Yes, File “Sharing” Is Stealing

Matthew Yglesias resurrects an argument that should have died off when Napster disappeared.

Matthew Yglesias resurrects an argument that I had thought had died out with the completely awesome, and also completely illegal, Napster:

If I email you a copy of the new Fountains of Wayne album, then nobody has less stuff than they had pre-emailing. By contrast, if I break into Adam Schlesinger’s house, take his shoes, and then give the shoes to you, the upshot is that Schlesinger has less shoes than he had before. The mere fact that “in the context of the actual world (from which all analysis should proceed), we know that vast quantities of shoes are produced” and “few, if any, readers reading this right now face an actual scarcity of shoes available for purchase” doesn’t alter the fact that redistributing a fixed stock of shoes is very different from increasing the stock of digital files by copying. The wronged party in a case of copyright infringement isn’t even the person who owns the file that’s been copied. Rather, the government has granted someone the right to extract a fee every time a copy is made and, naturally, people who’ve been granted that right don’t like to see it violated. That’s fine for them, and at some margins it’s good public policy, but it’s a completely different animal. As a professional content creator, I’m not thrilled when I see around the web that people have copied my posts without permission, but the vast majority of the time I haven’t actually been harmed in any clear way. If you steal my laptop, I’m going to have a real problem.

In some ways I think the decision of the pro-copying community to try to appropriate the language of “sharing” as an alternative to the language of “piracy” simply served to obscure how genuinely different digital copying is. Even if you and I “share” a physical object, there are still limits. If I borrow my girlfriend’s car to drive somewhere, I haven’t stolen it from her, but it’s genuinely the case that she can’t use it until I bring it back. If she copies a file I own, then we both have it.

Kevin Drum is unconvinced and compares the act of stealing, by “sharing” a digital copy, of a musicians album and stealing a pair of his shoes (or any other tangible piece of his property). As Drum correctly notes, there really isn’t any difference between the two when you focus on the loss that’s suffered by the act:

Now, it’s true that there are lots of ways of causing people to take a financial loss, and not all of them come under the rubric of stealing. So at first glance, it might seem fair to object to the word in a digital context. But in actual operation, this objection rarely strikes me as arising out of a sophisticated argument about nonrival goods. Rather, it mostly seems to be a way of avoiding the very real fact that your actions have caused someone a financial loss by appropriating something you haven’t paid for. In that sense, “stealing” is a whole lot more descriptive than “copyright infringement” or “illegal downloading.”

Drum is right. The fact that a product is in digital form rather than physical form doesn’t remove the fact that by making a copy of that digital file without paying for it, you are depriving the owner(s) of that digital property of the revenue that would have been earned from a sale. In the case of a musical recording, that’s an act that affects not just faceless producers in New York or Los Angeles, but also singers, songwriters, musicians, producers, sound board, operators, and the people involved in creating the software that digitized the music itself.

There’s an easier way to look at the argument about “sharing” that Drum closes his post with:

If he had a draft magazine article stored on his hard drive, and his girlfriend copied it and sold it somewhere without his knowledge, I’ll bet he’d consider it stolen — possibly with the word emphasized by hurled crockery and intemperate language. He’d consider it stolen even though, technically, he still has a copy too. And he’d be right. Before the theft, he had the potential to earn a certain amount of money by selling the publishing rights to his work. Afterward, he didn’t. That potential may not be a tangible physical object, but that doesn’t make it a nonrival good. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Just as Matt Yglesias as a property right in his laptop, or iPad, or whatever it is he uses, he as a property rights in the bits of 1’s and 0’s on the hard drive that make up the article he’d written. Taking one and selling it to a magazine is the same as stealing the laptop and selling it on a street corner. But if Yglesias is consistent in his arguments, one would imagine that he’d have to say that his girlfriend, or anyone else, can do exactly what Drum describes. As someone who makes his living selling his intellectual property, though, I’m going to guess that he’ll realize that Drum is right here and he’s going to make sure that hard drive is secure.

None of this is to endorse the current state of copyright law, much of which has been weighted far too heavily in favor of copyright holders for far too long. That’s a policy matter, however, that needs to be dealt with by Congress at some point. From a philosophical and moral point of view, there seems to me to be no question that there’s very little difference between stealing a physical copy of a book and illegally making a copy of a digital version of that same book. In both cases, the creator of the work has been deprived of an economic benefit to which they’re clearly entitled, and the person committing the act is gaining possession of something for which they haven’t paid for. That’s stealing.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Law and the Courts
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Rob in CT says:

    Of course it’s stealing.

