And not necessarily right either.
Say what? Yes, you read that headline right. Don’t confuse the words “wrong” and “illegal”. It’s still illegal, but is it morally/ethically wrong? It’s entirely possible for something to be against the law, but now wrong, such as speeding up past the posted speed limit to prevent being squashed by an 18 wheeler. It’s also possible for something to be wrong, but perfectly legal, such as being rude. So, let’s not confuse the 2 terms and note which word I chose in my headline!
The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) would have you believe that downloading one song is the equivalent of walking into a record store and stuffing a Lady Gaga CD down your pants and sneaking out the door with it. They would have (and have had) judges believe that allowing 24 songs to be downloaded from your PC is the equivalent of a major crime ring stealing 100,000 CDs worthy of a fine of nearly $2,000,000. They would have (and have had) a UK court believe that simply providing a hot link on your website to a Michael Jackson MP3 file on someone else’s website (not even offering the MP3 on your own site) deserves a harsher prison term than actually KILLING MICHAEL JACKSON!
You think those are crazy examples? Nope! Well, actually yes, they are crazy, but unfortunately, each one of those really happened!
- Woman Hit With $1.92 Million Fine in RIAA Case
- Brittish Student faces extradition to U.S. and 10 years in prison for LINKS!
- Michael Jackson’s doctor sentenced to 4 years
But, let’s get back to the main topic: The morality of downloading digital files that you didn’t pay for, whether it be MP3 music files, movie files, photos, or software. Is it the equivalent of stealing a physical product from a store?
Absolutely NOT! And it doesn’t take a lot of brain power to understand why. But, apparently, the lawyers at the RIAA and MPAA don’t have enough of that gray matter to understand it, so please allow me a moment to explain it to that crowd:
You see, when you steal something tangible (like a CD or a car), the person you took it from doesn’t have it anymore! There’s an actual loss there. Something of value is no longer there. Actual loss occurred. Now, when someone downloads a file, the original file is… guess what? STILL THERE! The file it was copied from is unaffected. The person that owns the original file still has it.
Hey, RIAA and MPAA… Still following along? Good. Now, that’s NOT a justification for copying. That’s just an important part (a really important part) to understand. You must understand and accept that to move on. Denying that simple truth proves 1 of 2 things:
- You’re excruciatingly closed minded.
- You’re an idiot.
Those aren’t insults. They’re just simple, factual observations. It’s not possible to logically deny the fact that when you copy, the original is not gone. Therefore, making a digital copy is NOT the equivalent of stealing something tangible.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there wasn’t a loss. There very well could have been a loss. But, copying, in and of itself, does not equate to loss. There has to be something else: That being that the file being copied was for sale. Those two things still don’t equate to loss. It also has to be true that the person copying the file didn’t pay for it. But, there still has to be more. That file would have to have been available for sale to that person at the place and the time when they copied it. What I mean by that is say a file is only available for sale in America, but the person copying is in the U.K. If the UK resident can’t buy it anyway, it’s impossible for there to be a loss when he copies it. That person that copied the for sale file without paying for it would also had to have paid for it had they not been able to copy it and it would had to have been available for sale in his location. In other words, if that person would have and could have paid for it had it not been possible to copy otherwise, yet they still copied it, then, and only then could that be a loss.
I submit that the vast majority of copying does NOT fit that category. For example, in the 1980’s, when I was a pre-teen and teenager, the “thing to do” for all us computer enthusiasts was to share all the software we had. I’m talking hundreds of games and utilities. Now calm down RIAA and MPAA readers… No one’s saying that’s a justification. Just follow along. Now, think of that situation: Teenagers copying thousands, or possibly even millions of dollars of software (per teenager), if you add up the retail value of it all. Do teenagers have that much money? No, of course not. Hey! I said CALM DOWN! Again, this is not meant as a justification. Please follow along RIAA and MPAA readers… We’ll all pause for a moment while you unbunch your panties.
All better now? Good. Let’s continue…
So, back to the teenagers that copied thousands of dollars or even a million or so dollars of software. Was that an actual loss by the software companies? Well, only if those kids would have forked over thousands or hundreds of thousands, or in some cases, millions of dollars (per kid) had that software not been copyable. Obviously, that is not the case, so it’s impossible to claim that they lost sales for each of those copies for the full retail value It’s mathematically impossible for there to be a loss greater than the value of money the copier has available.
Further more, there ARE cases where pirating digital content actually HELPS sales. How? Let’s go back to the 1980s again. Why did so many teenagers talk their parents into buying them a home computer in the first place? Because of all the “free” games! Yes, software piracy kick started the PC revolution in the 1980s. The possibility of free software caused more sales of hardware. And, as a natural feedback loop, once people had the hardware on hand, they were now entered into the software market. No one will buy software if they don’t have a computer! So, even though lots of software was pirated in the 1980s, it let to a larger market, which in turn, led to more software sales.
The point is not to legally justify digital pirating. The law is clear. It’s against the law. But, on the moral front, there ARE cases where it actually HELPS! That environment in the 80s actually got ME into computers and since then I’ve spend probably over $100,000 in hardware AND software! Not only that, but because I’m an expert in my field, I have somewhat of a rippling effect of software and hardware purchases due to my recommendations. I even brought other people into the computer market in the 80s that otherwise probably wouldn’t have until the mid to late 90s, increasing both hardware and software sales. So, there was most definitely a net GAIN.
Take another example: Say a really expensive piece of software like some high end CAD software or 3D rendering software… Some teenager gets ahold of a copy and learns how to use it, decides that’s what he wants to do in college, gets a degree, gets a job, starts a business and BUYS CAD software. When teenagers pirate software, many times it creates a whole lifetime of a career including all the hardware and software they purchase along the way. And, since the teenager could never have purchased the software in the first place as a teenager, it wasn’t even a lost sale.
Now, what about today and what about music and movies being copied and shared online? Let’s take some real life examples. It’s not unusual for college students to amass a library of say 100,000 songs. If they were to pay for those, it’d be $100,000. Clearly, no college student is going to (or even COULD) spend $100,000 on music files. They’ll never even listen to the vast majority of them. Clearly, the vast majority of that collection does NOT represent lost sales. There’s no way those sales would have EVER occurred. In fact, many studies show that as people download songs for free, they get exposed to new music they’d have never been exposed to in the first place, generating new interest in new artists, eventually generating actual sales! Again, this is still illegal, but is it immoral? In many cases, it is an emphatic “NO!”
Got it RIAA and MPAA members? Good. Apologies to everyone else that followed along with something they already knew and was so blatantly obvious, but someone needed to point this out to them.