Copyright laws and piracy - Where do you stand?

Copyright laws and piracy - Where do you stand?

Summary: Over the months that this blog has been running we've had some really good discussions relating to copyright laws and piracy. Hardware such as portable media players and disc burners are closely linked to copyright and piracy because these devices allow people to do things with content that the copyright holders might not be too happy with. But is violating the terms of copyright theft, whether it be on a small or large scale, right or wrong? Is it theft? When does it become theft? Where do you draw the line?


Over the months that this blog has been running we've had some really good discussions relating to copyright laws and piracy.  Hardware such as portable media players and disc burners are closely linked to copyright and piracy because these devices allow people to do things with content that the copyright holders might not be too happy with.  But is violating the terms of copyright theft, whether it be on a small or large scale, right or wrong?  Is it theft?  When does it become theft?  Where do you draw the line?

Discussions relating to copyright laws and piracy seem to break down into two groups:

  • Those who believe that piracy is a growing problem and that something needs to be done about it.  These people also feel that punishments for copyright infringement should be harsher.
  • Those who feel that there's nothing wrong with violating copyright.  There are sub-camps within this camp, for example, those who feel that infringing copyright is OK as long as a profit isn't made and those that believe that copyright violation is hyped by the media and that it's not a widespread problem.  Another widely held belief is that information should be freely available

[poll id=125]

Looking at things from a different angle, copyright laws have to balance the needs of two groups of people:

  • Copyright holders who generate the content and require the protection of the law
  • Those who want to make use of copyrighted material

It might seem like an odd thing to say but I can see the argument from both sides.  If you're a copyright holder or someone who happily pays for the content that you use and do your best to remain on the right side of schemes such as DRM, then it's easy to see any kind of copyright infringement (even when trivial or non-existent) as theft and demand that it's treated as such.  I buy a LOT of DVDs and some music in the form of CDs and never feel like seeing if I can download it for free. 

However, if you're someone who makes a lot of use of copyrighted material but doesn't understand that everyone in the chain has a right to control how the material is used or distributed then it's likely that you feel that there is nothing wrong with violating copyright for personal use (ripping a CD for use on multiple devices, making a backup CD for the car, making a mix CD ...).  I can buy the argument that this doesn't hurt anyone so what's the big deal - as long as it's for personal use.  There's being fair and being greedy, and too many content providers are using DRM as a way to be greedy and expect a user to pay multiple times for content

And at the extreme end of the spectrum you have those who see nothing wrong with making a profit from the work of others without consent.  This is a different matter.  In my mind this is just theft in a modern guise.  You're not stealing a physical thing, but you are stealing the other person's ability to control how their content is distributed and denying them a return on their investment.

Somewhere in the middle you have people who think that it's OK to have free and easy access to copyrighted works and download or make available to others everything they can.  It's this group of users that make the the whole copyright debate interesting because their view on copyright is that it's "all you can eat" is just fine.  Try having a rational debate with these people and you get some interesting arguments.  File-sharing doesn't harm anyone.  Content should be free.  The record/movie industry is evil.  File-sharing encourages people to buy more DVDs/CDs.  It's quite interesting to watch people justifying this position and presenting tortured logic to prove how they're not really stealing. 

For those of you that think that piracy and copyright infringement doesn't exist, I'm here to tell you as someone who generates intellectual property that it does happen.  For example, there are a number of blogs that reproduce everything that I post to this blog, the only difference is that the content that I've generated is surrounded by someone else's ads.  Other people want to profit from my effort and offer me nothing in return.  If people are duplicating my blog posts here then I'm pretty sure that other people will be doing the same with Spider-Man 3.  There's a lot of piracy out there.

The main tool that the recording and movie industry have used to combat piracy is DRM.  The idea here is that everyone is potentially a pirate and by making use of DRM it's a little harder for people to duplicate that movie or downloaded song.  "Don't turn a good kid bad."  But DRM is not an obstacle for anyone who's serious about copying a song or movie.  In fact, to me DRM is the ultimate signal from content providers that the law, for one reason or another, does not work.  It's not the pirates profiting from disregarding copyright laws who are punished, but instead it is the average user.  This is the part that seems wrong to me. 

What's your take on copyright laws and piracy?  What's right and what's wrong?  Where does DRM fit into the equation?  Has technology made it too easy to infringe copyright?  Do we expect content for nothing?  Has the digital age redefined theft?