    The problem is how easy it’s become. In my youth, when we walked to school uphill both ways in 3 feet of snow, you had to copy a tape – it took time and effort, and you were probably going to share it with one other person. It’s the same thing, really, but on a vasty different scale.

  2. john personna says:

    I did loan out some backpacking equipment this week. You could argue that I denied revenue to those equipment makers. And if your goal was revenue enhancement, you’d bar loans of physical goods. That would certainly be a society oriented toward commerce. Perhaps you’d set a minimum rent between people.

    And of course, I can loan a book, or CD. Currently.

    The thing people are puzzling out in the law is whether an on-line “purchase” should be like the prior physical model, or whether it should really be a “use license.”

    I think it will come out in the wash as use-licenses, and that we should just honor the authors’ intentions with those licenses.

    After all, “file sharing” is not illegal. It is just that some works are off the table. You can run over to Creative Commons, or the Internet Archive, or the Free Music Archives and find terabytes of stuff to share.

  3. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Do note the error in the title. Sharing some files is illegal. The media industries would really like you to generalize, and stop sharing the legal stuff too.

  4. Just 'nuther ig'rant cracker says:

    ” I’m not thrilled when I see around the web that people have copied my posts without permission, but the vast majority of the time I haven’t actually been harmed in any clear way”

    Probably true, but in the case of Matt’s post, he has already been paid as much as he will make for it. When I go to whatever site he posts on, I don’t pay him to read his post, but I do pay to by a song or a cd or a music download–at least that’s the theory. In a rare confluence these days, Doug and I concur. Put a mark on the wall as commemoration!

  5. MBunge says:

    @john personna: I did loan out some backpacking equipment this week. You could argue that I denied revenue to those equipment makers.

    I don’t understand why people think making childishly simplistic arguments EVER helps their side. Your example has absolutely no meaning or usefulness in the discussion because…

    1. You paid for that backpacking equipment.

    2. The difference between one person loaning their lawfully purchased property to another and tens or hundreds of millions of people appropriating something for which they never paid is a bit more than non-trivial.

    Mike

  6. Console says:

    The problem is that the “economic benefit” is abstract.You take something real, then there is an actual loss to the owner, regardless of whether or not the thief would have paid for the product if the theft could be prevented. If you take digital intellectual property then there is loss if and only if the thief would consider buying the property in the first place. It’s hard to deprive someone of something that you can’t even prove they were going to get.

    The reason people balk at the idea of calling downloading “theft” (and what the hell does that make the uploader? a burglar? a fencer?) is that it requires a theory of ownership that doesn’t really derive from common sense. If the government decided to give the patent for the color blue to someone tomorrow, it’s theft if I don’t pay royalties everytime I wear jeans?

    That’s not to say that intellectual property rights have no use. Just that we shouldn’t pretend that end is to enforce some sort of natural rights and we shouldn’t pretend people are automatically entitled to revenue from intellectual property.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: By purchasing a piece of physical equipment, you’ve bought with that the right to lend it to others or sell it. Although there are some restrictions even on that. You can’t buy a DVD at Wal-Mart and then charge to rent it; the Netflixes of the world have to pay much higher rates for the DVD than you do for that privilege.

    It’s true that any number of files are available for free sharing. But that’s not really irreconcilable with the physical world. I give things away all the time–unwanted clothing, household goods, and the like. That doesn’t mean that I’ve therefore given permission for people to raid my closet and living room and take what they wish.

    For that matter, I don’t charge people to read my blog. That doesn’t mean that it’s not theft when someone takes my posts and pastes them elsewhere without attribution.

    The only real quibble I have with Doug’s argument is that people are willing to download, say, songs for free that they wouldn’t be willing to pay full price for. So, it’s not correct to say that every downloaded copy represents one that the artist and others would otherwise have been paid for.

  8. john personna says:

    You guys are concentrating on the wrong part of my post.

    I’m pointing out that there is a difference between “sell” and “license.”

    When we all had books and LP’s we could loan them, or even rent them, because they were ours. They had been “sold.”

    It is a dangerous change in law to suddenly say that “sales” are not “sales,” they are really hidden licenses attached to each and every one.

