than paying to get in the door of a live performance.

Sure we have. There's merchandizing, attention (a lot of artists have offered bennies to fans for various amounts,) even straight-up donations (e.g., Kickstarter.com)

The idea that 'the music business' (or any other media enterprise) is all about selling shiny plastic discs (or, especially, the digital equivalent thereof) is kind of silly at this point.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:31 AM on November 8, 2010

Sure we have. There's merchandizing, attention (a lot of artists have offered bennies to fans for various amounts,) even straight-up donations (e.g., Kickstarter.com)
You're right -- and I should have been more clear. What I mean is that no one has ever figured out how to directly capture the value of creating the initial unique work. If you make all of your money on merch, value-add bonuses like "access to private discussion forums" or "backstage passes" or what not, you're not capturing value on the original creative work. You're using that creative work to drive sales of other related works.

Kickstarter is the flip side -- people aren't paying for an artist to recoup the cost of creating after it occurs, they're paying to convince the artist to take the time to do the creation itself. They're essentially taking on the role that labels sometimes do, funding the studio recording process or the prototyping process. What those kickstarter micro-funders get out of it is first-in-line access to the thing they funded.

I'm not saying that either of these things are bad at all -- in a lot of cases I think they are really a lot more promising and sustainable than trying to figure out how to erect more and more elaborate digital and legal minefields around the activity that people intuitively grasp should be mind-bogglingly easy. (ie, copying and consuming the creative work itself.)

But IMO, the reason most people feel 'meh' about piracy, is because the place that the "price" is being attached is the one place that genuinely has zero actual cost. People react badly when they see deep cost/price disparities, and moving the price closer to the production points that have genuine cost makes sense. IN both of your examples, that's what is being done: merch is a physical thing people understand has a cost. Putting on a live show has costs that may be low compared to a $200 U2 ticket, but at least the costs are non-zero. And paying to help someone produce an album is different than paying them for the right to make a copy of a digital recording: the price is attached more directly to something with understand real cost.
posted by verb at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2010


But IMO, the reason most people feel 'meh' about piracy, is because the place that the "price" is being attached is the one place that genuinely has zero actual cost.

Well yeah. If your neighbor has a lot of trees and you don't, you could be accused of stealing his oxygen. In practice, we don't worry about that. So, he shouldn't be in the oxygen business.

Now, if he started selling fruit trees, he may have something. If he started bitching about your oxygen consumption, he'd probably get locked up for his own good.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:08 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Growing fruit trees and trying to sell the oxygen" is probably just as flawed as most other analogies that come up in IP discussions, but it did make me laugh. So thumbs up. Heh.
posted by verb at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Growing fruit trees and trying to sell the oxygen" is probably just as flawed as most other analogies that come up in IP discussions, but it did make me laugh.

Yeah, that's the problem. All analog/digital analogies are flawed on some level.

Initially it makes sense, since you're just describing a different way of doing the same thing. Which initially it is. People are comfortable with what they know. They tend to implement parallel models. But soon it becomes a vastly different thing.

Disconnecting people from their flawed analogies, and alerting them to the sea-change, is a thankless task.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:54 AM on November 8, 2010


gjc wrote: "I can't speak for anyone else, but I am coming from a personal rights and property rights standpoint. I don't like the idea that because something is easy, or because we think the owner of something won't notice or has too much money or deserves it, we should be able to violate their rights. Copyright is one of those rights- it gives the right of first sale to the creator. When we do something that usurps that, it is a form of theft."

Who in this conversation is saying we should be able to violate copyright law with impunity? Personally, I'm just saying it's not theft and therefore doesn't deserve the massive fines that come with the territory. I think we all agree that artists (and authors) should be compensated for their work if the user of the content believes it has value. Preferably before they go and make a copy at no cost.

Ironically, I've bought a lot more albums based on hearing (authorized) copies of songs on those albums than I have by hearing them on the radio or whatever. But that's just me.

I think things are far more morally hazy in terms of television shows than regarding music. After all, I pay a lot of money every month for cable, so why shouldn't I download copies of shows if I find that a more convenient way to view them than to use my TiVo? (so the argument goes, anyway)

I think this is where the content owners go off the rails. They want us to re-buy music we already own copies of on CD. They want us to re-buy television shows we already receive for free over the air or for pay over a cable. They want us to re-buy books we already have in paper form so we can read them on an eReader.

At least in the case of people downloading music from an album they never bought, you can argue that the rightsholders were never compensated for that person's use of the content, so there is little moral ambiguity. It's still only copyright infringement, not theft, but there's still no good argument I've seen that it's a morally valid choice.
posted by wierdo at 12:28 PM on November 8, 2010


if you have to use an analogy to make your point it probably isn't worth making. (this comment is not directed at any one person in particular but rather at everyone who is arguing by analogy rather than addressing the main points)
posted by caddis at 12:32 PM on November 8, 2010


gjc: > it is always the same in these threads. why does anybody bother?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I am coming from a personal rights and property rights standpoint. I don't like the idea that because something is easy, or because we think the owner of something won't notice or has too much money or deserves it, we should be able to violate their rights. ... And it irks me when people try to argue from the loophole standpoint: it's not stealing because it's not a thing and only things can have value.


Okay, but this thread is over the use of words like "theft" to refer to copyright infringement. As wierdo pointed out, nobody in this thread has argued the point that you are arguing against. I haven't seen a single person say music doesn't have value. I haven't seen anyone say that infringement is okay. And you are arguing that it is immoral for people to commit infringement, not that there's some reason why the word "theft" is better.