Topic: Legal

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  • DRM incorrectly applied

    I always rip my recently bought cd's because they eventually get lost, scratched, etc. I long drives with mix cds makes the trip more enjoyable. I think the line for DRM is drawn by the buying power of the target. For example, suing teenagers who dont have an superior education, thus, a good job does not make sense. In my teen years I used pirate mp3's and played pirate games, BUT that access to content, made me want to own it. DRM of course played a part on this conversion but also added value of owning your own stuff like tech-support, upgrades and updates, even to de part of comunity on the open. Of course I can pay for it now and DRM in increasingly becoming a hassle so much, that may eventually stop buying and move to open source.
  • It's not "theft"

    Calling copyright infringement "theft" is a disservice--infringement is a much more serious crime with more serious penalties. It's like calling murder "assault".

    That said, I work for a publisher and am a strong believer in copyright, as our founding fathers intended it. Copyright does not exist to ensure profits. It exists merely as an incentive for people to create to improve our society. It's a LIMITED (key word) set of rights we, as a people, are willing to give up in order to have a stronger, better society.

    That seems to have been lost. Copyright is not, nor has it ever been, a guarantee to earn money.

    While I do agree that infringement is now rampant, I see the situation much like prohibition. Society has spoken, clamping down is not going to solve the problem (much like arresting bootleggers didn't stop people from drinking). DRM was never the solution, as it had a success rate of 0%, yet it managed to annoy nearly 100% of purchasers. The EMI deal shows it's dead in the water, soon to be a thing of the past.

    What companies and artists must do is adjust to changing technology and alter their business strategies. Like the MPAA, threatened by the VCR, eventually managed to make more money from video sales than from ticket sales, companies must find a way to profit from the new technologies, or die out. It's that simple.
    tic swayback
    • Agree.....but.....

      Actually, it could be "theft" by the media conglomerates.

      When VCR's became popular, MPAA claimed that they would lose money when users taped shows and movies, so that they can be watched at the users convenience. A surcharge was eventually added to every blank media, to make up for this claim. This surcharge continues to this day.

      Movies that would have lost money, now almost always make a profit because of these video sales. Maybe that's why there are so many junk movies being made. They make the money on the video sales, so there is no need to press for making a good movie anymore.

      Now, the media moguls have discovered that they want payment for EVERY play of any material. Fair use, although legal, is deliberately being abused, for the almighty dollar. Copying anything is now considered a crime. Next, computer backups will become illegal!

      Copyrights have become a license to kill, and the laws need to be changed to protect the consumer. Fair use needs to enforced, so that a user can buy their music, and then listen to their purchase, as they see fit. Until this is enforced, piracy will continue and grow.
      linux for me
      • Bad movies are new?

        There were no bad movies before the advent of the VCR? That's going to be a blow to the folks who produced Mystery Science Theater 3000.
        Sorry - I just had to say that.
        I wish I had something more constructive to add. I want copyright laws. Producers of art, software, literature, etc. have a right to market their work without others just taking it and giving it away. On the other hand, it burns me when I rent a movie and my computer can't even play it.
        I think that if I buy a music CD I should be able to rip any songs off it, convert them to mp3, ogg, or whatever format suits my fancy, and play them on my computer or any portable player. But if i give the files to others, even in my own household, I'm infringing on the publisher's property. But I have no idea how to program rules like that into the CD, and if it could be done, people from both side of the argument would still call it unfair.
        • "even in my own household"?

          Better not let your wife (or your mama?) find out that you are listening to secret cd's. She might decide to leave you out come mealtime, just leave you to listen to your secret music.

          "Producers of art, software, literature, etc. have a right to market their work"
          You are right here, but.... once their work is made public (released), it's not a secret any longer. If they want it to remain a secret, they should only allow it to be aired in a sealed soundproof room, not released to the public.
          Ole Man
        • I didn't mean to imply bad movies are new....

          It appears that there are a LOT more bad movies being made, knowing that video sales will make almost all of them profitable (eventually). And we get charged double digit dollars to watch them in the theater.

          My point is that people want better, and they are not getting it, so the take it.

          If you differently, then I apologize for not making that clearer.
          linux for me
    • But the result of Prohibition was repeal...

      In other words, the law was changed. Did that make bootleggers suddenly legit? Nope; they were still [i]criminals[/i], just as those who infringe copyrights are.

      I'm one who thinks the laws are fine, but the application of the law needs some work. On the other hand, if the laws themselves need to be changed, then in our society, there are ways to do that, that don't involve breaking the law. Unfortunately, in this age of entitlement, way too many people think that simply because they want something, they're entitled to it, and to hell with the law.
      • Law Change

        When was the last time you saw a change in the law when seriously opposed by a coporate mega-conglomeration with associated lobbyists?

        Never gonna happen!
      • Legitimacy

        ---In other words, the law was changed. Did that make bootleggers suddenly legit? Nope; they were still criminals, just as those who infringe copyrights are.---

        Those bootlegging were still illegal, but those drinking were no longer breaking the law. So the equivalent here would be that the Kazaa's of the world, those trying to profit, would still be illegal, but the downloaders wouldn't be.