    If you start doing that, you CAN start putting licenses on tents and sleeping bags, saying the same things.

  9. john personna says:

    (Note that I said I saw this all going to “use license,” but I’m saying be up front about it. Don’t call it a “sale” and then put the “license” in the fine print.)

  10. Matt says:

    If file sharing hurt bands, then shouldn’t there be a lot less bands making music today than there were before 1995?

  11. MBunge says:

    @Console: “we shouldn’t pretend people are automatically entitled to revenue from intellectual property.”

    What part of, “You’re not entitled to profit from the labor of others without compensating them” do you not understand? Why is physical labor owed money but not intellectual work?

    Oh, and just so the moral and ethical dimension of this issue isn’t lost…Matt Yglesias is the son of a screenwriter and novelist, the grandson of novelists and he went to Harvard to study philosophy, so I think it’s safe to assume his family was successful enough that young MattY was never all that concerned with how he was going to make a living. His family’s success is largely, if not entirely, built on the very intellectual property laws he now condemns.

    What do you call someone who gets carried up the ladder of success by his family and then wants to pull that ladder up after him?

    Mike

  12. john personna says:

    (Or put another way, you risk making “ownership” meaningless.)

  13. Console says:

    @MBunge:

    You can profit all you want. I can’t reproduce going to a concert or going to see a speaker. I can’t reproduce the experience of taking a course at a university. I can’t file share seeing Inception at an IMAX theater.
    The profit models we have for intellectual property aren’t the only ways to profit off such. They simply exist because of the legal framework. And maybe that’s a good thing. I like books. I like mass produced pop music. But don’t try to pretend it’s the only way someone can profit off being creative.

  14. mantis says:

    Home taping is killing music! Outlaw recordable tapes!

    Can’t believe you guys are actually having this discussion. Do you know what year it is?

  15. john personna says:

    BTW, if you are following TV content battles you can see how the future licenses could go.

    Basically the content providers are trying for “pay per view and device.” You can watch a TV show live, but they’d like to limit its DVR life. You should pay again to watch it a year latter. And you should pay again if you want to put it on your phone and take it with you.

    That’s all fine, if you want to pay, and call it a license.

    But right now they are trying to call some of those steps “sales.” They want you to kind of think you “own” something. That is not where we are headed.

  16. MBunge says:

    @Console: “But don’t try to pretend it’s the only way someone can profit off being creative.”

    Do try to keep up. The argument I’m making is NOT about the right of creators to profit from their work. That’s a separate, though related, argument. My argument is about YOUR right to profit, financially or experientially, from the labor of others.

    Try this analogy, if you can. Stealing a song is like not paying a hooker after she gave you a blow job. You benefit from what someone else did, then don’t compensate them for the act.

    Mike

  17. john personna says:

    @Console:

    I’d propose a simple rule, and hope you could live with it:

    “honor the creator’s wishes.”

    If you have a band that wants to make concert-only revenue, and allow taping, that’s fine. It’s their gig. On the other hand, if you are not the creator, and wish to override those who are, you are at minimum, a dick.

  18. john personna says:

    @MBunge:

    I must back up also and point out that I was replying to the “hey, they are denying us revenue” claim. That is the wrong path. It should be “they are denying us our rights” or get out of here.

    Yes, renting a tent “denies revenue.” It does not “deny rights” because the tent was sold, not licensed.

  19. john personna says:

    (The revenue vs. rights distinction is important because there really is a movement by industry to get laws supporting revenue, and extending the definition of their rights, in some cases arbitrarily.

    A book is under copyright, but you can sell it when you are done with it.

    A copy of Windows is under copyright, but you cannot sell it after you uninstall, because you do not really own it.

    Did you think you bought them both?)

  20. @MBunge:

    What part of, “You’re not entitled to profit from the labor of others without compensating them” do you not understand? Why is physical labor owed money but not intellectual work?

    The part where this isn’t true. If I figure out some way to indirectly profit off your labor, I’m under no obligation to share it with you. Indeed, figuring out new ways to profit off other people’s labor is one of the main threads of economic growth in this country.

    Google, for example, figured out a way to make billions off the labor other people did setting up websites. Does Google owe all those webmasters payment for it? Do all those webmasters owe payment to Berners-Lee for his labor coming up with the World Wide Web?