Do you have a reason that you prefer the use of the word "theft" that isn't directly linked to an presumption that everyone who prefers the term "infringement" believes that we should be able to violate everyone's rights? Because nobody I have seen arguing against the use of the word "theft" in this thread believes that.

I said in the original thread:
Saying there's no reason not to refer to infringement as theft is the same thing as saying there's no reason not to refer to first-person shooters as "murder simulators," to the estate tax as a "death tax," and so on. There is a reason: the latter terms are loaded, and intended to influence discussion of the topic by appealing to the reader's feelings about unrelated things.

Is there any counterargument to this? I think we've been discussing why people shouldn't download music because it's like stealing from artists, instead of talking about the subject of this thread, since at least 9am two days ago. All that does is reinforce my original point. If you prefer the term "theft" because you like bringing people's feelings about theft into an unrelated area of law, then great, just say that. cortex made it clear that it's acceptable to do this. But PLEASE don't act like everyone who has taken the time to write reasoned arguments for why they don't agree with you is some dirty pirate trying to kill the content industry, without acknowledging their arguments.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 2:58 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


and Jesus, the email example could be a TON of things but it isn't theft, unless they literally took your laptop. It's definitely the tort of publicity given to private life and probably either intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. Depending on how they GOT your emails it could also be trespass to chattels, violation of the Wiretap Act, ... I don't know, probably some kind of hacking statute. But, like copyright infringement, it isn't theft (although I acknowledge and respect your right to mislabel it as such on this site)
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 3:05 PM on November 8, 2010


What I mean is that no one has ever figured out how to directly capture the value of creating the initial unique work.

Yeah, that first step is a doozy. (And rightly so.) However, once you build a fan base it's increasingly easy to leverage it. The easiest way to build that is to get your initial stuff out there as cheaply as possible.

For most artists the problem isn't piracy; it's obscurity.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:49 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


ChurhHatesTucker wins the thread. Can we stop this now?
posted by philip-random at 11:26 PM on November 8, 2010


We should just start IPFilter and be done with it.
posted by verb at 6:10 AM on November 9, 2010


Well, on the bright side, we'd only need the one thread.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 4:56 AM on November 11, 2010


What I need to do is patent the typical cycle that these discussions go through as "A method for resolving intellectual property discussions in time-sorted message boards."

Then I'd require that everyone post in THIS thread, and...
posted by verb at 11:09 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


re her apology, I'm not sure I want writing tips from an editor who, regarding the piece she stoler, says she "didn't realize it was copy written."
posted by timsteil at 8:50 AM on November 17, 2010


Where the GRAR sammiches at?
posted by Mister_A at 9:25 AM on November 17, 2010


From The Apology ...

The bad news is that this is probably the final straw for Cooks Source. We have never been a great money-maker even with all the good we do for businesses. Having a black mark wont help...and now, our black mark will become our shroud. Winters are bleak in Western New England, and as such they are bleak for Cooks Source as well. This will end us.
posted by philip-random at 9:42 AM on November 17, 2010


I'm coming to this discussion to note, really late, that as far as I know (as a 2nd party to the institution of publishing and the institution of the food industry both), recipes are not generally considered to be unique enough to be copyrightable. I'm solely talking about recipes here, which are the list of tools, ingredients and the description of method to combine the starters into the desired result.

This also explains (along with the attendant issues in enforcement) why most food-related industries that have special signature products go to great lengths to protect secret recipes and trade secrets and secret formulas. Once a recipe is discovered it's in the wild and can't be stuffed back in the safe.

What Monica wrote and was republished without permission in Cooks Source is not just recipes, though and I believe is a copyrightable item. Not because of the recipes which it looks like she cited from her cited sources, but the analysis and surrounding text that made up the rest of the article that wasn't recipe is absolutely copyright-able.

So it seems like the recipes-aren't-copyrightable direction from which the Cooks Source editor was originally coming from has a reasonable foundation, but I absolutely do not agree that this means you can copy any work that contains a recipe worry-free.
posted by kalessin at 10:37 AM on November 17, 2010


I was stupid to even answer her that night, her email to me was antagonistic and just plain rude and I was exhausted. But I got suckered in and responded. [...] To one writer in particular, Monica Gaudio, I wish you had given me a chance.

Wow, that may be the worst "apology" I've seen from a non-politician.
posted by languagehat at 12:11 PM on November 17, 2010


We should just start IPFilter and be done with it.

Israel/Palestine and Intellectual Property. Two great GRARs that GRAR great together?
posted by juv3nal at 12:36 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Israel + Palestine should always be discussed in the context of Intellectual Property concerns. In particular, no effort should made to clarify what exactly one is so angry about. Just be ANGRY and STRONG and WRONG.

It's most important to be WRONG in these discussions.
posted by philip-random at 1:09 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


So it seems like the recipes-aren't-copyrightable direction from which the Cooks Source editor was originally coming from has a reasonable foundation

FWIW, Leah Eskin writes a column every Sunday in the Chicago Tribune, that usually says
"recipe adapted from...." whatever cookbook or restaurant at the end in little print.
posted by timsteil at 3:43 PM on November 17, 2010


Israel should just claim "Palestine" as a trademark. Best to get all our apples into one basket.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:49 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


that usually says "recipe adapted from...." whatever cookbook

Yep. That's called professional courtesy.
posted by kalessin at 5:06 AM on November 18, 2010


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