Piracy and Other Things that are not Theft

One of the quickest ways to get a (media) pirate angry is to equate piracy with stealing. "Piracy is not theft!" they cry. Theft removes the original, thus making it so the true owner can no longer use it. But when you pirate something, you're only making a copy. The original is untouched.

Legally and semantically, they're right. Piracy is not theft. But there's a justification implied: that because the owner still has the original, the copier didn't do anything wrong.

We talked a lot in the comments yesterday about how the negative effects of piracy are not as bad as we think, but that doesn't necessarily make it right. For example, here's a list of other things that, like piracy, are also not theft:
  1. Hacking into someone's secured wireless network.
  2. Breaking into a government facility and copying down top secret information.
  3. Sneaking into a movie theater.
  4. Forging a plane ticket (unless the plane is full, of course, then you're stealing a seat).
  5. Plagiarism.
  6. Writing a program that steals rounded-off fractions of financial calculations (yes, like Office Space).
  7. Hacking into an Air Traffic Control computer and changing the schedules.
  8. Slander.
  9. Most acts of federal treason.
  10. Kicking someone in the nuts.
So, yes, I agree that piracy is not theft. But that doesn't justify it.


mooderino said...

Number 10, i feel, involves stealing a little of someone's soul. I think you're right,piracy is a criminal act. I also think though that people have no real sympathy for the corporations because of how badly they gouges the public when they had a monopoly. Two wrongs don't make a right, but if anything it'll be the corporations that will stop existing, not the artists. And i can't say I'm too upset about it.

Joshua McCune said...

If I ever meet a nefarious hacker, I will punch him in the face. I don't care if he's 10 years old. Bastard stealers of times and patience.

Dan Holloway said...

Nope, I still have nothing to say. You're way too balanced. The "not theft" of course depends upon the looseness of the correlation/causation between piracy and sales increase/decrease. So it's not a fixed mark. If data emerge that prove a causatory relation (I doubt they will) between piracy and lost royalties then it would be theft of royalty - though like asbestosis could you prove **which* act of piracy cost the royalty? If you accept that, thuhg, you have to say if it's proven piracy increases sales the pirates should have a cut

Adam Heine said...

@mooderino: I agree, if #10 is done hard enough, you're definitely robbing me of something.

@Dan: I thought this post was pretty anti-piracy, actually :-) Interesting point about pirates deserving a cut. Personally, I think their free books are their reward though.

MattyDub said...

Remember, Office Space got their idea from Superman III: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_III#Plot

Your friendly neighborhood pedant,

Adam Heine said...

I definitely appreciate the pedantry. I chose to mention Office Space rather than Superman 3 because I figured it's more well-known and because it makes the Superman reference itself :-)

Jenice said...

Piracy becomes theft because the revenue goes to the one who made a copy. You mentioned there are those who forged plane tickets. I wonder how they are able to make copies of first class airline tickets nowadays.