Can file sharing be both illegal and ethical?
Illegal File sharing is not theft.
The dictionary definition, the legal definition, and legal precedence
all supports this.
The English legal definition comes from the Crime Act 1968:
"A person steals if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to
another with the intention of permanently *depriving the other of it*."
Most countries have some variant of this.
In 1996 a US Supreme Court Judge in the court case 'Dowling vs US'
stated very clearly that one could not refer to illegal file sharing as
theft. Appropriating something inappropriately (without
removing/altering the original object) is fraud and in this particular
case copyright infringement.
Robin Hood: … something that is illegal isn't always immoral, and can
be at times moral and ethical. Robin Hood is a classic example of this,
that's clear enough that we are willing to give it to our children. But
beyond raising the possibility it doesn't actually address the question
of file sharing ethics.
So how, if illegal in many countries, can file sharing when it breaches the copyright be ethical? There are different opinions amongst file sharing advocates:
- that the copyright is invalid in the first place because the practices carried out by the music industry are unfair to the artist or that the industry is breaking fair competition principles. Which other industry do artists have their own copyright stolen from them upon any initial contract signed with the distribution agents? Should private citizens really need to honour a copyright agreement that is longer direct with the artist or the distribution model that was used to obtain the artists work? It's fascinating how RIAA and MPAA label file sharing as stealing while they have been stealing the ownership of the work from the artists for decades. This theft correlates more accurately to today's legal definition, and to see it coming from the artists mouths read Steve Albini's ?The problem with Music? or Courtney Love's speech to the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference
- that copyright collides with natural rights of physical ownership. Copyright was intended to prevent plagiarism not to prevent a private citizen's ownership. That is copyright is about authorship, not ownership. This is explored in-depth with ?Filesharing and Copyright? by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf. Something that spins off the natural right of ownership, is one's natural right to share. This natural right is so ingrained into our society that we actively teach children from a young age both at home and in our education institutions of the benefits to all from sharing. It is a fundamental morale in our communities, and when it collides with copyright infringement that tries to tell us something different… well not everybody ends up agreeing with multinational corporations despite the propaganda budget they have.
If you are willing to admit that you are a criminal but that it's ethical behaviour please join http://filesharer.org/
History repeats itself: Is copyright applicable today, or just out of date?
What was copyright originally and is it time to return to it?
Read up on the Statute of Anne and you'll quickly see that copyright has undergone a number of changes in recent history due to changing conditions in distribution. Up until 1709 a monopoly the Stationer's Company , much like the music and movie industry today, held complete dominance over distribution and publishing rights. Queen Anne was forced to step in and change this and she did with what is known as the first Copyright law, the Statute of Anne. This original Copyright law ensured that distribution and publishing rights always, forever, belonged to the author. It introduced the limit term of 21 years after which everything went into the free domain, and it forced that every print require free copies be sent to every library so that the general public could benefit without purchase obligations, much like having a free copy available on the internet today. How did Copyright law go from this to what people think of it today? Well read up on what happened when Disney's copyright on Mickey Mouse was about to expire.
But what can be seen evidently here is that Copyright law is something very plastic and quickly inappropriate when a new distribution model arises.
The tide is turning: Crowds are gathering around the legal proceedings against file sharers, or ISPs, opposing what RIAA, MPAA, and each country's counterpart like AFACT are doing. The music industry knows it is it losing public opinion en-masse by suing children (or their mothers) and is having to give that strategy up. People are starting to understand that the amount of money the music industry thinks it is losing due to absurd claims that every download would have otherwise been a purchase is comparable to the amount of money is it spending on legal costs and propaganda fighting file sharing in the first place. People are starting to understand that it will cost the public more if ISPs are (or taxpayers if the government is) forced to become the music industry's private police. Not to talk about wiping out the principle that we are innocent until proven guitly how the hell does it make sense that any ISP should incur costs from such private policing that are higher than the ?supposed? value lost in the first place.
And now Pirate Parties are establishing with alarming success with their appeal to liberalism (typically right-wing) and progressivism (typically left-wing) and an understanding to a modern digital world. They are quickly becoming the largest or second largest ?outside? political party. In the EU election last year they received 13% of the votes of people under 30 becoming the second largest party favoured. That's not 13% of them that agreed with the issue, but 13% that believed recognising file sharing as ethical is an issue more important than any other in the spotlight. For as passionate as I am for the argument I would still have trouble saying it's more important that the need to address climate change, or stronger regulations to prevent another global financial crisis, etc, yet 13% in this demographic did. Once you go down to the under-20 demographic, where most are digital natives, this percentage dramatically increases. Our children simply do not agree with our outdated, pre-digital, laws and morals, and they have plenty of justification not to.