Saturday, March 20, 2010

Theft, Piracy, and Copyright Infringement

The Content Holders have woken up and realised that calling copyright infringement "piracy" is a policy that seems to have backfired.

Seems a good time to remind people that copyright infringement and theft are equally disparate terms. Theft as Wikipedia helpfully points out, with some apt quotations from statutory law, is a property crime that involves deprivation of property from one person to another.

Copying, by definition, cannot be theft. Copying involves the replication of something, tangible or intangible. It isn't the deprivation of a limited good, it's the multiplication of a good. Our whole computerised civilisation is built on the copying of data. The internet's very method of existence is copying.

When people talk about copyright infringement as theft, they are engaging in the same rhetorical trick as 'piracy'. It's an emotionally laden term meant to draw attention to the loss of producers. But it also muddies the waters. Few people are "pro-theft", but copyright infringement isn't theft. To have intelligent debate and meaningful dialogue on what copyright laws should and shouldn't be, requires us to jettison false equivalences like copyright infringement = theft.

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