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Is file-sharing actually stealing?

There’s been oodles of discussion about file-sharing over the years. It’s endemic among the music hounds out there who can’t/won’t pay for music so just download it from whoever. I’ve taken the high horse attitude over this, mostly, where I’ve righteously stated that downloading music over Limeware etc is morally wrong and that people should bloody well pay for it.

I still think that music should be paid for but my thinking has been shifting somewhat. Is downloading actually stealing?

Techdirt has a very interesting article about this very subject.

Jon Healy, whose writing for the LA Times I admire quite a bit, has written up a very balanced discussion concerning whether or not file sharing equals theft. He links to some of my writings on the subject, as well as pointing to the views of two Nobel Prize winning economists, F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, who both point out that copyright is not property, and treating it as such causes problems.

Copyright is not property? Of course it isn’t, and this gives the music industry a bit of a problem. Can you actually steal it? It’s certainly possible to steal ideas but why is it considered theft to download something that someone else has already paid for? The author gives some pretty good ideas why it isn’t, nor should be, illegal:

  • My friend lets me borrow a book, which I read. The book has value. I got it for free, without the permission of the book author or publisher.
  • I get on a train and pick up the newspaper that a passenger left behind. The newspaper has value. I got it for free, without the newspaper company granting

There are others, but these are the two pertinent ones to me. Why are music downloads different to books and newspapers?

This is a tricky subject and I have no doubt, still, that file-sharers are taking something, for nothing, that they should not. However, I have some sympathy with them, especially when paying for music downloads is still too expensive and mostly infested with DRM. At least some music companies are starting to realise that DRM-free files are going to be popular and Amazon seem to be making it a little cheaper. Hopefully the market will continue to improve.

Still, these musical waters are still muddied by an archaic business model that just does not work in the modern music market. Can we get into the 21st century now please?

  1. I like those two points you stated about the book and the newspaper. I had my own theory on how file-sharing can’t be considered stealing. Try to stay with me on this as I try to explain.

    – Files made are for backup purposes and aren’t made for the purpose of making money. As you may very well know, many people are sharing files without making money.
    – I see that stealing means you have taken something that is actually worth something, meaning you can make money out of it. An MP3 or whatever is just a backup file, and no I can’t make money from it (In reality, the backup is not worth anything). But if I do decide to make money from it, it’s stealing because I’m making money for someone else’s work. I strongly disagree when someone says downloading is the same as stealing a CD from the store. If someone downloaded some MP3s, can they really sell them? Their purpose, for most, is just to listen to them and share them or whatever, maybe just use up the monthly bandwidth. There is no real worth in the copied-song. But if someone steals a CD from the store, they have something that has value and they can actually make money from it. Now they can go on ebay and sell their stolen-CD, while the guy who downloaded some songs, really won’t find any buyer, unless they are naive. You can’t make money from the copied-files, but you can with the authentic thing. I mean how is it stealing if it isn’t worth anything? It’s just a copy and unless you decide to make money out of it, it seems more like sharing to me. So if I bought some coat by some brand and copied the exact way it was designed to create a new coat and give it to a friend for free, that would be considered stealing? Sure it doesn’t sound like stealing, but if I was selling the copied coat, it would seem to be stealing, right? If you take bread from the supermarket, yeah it’s stealing because I have something of value that can actually be sold. If I download off the net, I have something that really can’t be sold, as there’s no worth in the copy. If I take somebody’s idea of a story they had to label it as my own is stealing because I can make money from his idea. But man, I can’t make money from downloading an MP3, and that guy who’s letting me check these things out sure isn’t making any money.

    Well my point is if you can’t make money from it, how is it stealing? I can’t think of an instance where you steal something that is worth nothing. A backup is worth nothing in my opinion. It’s just a copy! I remember having to do this Appendix for a Physics project back in high school and we needed to have photocopied proof of some of the books we got our info from. Yeah, true story, and if we didn’t, heck we would have failed a section. So man, I guess according to the idea that receiving copied files is stealing, then heck our whole class was stealing to get marks because we were photocopying pages from the books like crazy. I guess people who argue that file-sharing is stealing would have to say we were stealing books!

    But there’s something in my mind that says there is a part to downloading that’s not very good. And that’s that if you use downloads as a substitute for buying stuff. I actually hold back on a lot of downloads. I think the new stuff that is accessible to buy shouldn’t be downloaded because companies are relying on the sales of new stuff. Actually the things I download are mainly rare and from the ’80s such as Out Of Print rare vinyl releases. I mean who’s making money from those now? But I still can’t see downloading stuff as stealing as you don’t have the authentic thing. When I see like an album I may already have MP3s from, I buy them most the time. It’s like I have the real thing finally! And another thing… If I record an episode of a TV show with my VCR it’s not considered stealing (seriously, how is it if they sell VCRs, I mean what else is it for?) But if I download an episode of the same show I had access to on the tv, is it now considered stealing? Sounds more like sharing to me. Just like radio stations play songs on the radio. I doubt they had to get permission from the artist to play it on the radio, a place where anyone can record from.

    I’m interested on people’s thoughts on my perspective if you could understand it.

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