Theft of copyrighted material is theft no matter what those who do
it say to try and justify it.
### You seem to perceive "theft", and perhaps "law", as something similar to
an absolute, objective description of physical reality (such as the laws of
thermodynamics). Yet, the term "theft", with all its emotional connotations
("bad","despicable"), is an expression of human attitudes toward certain
physical actions, an ethical term, and not an objective characterization of
the actions themselves ("at the speed of sound").
While there are certain biologically grounded rules regarding property,
epecially the simple forms of personal property, (the orange held in hand is
property among chimps, orange on the ground is not), the more esoteric forms
of property (stock, mineral right, patents) are conventions developed by
societies to enable socially useful activities. Such conventions should not
be too easily abandoned, as the communist example shows but sometimes new
technical developments can both offer an opportunity and force change.
As Eliezer pointed out, downloading is here to stay. Stuffing the genie back
into the bottle is possible but very difficult. If the state stops trying to
turn the tide and instead abandons the convention allowing for punishment of
persons copying copyrighted material, then this action will no longer be
"theft" in the legal sense. If there is wide acceptance of the idea that
music and art should be copy-able for free, then this will be no longer felt
to be morally reprehensible.
In a wider social context, one of the main criteria for calling an action
"theft" should be the long-term economic results. If it turns out that it's
possible to develop a new convention for offering free or very cheap music
downloads, meaning more wealth for us all, more better and cheaper music for
everybody (as I believe it will happen), then this is the morally right
convention that should be adopted by us all.
Bryan Moss posted a very smart analysis of the possible details of such
Which still doesn't answer what should be done about the non-government
funded scientific and technical documents, which need much more work to be
produced than some crooner's output. Such content might still require
substantial legal protection.
Each download that is paid for increases wealth, each download that is stolen decreases both wealth and value.
### A paid download transfers wealth and creates incentives to provide content but does not increase wealth. If there is enough of an incentive to produce content without the large middlemen who charge you 16$ per CD, then abolition of such middlemen will increase wealth and make the word "stolen" meaningless in this context.
Rafal Smigrodzki, MD-PhD email@example.com
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