        ---I'm one who thinks the laws are fine, but the application of the law needs some work.---

        I'd argue that the penalties, often more stringent than penalties for assault or rape, are a bit ridiculous. I'd also argue that the $150,000 per song fine is a bit much as well.

        But as I've said, the problem isn't the law. The problem is an outdated business model. Selling horse food by the roadside no longer works. Neither, apparently, does being a record company.
        tic swayback
        • Going Legit...

          [b]---In other words, the law was changed. Did that make bootleggers suddenly legit? Nope; they were still criminals, just as those who infringe copyrights are.---

          Those bootlegging were still illegal, but those drinking were no longer breaking the law. So the equivalent here would be that the Kazaa's of the world, those trying to profit, would still be illegal, but the downloaders wouldn't be.[/b]

          Saw something about this very subject on the History Channel a while back. After prohibition was repealed, many of the moonshiners actually went legit - they had to get the appropriate paperwork filled out and of course, had to start paying taxes on their products - kinda like Napster went "legit" after the RIAA managed to shut them down.

          [b]---I'm one who thinks the laws are fine, but the application of the law needs some work.---

          I'd argue that the penalties, often more stringent than penalties for assault or rape, are a bit ridiculous. I'd also argue that the $150,000 per song fine is a bit much as well.[/b]

          Most definitely. As are the RIAA/MPAA law suits against people who haven't done ANYTHING to earn their ire. Like the people who get sued for illegal file sharing, yet, their computers show NO forensic evidence of a.) file sharing software, b.) MP3s or other files in question, nor c.) evidence that those applications or files ever existed on their hard drives. Nor do they have any sort of wireless gear that would allow external hackers to access their broadband connections.

          And yet, the RIAA, MPAA and their stormtroopers manage to break into people's homes, confiscate their computers and sue them to death. Most of the victims of this grudgingly pay through the nose, settling out of court because it would cost more to hire a lawyer and fight the suit than pay the extortion money.

          The law NEEDS to be changed - both to protect the copyright holders AND the consumers as well.
        • There are problems with the law

          Copyrights need to maintain a balance between the creator and the public. Right now copyrights do not have that balance. Content no longer passes into the public domain as corporations just pay to extend the time so much of what should be public domain today is not.

          Basically copyright law was an agreemnet between creator to profit more while allowing thier works to pass into the public domain. It seems the creators are not living up to that end of the agreement and they wonder why piracy is happening. Well not the real cause.

          The real cause of all this piracy is ignorance of the law. Most people grew up clueless. I even still hear clueless remarks on major media about copyright. The latest on is the EMI deal with Apple and on Major TV a guy said it was no long illegal infringe on copyright. My jaw hit floor. He actually said that. Losing DRM doesn't remove copyright but the guy was clueless. I was clueless till I created some of my own cotent, then I understood how the law works.

          I know back in the Napster day I considered Napster like radio. Free listening paid for by ads and revenue funneled to the appropriate people. I downloaded like a demon, it was great. I also bought more CD than ever. Much like when I was kid I recorded radio broadcasts on a reel to reel tape recorder.
    • Supreme Court didn't mind...

      ... if file-sharing infringement were referred to as theft. The term defines the crime reasonably well.

      Copyright is and has always been a way to assure that someone gets paid for material that others want. The goal may be stated idealistically or practically, but the government is acting to assure that payment happens.

      Given that the economy in the US has shifted to emphasize IP as opposed to making objects, loss of the ability to make money through copyright expiration is the anomaly.

      And that's why DRM is going to be strengthened. Built into hardware, penalties increased for violations, restrictions placed on open source if needed to preserve property rights.

      The irony is that file-sharing helps sales for various reasons. We have here a crime in which the victim ends up better off than if no crime occurred.

      But the attitudes of content company executives and the obvious side benfits like assuring sales of the same material in different forms, will assure that control of media use becomes an essential goal of society.
      Anton Philidor
      • In the western world only, by the way

        If I'm not mistaken, copyright is a concept unique to western civilizations. The rest of the world - the MAJORITY of the peoples on this planet - do not have any historical legal concept that equates to copyright. So, as a teaser, what makes anyone think the western concept of copyright should necessarily be forced onto the rest of the world?
    • Fundamental flaw

      I also work for a publisher, and most of the cost of producing the product is development. New art to stay on the forefront.
      The trouble is, it takes a lot to create and nothing to copy(we have a lot of problems in China).
      It's not 'adapt or die', it is simply 'put out on the creative front end, get paid nothing because of those who copy will, and die regardless'.
      It becomes impossible to afford the cost of creation.
    • Of course, it's theft!

      Because it's pirates in Albania and the Philippines diverting rightful income from creators by marketing knockoffs to line their pockets and finance jihads against America.