  21. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The web itself has harbored an interesting contradiction. Many pages, especially in the early days, claimed “Copyright .. All Rights Reserved.”

    That actually means no copies at all, which would mean that no browser could fetch the page you just “published” and you would never have any viewers. To be legal the early web should have been for public domain content, or they should have come up with Creative Commons style licenses much earlier.

  22. PJ says:

    Just wondering, for those of you calling illegal file sharing stealing.

    If I would make a copy of a painting, is that stealing?
    Last time I checked that was forgery.
    If I would make copies of money, is that stealing?
    Last time I checked that was counterfeiting.
    If I would take parts of a book and use in my book, is that stealing?
    Last time I checked that was plagiarism.

    Also, IANAL, but it does seem that the Supreme Court is disagreeing with those who call illegal file sharing stealing.

    And while we are at it, google “3D printing”. That’s going to be fun…

  23. Rick DeMent says:

    The only way the “stealing” argument works is if each time something is copied a sale is lost. This assumes that the copier would otherwise have made a legitimate purchase. That assumption is complete and utter garbage. If content providers could come up with a way to insure that illegal copying could never take place, they would discover that their sales would go down not up. People would simply learn to live without. There is a vast vast catalog of content that I am happy to download for free but would never in a billion years pay one red cent for it. These breathless pronouncements of XX dollars lost due to illegal file sharing is a load of horse hockey. content providers just don’t understand that the single reason most people pirate content is because that content, to them, has a value of zero, nothing, goose eggs. People who copy content illegally are, at worse, licenses violators. Thieves? hardly.

  24. MBunge says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The part where this isn’t true. If I figure out some way to indirectly profit off your labor, I’m under no obligation to share it with you.

    And how exactly is taking something I created without paying me for it, INDIRECTLY profiting off my labor?

    Mike

  25. MBunge says:

    @PJ: “If I would make a copy of a painting, is that stealing?
    Last time I checked that was forgery.
    If I would make copies of money, is that stealing?
    Last time I checked that was counterfeiting.
    If I would take parts of a book and use in my book, is that stealing?
    Last time I checked that was plagiarism.”

    I think Winston Churchill said it best about this sort of semantic dodge…

    A certain gentleman inquired of a lady whether she would be willing to sleep with him for 50,000 pounds. After some hesitation, the lady replied that she supposed she would, in consideration of the magnitude of the offer. Then he asked whether she would sleep with him for twopence.
    “Certainly not,” she responded with indignation. “Just what kind of lady do you think I am?”

    “Madam, I believe we have already established that,” he remarked calmly. “Now we are just haggling over the price.”

    Mike

  26. michael reynolds says:

    Once again, this discussion tends to focus solely on the conflict between creator and individual file-sharer. The biggest part of copyright law is about stopping massive corporations from ripping off creators. I don’t fear the torrents, I fear the Disney.

    Weakening copyright law too much means that I get robbed. (And yes, it’s theft.) But it doesn’t just mean I get robbed by some teenager — that’s a pinprick — it means I can be robbed, raped and left for dead by Big Media.

    I’ve taken the position that if I have a product for sale digitally, then you should pay me for it. In cases where things have not been available digitally I shrug off the torrents. If something I wrote isn’t available digitally it’s because Big Publishing is too slow, too stupid, too confused to keep up. I don’t want to punish fans for getting a file I/we refuse to make available.

    In a similar vein, I love the fanfic, fanart, mashups, home-made YouTubes and so on. That’s free marketing. But it’s only free marketing so long as I have something I can sell for actual money. It’s a quid pro quo. I’m not supporting marketing for torrents. And the situation is completely different if instead of a teenager with a webcam I’m dealing with Big Media.

  27. James in LA says:

    This is old-school thinking. When you have layered software that writes new software that didn’t exist prior to a patent, this new software cannot possibly be covered. This is how systems actually work today, and few can predict the interactions — what new software might arise — from millions of pieces of software all acting in concert to produce it.

    I think it’s a waste of time to patent software. It’s not a fixed commodity. One line of code gets changed and it’s no longer the same program. For software which writes new software in the wild, no bounds can be placed on its potential once released. Further, if piracy was an actual problem, software shops wold be folding up right and left, and there would only be a few big companies. But this is not what we have. We have the opposite, in fact.

    Piracy is no threat to software companies. It’s free advertising. We’d still have Lotus 1-2-3 if they weren’t such jerks about it.

