Thursday, December 08, 2005

MP3s & theft

Something I'd just like to clarify, mainly because I want to link a webpage or two to this post.

Copying or downloading an MP3 is not theft. Not by any legal definition is it theft. No matter where you stand on the whole morality-of-music-downloading issue, MP3 piracy does not involve theft.

Theft is defined as taking an item of property away with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of it. Some people think that the definition of theft is something like "The obtaining of property without paying for it." This is because, when dealing with real property, they amount to the same thing: Shoplifting a CD means that I have it and the shop doesn't: I have gained it, they have lost it. The difference is trivial, except when it comes to intellectual property (IP).

If you copy an MP3, which is IP, you create a new MP3. Although you have obtained this piece of property without paying for it, you have not stolen it, because the original owner still has it. He has not been deprived. You have committed copyright infringement, not theft.

The difference is important: Walk into a shop & put a music album in your pocket, you'll get a slapped wrist and banned from the store. This is theft.

Sit at home & download an MP3, and you could face a fine of thousands, the confiscation of all your computing equipment, and a lengthy stay in jail. That's copyright infringement for you.

The word "Theft" is used by the media industries because it's a concept that is accepted by society as unacceptable. "He stole our music" will get an instant, negative reaction. "He infringed on our copyright" evokes no such response. It's used emotively, not legally, to try and maintain a high level of societal dissapproval of downloading music without paying for it.

But it is not theft. Period.


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