      It's not the college kid downloading from Limewire [fill-in current P2P utility] for free because she has a limited budget in the first place and won't buy twelve crappy songs to get one half-decent track, nor pay more for an electronic download laden with chains at a price more than that of an entire gasoline-driven distribution model with brick & mortar overhead

      Jim Baen gave away entire **series** of books in his publishing company line for free on CDs and saw his sales increase.

      Filemaker Pro had family household licenses.

      I want to dupe my hundreds of legally obtained DVDs as backups to accident, not pay for Mariah Carey's divorce or some execs cocaine habit.

      I am also a writer, artist, and amateur filmmaker, as are many of my friends and relatives.

      I respect creator and performer rights.

      Not extortionists.

      Free Steamboat Willy!

      JJ Brannon
  • Right vs. Profit

    Because something is embodied in law does not necessarily mean it's right.

    Media companies have already demonstrated that they will limit and/or deny our rights and freedoms through the corruption of law if there is a potential profit to be had.

    Copyright was never intended to be a long-term business model. It was intended as a temporary incentive for content creation which granted artificial exclusivity. Artificial in that no one creates in a vacuum invalidating the idea of exclusivity of any work in whole.

    As for me, I am a consumer of media and I use it within the sphere of my family as I see fit. That includes ripping CD's and DVD's for playing on mine and my kids portable devices, copies for the car and kids, and back-up copies. If the law finds me infringing then in my view the law is wrong.

    We are destined to continue down the road to serfdom unless corporate money is entirely removed from politics.

    Your poll is missing an obvious option. Copyright == corrupt.
    Tim Patterson
    • The law isn't wrong...

      but you most assuredly are. The way to change laws you don't like is not to continue to break them, but to work constructively to change or rpeal them.

      What if I thought laws against vigilantism were wrong? And that I thought breaking into your house and stealing or disabling all your electronics was right, because I felt you were breaking copyright laws?

      Two wrongs [b]still[/b] don't make a right, even if you feel [i]entitled[/i] to be a "legal lawbreaker."

      Remember that as you're speeding through a 35MPH zone, just because you feel the speed limit is too low...when you hit someone...
      • Disagree

        If things were as intended we could petition our elected officials to change laws which are wrong.(and yes there are laws which are just plain wrong when compared to principle) Your presumptions only work in the absence of corruption.

        However we now have a situation in which those lawmakers who should be doing what is right by the people have effectively become the paid agents of powerful interests. In many cases such as this throughout history civil disobedience has effectively brought about change.
        Tim Patterson
      • Actually breaking the law is one way

        Most laws get changed because someone decided to break the law. Very few laws get changed because someone fights to change them. Writing letters doesn't get laws changed. History proves that.

        Now protesting a law, that usually brings change. One major way of protesting a law is break the law on mass. My law professor had a saying "A law that is not enforced that everyone breaks is not a law at all". What the statement means is if enough people decide that they will not follow the law and it becomes impossible to enforce every law on every one who breaks the law then that law no exists or at least it shouldn't as the people have spoken.

        There are many historical example of this. In my class the proff used sexual acts that used to be illegal that most people did but never caught criminally charged for. Another example given in numerous Civil Rights protests.

        Breaking the law is one of the few powers a basic citizen has. That choice to either follow the law or not. If you choose to break the law and the majority of your peers are with you the law changes. If the majority is not with you you go to jail.
    • Fair use does not mean - use it as much as YOU think fair

      So you buy a CD and then rip it to every media player in your family, burn a copy for each car, maybe give a few to other family members, etc. - just because YOU think it's fair. That's clearly NOT what was intended nor what truly IS fair. Fair use allows YOU to make a copy for YOUR use - not every member of your family.

      The creator of the material that you're so cavalierly duplicating has an expectation that the CD you bought is being used by YOU - not copied (aka stolen) for everyone in your family horde.

      Copyright laws are intended to protect the interests of those doing the creating. To claim that those creators are evil because they might actually want to get paid for their creations is patently stupid.

      Do you buy the latest Harry Potter and then hop over to the corporate Xerox and make a bunch of free copies for everyone in your family (in this case both stealing corporate assets by using their copier and supplies to make the copies and stealing copies of the book from the author and publisher)?

      People who argue that there's nothing wrong with breach of copyright clearly don't creating anything - otherwise they'd have an understanding why the creators of works have a need to protect their interests instead of having those too ignorant or who fell self-entitled to steal their hard work.

      The problem is not copyright laws - they already have reasonable fair use built in. It's currently the swing to draconian methods to try to protect works that are more the problem. That said, make no mistake that the cost of global piracy is HUGE. And that piracy ultimately comes back to bite everyone through higher costs.