    As a thought-experiment, imagine removing malware from the internet, the biggest software-writing-software network there is. With patents? Will a patent convince a piece of software to behave, software rooted so deeply in the network it’s been forgotten by the highschooler who wrote it?

    The focus ought to be solving people’s actual problems and not more clueless money-grubbing,

  28. PJ says:

    @MBunge:
    It’s not a semantic dodge, all those are cases where someone is making an unauthorized copy of something and where the original owner hasn’t lost what was copied. None of those are theft. Same goes with illegal file sharing, it’s not stealing, it’s copyright infringement.

    Also, I’m not making the argument that any of those are legal (plagiarism seems to be a special case though). I’m making the argument that those are not stealing.

    While we are at it, if I take a photo of you, I’m not stealing your soul. You still got it.

  29. MBunge says:

    @James in LA: “This is old-school thinking. When you have layered software that writes new software that didn’t exist prior to a patent, this new software cannot possibly be covered.”

    I’m not sure there’s anyone, except the corporations who benefit from them, that doesn’t agree our intellectual property laws need to be reformed. However, people wanted to be compensated when others enjoy the product of their labor is not “old-school thinking”.

    Mike

  30. MBunge says:

    @PJ: “It’s not a semantic dodge, all those are cases where someone is making an unauthorized copy of something and where the original owner hasn’t lost what was copied.”

    And what is the point of the distinction? Would it really be better in any sense if file-sharers were called forgers or counterfeiters? Or would that only obscure the legal, moral and ethcial issues involved?

    Mike

  31. Console says:

    @MBunge:

    You’re arguing for a specific form of compensation, not overall profit from labor. Last time I checked, Jay-z wasn’t the one that copied this file that I’m downloading. He didn’t make the torrent. He engaged in none of the distribution. But he’s supposed to profit forever from “labor” of recording a song once? And I’m supposed to derive this conclusion naturally?

    Please. We provide artists with a regulated source of income because we seek to protect the arts. Not because my reproduction of a reproduction means someone isn’t getting paid for labor.

  32. john personna says:

    @MBunge:

    Some of these guys don’t like copyright itself, which you know, can be a discussion. But certainly copyright has an ancient history at this point. It would be a big change (here in the US) to discard it.

    I’m a little bit in the middle on this (too) because I don’t see copyright as inalienable. It is just a pragmatic invention to support, and hopefully balance, creation and re-use.

    I’ve evolved to where I support semi-strong but semi-short copyright. We should have to claim “Copyright 2011, etc” and then we should get it for something like 50 years.

    We shouldn’t see Coke claiming copyright on a street scene because they have a sign in the background. And we shouldn’t see 120 year copyrights on newspaper articles.

    In the United States a “work for hire” (published after 1978) receives copyright protection until 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever comes first. This differs from the standard U.S. copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years because the “author” of a work for hire is often not an actual person, in which case the standard term would be unlimited, which is unconstitutional.[10] Works published prior to 1978 have no differentiation in copyright term between works made for hire and works with recognized individual creators.

    120 year copyright has shredded the concept of expanded public knowledge

  33. Steve Verdon says:

    The marginal cost of producing another digital copy is near zero, the price should be near zero. The only reason it is not is because of a government created monopoly for those holding intellectual property rights. The idea is that without it there would be less intellectual property created, however, the data we have under the existing regime of intellectual property rights makes this claim most dubious. The existing regime is undoubtedly the result of rent seeking which I think one could make a good argument is, in effect, a type of stealing from the consumer.

    If file sharing hurt bands, then shouldn’t there be a lot less bands making music today than there were before 1995?

    An excellent question. Note that the most active opponent to file sharing was the RIAA, the RIAA represents the major labels–i.e. record companies. Bands? Not so much. The idea of file sharing hurting bands is much more dubious. After all, artists like Lily Allen got her start off of youtube by uploading songs/videos for people to watch for free.

    The thing is that technology has changed the business model for recording artists, movies, and such. The businesses that were making money off of that old model on the other hand are ossified and unable to change (i.e. who wants to give up their monopolistic position, its a great position to be in guaranteed a stream of rents is much better than competition where that stream disappears). So instead of adapting to the new environment and changing the old businesses are fighting the change, but my guess is that in the end they will lose and will cease to exist…pretty much like an evolutionary process where the older previously successful life forms are pushed out by the new comers who are better able to compete in the new environment.

