Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 31st Aug 2010 22:09 UTC
Legal Despite doing what I think are some great things for the American people, the Obama administration has a dark side. Joe Biden and many others on staff come straight from the RIAA camp, and it shows. Today, the Obama administration disregarded every US law relating to theft and copyright by stating that piracy is "flat, unadulterated theft".
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Member since:

Since you're not dealing with legal definitions, but with man-on-the-street definitions, I'll counter you.

Maybe "theft" is limited to your definition, but "stealing" certainly is not.

Plaigerism, the unauthorized use of others' words without attribution, is considered often referred to as "stealing words".
Corporate espionage where one company obtains the business secrets of its competitor is "stealing business secrets".
A student obtaining the questions and answers to an exam before taking the test is said to have "stolen the test".

In these cases, the offended party still possesses the original items, but stealing has indeed occurred, in the colloquial sense.

And of course, there are phrases like "stealing a kiss", which are about unauthorized action rather than change of possession of an item, yet the word "steal" is still used.

Even a student simply copying answers from the brainiac sitting next to him while the test is in progress is often said to have "stolen the answers".

And since this is a tech blog, we've all seen the claims that a company that adopted (even loosely) the ideas of another's previously released product "stole" the ideas.

As for piracy of IP, the actual "theft" in question is is the "theft" of the copyright holder's ability to exercise his/her legal rights wrt the IP in question as he/she sees fit. It's like sneaking in to a movie theater to whatch a movie free of charge. I'd say that a person that did that stole from the movie theater, even though the movie theater didn't have any items removed from their possession. Downloading a movie, song, software, video game, etc, and using it without authorization (for example, without due payment), is the same as sneaking into the theater (only the latter at least takes some courage! lol), so I'd say stealing has occurred just like it did in the sneaking into theater case.

And colloquially, "steal" = "theft". I don't see why people get outraged when someone says "piracy is theft"; we know that the phrase means unauthorized use rather than removal from possession.

The classic wrongs are lie, cheat, steal, harm, kill. So I guess "piracy = cheating" would be preferrable to "piracy = theft" for some, but I don't think the distinction makes much of a difference (again, I'm not talking of legal definitions). Maybe people sleep better at night thinking of themselves as cheaters rather than stealers or theives, so they cling to the distinction between theft/steal and cheat.

Edited 2010-09-01 09:30 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

james_gnz Member since:

Since you're not dealing with legal definitions, but with man-on-the-street definitions, I'll counter you.

Maybe "theft" is limited to your definition, but "stealing" certainly is not.

Yes, copyright infringement is colloquially referred to as stealing. This is not a very profound statement, though. To say that copyright infringement is theft sounds like it is presenting a moral argument against copying per se, but in reality fails to do so, IMHO.

To go through your list:
* Plagiarism is misleading, or essentially lying. It is essentially claiming authorship when this is not the case.
* Espionage generally involves tactics such as becoming an employee and then breaching confidentially, or trespassing.
* Obtaining test answers in advance, much like plagiarism, is misleading, or essentially lying.
* "Stealing a kiss" might refer to unwanted physical contact.
* Copying test answers, again, much like plagiarism, is misleading, or essentially lying.

Copyright infringement might prevent the copyright holder from receiving potential income, if the copyright holder would have received income had the copyright infringement not taken place. However such income is only expected in the first place because copyright law grants the copyright holder the legal right to it. Had there been no such law, there would have been no such expectation of income. Justifying copyright law on the basis of lost income, then, is a circular argument.

Copyright law was originally justified:
for the Encouragement of Learning
(UK Statute of Anne / Copyright Act 1709)
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts
(USA Constitution)

And this remains the only coherent (non-circular) argument for it, IMHO. As such, copyright infringement is wrong because it is a violation of democratically agreed law. This is an important distinction because it means we have a right to democratically change it. If we didn't, then it wouldn't be a democratically agreed law, and there would be no moral justification for it at all.

Reply Parent Score: 2

MollyC Member since:

I just saw an ad wrt "identity theft", a phrase that is another example of the term "theft" or "steal" used in a situation where there isn't necessarily a removal of possession from the rightful owner. Just throwing it out there.

Reply Parent Score: 3

sorpigal Member since:

I think the distinction is highly important. The people speaking of copyright infringement in terms of "theft" tend to do so because they are being intentionally inflammatory and wish to dramatize the extent to which they have been victimized. It is more accurate to say "cheating" as you note and this is also less inflammatory. In the public consciousness a thief is a very bad sort of person who is doing a great deal of harm and the owners of the copyrights would like to borrow the negativity the public feels toward such persons. Infringing on copyright is, however, not a very harmful activity--certainly not on the same order as "regular" theft!--so I contend that to equate the two is misleading at best, fraudulent at worst.

If we're to have a proper debate over the role of copyright and the rights of the public vs. the rights of the author it is best to remain clear and honest on all sides. One way in which the "traditional media" side likes to bolster their position is by using poisonous, loaded language like "theft." By choosing the language for the debate they instantly start with a strong emotional advantage that they do not necessarily deserve. When I see someone using such language I must assume that he is doing so either out of ignorance, having been suckered by this kind of debate-framing language, or malice, intending to sucker more people and limit the scope of the debate to the questions and attitudes where he knows he can score points easily. It is for this reason that I take great exception to the use of such terms and will always speak against them, deny their appropriateness and attempt to replace them with "copyright infringement" or other accurate and appropriate terms wherever I can.

Reply Parent Score: 6