  34. Steve Verdon says:

    @john personna:

    Exactly, protecting things with a 120 years copyright only underscores the rent seeking that has gone on in the intellectual property market. Competition, we don’t need no stinking competition. Yeah sure it is good for consumers, keeps the market filled with interesting and innovative products, but we don’t want that.

  35. michael reynolds says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    The marginal cost of producing another digital copy is near zero, the price should be near zero.

    You’re arguing that there must necessarily be a link between the cost of production and the retail price? Isn’t price set by the market? Are you going communist on us?

    I’m all for reform of copyright laws. Frankly they block me in some ways even as they protect me in others. But people don’t work for free. Putting it in libertarian terms what’s the difference if 90% of my money is taken by the government or 90% of my income is cut by pirates?

    Up to a point I can compensate by increased productivity. But only up to a point.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    @Steve Verdon:
    How is it a market if no one’s getting paid?

  37. Gustopher says:

    It isn’t stealing, it is copyright infringement. The use of the “stealing” and “theft” language is just the recording industries way of trying to make it sound like a more serious infraction than it is.

    On an entirely different note,

  38. James in LA says:

    @MBunge: The market is shifting. As a graphic artist and a software developer, I can create content and sell it to interested parties for set fees, micro-payments, and donations. I am actually amazed at the volume, certainly enough to live on. If someone wants to copy my work, good luck with that. Good software is no longer something you just “snap in” and expect it to work. Most of it is highly customized to perform a specific function. Absent source code and design documents — and the time to interpret them — and the need for copyrights and patents diminishes to zero for a single artist, or even a small company.

    And, I still get paid!

    One excellent example of the new model is blender.org, a 3D modeling program that is fueling a revolution in art at the moment.

  39. mantis says:

    When recordable cassette tapes were introduced, the recording industry tried to outlaw them and sued manufacturers and store owners for selling tapes and machines. They claimed the tapes would hurt the industry. They didn’t, and the industry grew.

    When recordable digital formats were introduced, the recording industry tried to outlaw them and sued manufacturers until the AHRA was passed in 1992. They claimed the digital formates would hurt the industry. They didn’t, and the industry grew.

    When online file sharing was introduced, the recording industry took a different direction, and started going after their own customers, helped along by the DMCA passed in 1998. Rampantly suing your own customers is not a good move. This, along with an increase in the sale of digital singles and a general downturn in consumer spending has led to a drop in album sales over the past decade.

    Copying files is not theft, folks. The industry has been saying it is for 30 years, predicting all sorts of dire things that did not happen. They don’t want you to have any control over what you buy. My friends and I copied tapes and shared them in the 80s, CDs in the 90s, and now we share digital files. Am I a lifelong criminal for doing so?

  40. James in LA says:

    @mantis: Exactly right. Instead of becoming a rational argument on what has actually happened, it has shifted into how you “feel” about yourself after copying, opening the door for settlements that have nothing to do with the production or protection of art.

    Piracy is free advertising. The depth to which your Name sinks in, given a decent product, is unfathomable, and beyond the reach of even Apple’s advertising budget.

    By the Bye, true torrenters have moved on from torrents. They foresaw the slap suits and the new tech is, well, the less said the better,.

  41. mantis says:

    @James in LA:

    They foresaw the slap suits and the new tech is, well, the less said the better,.

    😉

    I for one have shifted my music consumption a bit in recent years. Now that many bands have started selling their work directly to consumers, including quite a few bands I listen to, I buy albums that way. I get high-quality files (usually .wav or .flac) that I can do whatever I want with, spend less money than I would on a physical disc or through iTunes, and the money I spend goes directly to the artists themselves, instead of to a huge and useless industry. If a band does not sell their music directly, I don’t buy it. I listen to them on streaming internet radio, for which I pay a monthly fee and the artists get a small amount of royalties.

    The ball’s in your court, musicians! Sell your music directly to consumers, and I’ll give you loads of cash. Don’t, and you might get a tiny amount of royalties. Your choice.

  42. michael reynolds says:

    Again, the conversation goes entirely to file-sharing at the individual level. This is not the beginning and end of copyright. You don’t seem to understand that what the individual can steal, the massive multinational can also steal. The copyright debate is being framed as “greedy creative” vs. “poor little guy.” I’m sure the big companies love that frame, but the reality of copyright law is protection for the small creative against Big Media.

    And software is a part of the issue but only a part.

    Look, let’s say I write a song. Then I sing it and record it. I offer it for sale digitally. Someone else copies it. Both my “for profit” version and the free version are in the marketplace. How do I make a living?

    And don’t say, “perform live,” because what you’re doing then is pushing art into a particular format. You’re saying that only live performers should be paid, those who work in studio, let’s say, can drop dead. And then this is justified on the grounds that it brings more product to the market? By excluding every musician who is better in the studio than on the stage?

    The argument that it’s “all marketing” only works if there is eventually a legitimate market. If the market disappears then there’s not much point in marketing, now is there?

    Reasonable copyright law encourages artistic and creative productivity and innovation. Legalized theft drives artists and creatives out of the business and back to tending bar.

    Many of you are simply rationalizing theft.

  43. mantis says:

    Again, the conversation goes entirely to file-sharing at the individual level. This is not the beginning and end of copyright.

    No, but it is the topic of discussion.

    But if you want to talk about the threat of Big Media copyright violators, what do you propose be done about it? How are they ripping off creators, and how can that be stopped?

  44. PJ says:

    @MBunge:

    And what is the point of the distinction? Would it really be better in any sense if file-sharers were called forgers or counterfeiters? Or would that only obscure the legal, moral and ethcial issues involved?

    Mike

    The distinction is that theft includes the fact that the owner no longer possesses the item stolen.

    If I steal your painting, you no longer possess your painting.
    If I create a copy of your painting, you still have your painting.

    If I steal your money, you no longer possess your money.
    If I create a copy of your money, you still have your money.

    If I steal your files, you no longer possess your files.
    If I create a copy of your files, you still have your files.

    Do you see the distinction?

    Illegal file sharing is copyright infringement, not theft.

  45. michael reynolds says:

    @mantis: The same law that protects me from you protects me from them. That’s my point.

  46. @MBunge: The problem with digital rights, and the self-serving reaction to “piracy” (which has been proven, through numerous studies, to not be as bad as made out to be), is that they’re taking away the right to “lend” things to other people. Computer games have installation limits. Books have a time limit. Games can’t be installed for other people. Gifts are rigidly enforced via codes.

    It’s their right to do this, and it’s consumers’ onus to prevent it. But convenience will win out overall.

  47. PJ says:

    And to expand on the fact that theft includes the owner losing something.

    Lets say a person illegally downloads Microsoft Office because he can. If he instead of downloading an illegal copy would have bought Microsoft Office, Microsoft would have made money. But if he wasn’t able to download it illegally he might have chosen to download Libre Office instead of buying Microsoft Office, which means that Microsoft wouldn’t have made any money. My point here is that a loss is not guaranteed.
    If that person instead steals a physical copy of Microsoft Office from someone else, then that’s a loss (if the rightful owner may not be able to prove to Microsoft that his copy had been stolen), and theft.

    Also, let say a person illegally downloads 3ds Max from Autodesk, now considering that the software has a MSRP of $3,495, that person, depending on his income, may not have bought if he would have been unable to download it illegally. Now, he then could have downloaded the already mentioned Blender, that is free, or he might instead have bought a program that would have set him back $500.
    Did Autodesk lose a sale by him illegally downloading their software or did the company selling a program for $500? Did Autodesk actually gain something (even if they would never put it that way) by him learning their software and not a competing software? One day that person may end up at a job where they would have no problem paying for 3ds Max, and if he doesn’t, then Autodesk has most likely not lost a sale because he downloaded their software illegally.
    (Now Autodesk has free student versions of their software, with what seems very minor differences, most likely because they prefer students in the field to use their software than software created by a rival company.)

  48. matt says:

    @john personna: Indeed every time you visit a web page you’re file sharing..@PJ: I’ve never tried libre office but Open office is really good.

  49. @matt:

    I’ve never tried libre office but Open office is really good.

    Libre Office is Open Office. After Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, they killed most of the Sun’s open source development, some of which has since been picked up by other groups. In the case of Libre Office, the new group had to change the name because “Open Office” is trademarked.

  50. anjin-san says:

    there seems to me to be no question that there’s very little difference between stealing a physical copy of a book and illegally making a copy of a digital version of that same book

    Are you under the impression that OTB has the rights to use all of the images it publishes? Beware of glass houses…

  51. @anjin-san:

    I’m also assuming this post is marking the end of OTB Late Night? I doubt most of those You Tube videos were officially authorized…

  52. X says:

    “That doesn’t mean that it’s not theft when someone takes my posts and pastes them elsewhere without attribution.”

    Yes, yes it does.

  53. X says:

    Matt Yglesias has a follow-up post explaining the difference between file-sharing and theft, and it is the same thing as what PJ posted above: that theft is about taking something from someone, not copying it. If I take my White Album CD and make a file of “Helter Skelter” and offer it on the Internet, Paul McCartney has exactly the same amount of money. I have deprived him nothing.

    What’s yours is yours. If I have a garage sale and I put that White Album CD on a picnic table with a $3 price tag on it, I am perfectly within my rights. I don’t have to give Paul McCartney one penny. The other day I bought three MIchael Connelly paperback mystery novels at a used bookstore. You know how much money Michael Connelly made from my purchase? Zero. And quite obviously, if I wanted to GIVE someone my White Album CD, or I leave my Michael Connelly novel in the apartment office lounge for anyone to read after I’m done with it, I also have not deprived Messrs. McCartney or Connelly of any money. I find it absurd to suggest that making a digital file of something is somehow different. As Yglesias points out in his follow-up, what is a library, if not a place that makes previously copyrighted and sold-for-profit creative materials available for free? Have I stolen from Connelly if I check his novel out of the library?

    Both my “for profit” version and the free version are in the marketplace. How do I make a living?

    I guess you don’t. Certainly your right to make a living doesn’t intrude on my right to do as I like with my private property. Of course, the word “marketplace” above is a misnomer, as most file sharing is done for free. And in any case, as has been noted previously, this idea that file sharing is going to drive artists out of business is nonsense.

  54. Chet says:

    What part of, “You’re not entitled to profit from the labor of others without compensating them” do you not understand?

    I guess what I don’t understand is why you think that’s true, or even an admirable principle. In point of fact we all “profit” from the labor of others without compensating them all the time. I don’t have to pay an artist to take a look at a painting, though I profit richly from the experience. I can gain an entire education without compensating even a single author, living or dead, by going to the library.

    I guess there’s some labor-centric fantasy world where everybody’s labor always comes with compensation. But here in the real world, you can’t charge me just because an idea you had is now in my head – regardless of how it got there.

  55. Geoff says:

    No one here has so far given any reason why the creator of an object should own the right to copy it. The ones who believe this just say it’s obvious. But it clearly isn’t, since so many seem to disagree. It is true that the ownership of the copyright is the law, but as I understand it, these laws were always justified by claiming that they would encourage more production, and therefore benefit the larger society, not because of some philosophical claim that the creator owned the copyright. Of course, now that big companies can make huge amounts of money off of copyrights, it is very hard to get the laws changed/relaxed by the corrupt government. Don’t let yourself be tricked/brainwashed by all the self-serving rhetoric of Sony and Warner Brothers, etc. There might be good reasons for some of these laws, but it’s certainly not because copying is stealing. It’s just not. And stamping your foot and saying it *obviously* is doesn’t change that.

  56. Justin Levine says:

    Economic value is not derived from the amount of “labor” it takes to create something. It is derived from scarcity relative to the demand of an object. If I sweat bullets for 50 years to create something of which there is already an infinite amount of, it is worth zero. My labor does not make it valuable or entitle me to compensation.

    “Just as Matt Yglesias as a property right in his laptop, or iPad, or whatever it is he uses, he as a property rights in the bits of 1′s and 0′s on the hard drive that make up the article he’d written. Taking one and selling it to a magazine is the same as stealing the laptop and selling it on a street corner.”

    Mataconis uses a fundamentally wrong analogy. The correct analogy would be this: If a magic wand were able to perfectly duplicate the physical laptop (not just the 1’s and 0’s, but the physical laptop itself), would it then be considered “stealing” to distribute the duplicated laptops on a street corner while still leaving Mataconis with his original laptop? There are many policy implications to consider by this scenario – but it would be silly to call it “stealing” or to consider it in the same moral vein as such a crime.

    If you can infinitely duplicate something at no cost, it ceases to have scarcity, and thus, ceases to have economic value.

    Mataconis is simply 100% wrong here, and I hope he reads these reactions and reconsiders his judgment.