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IP Theft is a Crime Despite a Consequent Abundance of Copies · Sunday February 24, 2008 by Crosbie Fitch

Having read Jon Healey’s blog Bit Player (ht: W.Patry) and an opinion piece he links to, File ‘sharing’ or ‘stealing’?, I’m dismayed to discover this facile meme still spreading that just because IP theft results in an unlimited supply of cheap copies (including to the original artist) it should be discounted, and not even classed as theft.

Only just recently, I pointed out on Michael Geist’s blog that just because something of extreme value may be reproduced very cheaply doesn’t mean it’s ok to steal it – or even ok to steal a copy of it (e.g. a spy stealing photos of missile designs).

Digital copies may indeed be near free as makes no difference, and become effectively unlimited in supply, but this doesn’t sanction theft of the work or copies thereof.

If you want to make copies and give them away then you should still pony up the money and pay for a legitimate source copy (if the producer is willing to sell it to you).

Even the free software movement stands by the right of shopkeepers to prosecute thieves, and deny browsers permission to remove the shrinkwrap to make a quick copy before returning the CD back in its packaging to the shelves. ‘Free as in speech – not as in beer’.

Sharing is about restoring everyone’s natural right to exchange and build upon our own culture – albeit produced, purchased, or otherwise legitimately obtained.

Cultural freedom is not some state of anarchy in which artists’ work is ‘stolen’ by the people on the facile pretext that the artist ‘still has a copy’. This betrays a continuation of the delusion created by copyright that the value is in the copy. It isn’t in the copy, but in the art and its publication. The natural right of publication remains extremely precious – especially in this digital age.

Cultural freedom is about restoring the public’s natural rights to its own property, the art voluntarily sold or given to it – all published works, unencumbered by mercantile privilege.

Making a copy of a work you have purchased may be copyright infringement, but it is not intellectual property theft. Taking or making a copy of a work in someone else’s private possession without their permission is IP theft – even if the work has already been published and is readily available elsewhere.

Abolishing copyright restores everyone’s intellectual property rights, it doesn’t signify any less respect for intellectual property rights – if anything, a greater respect ensues.

As a violation of the natural right to privacy, IP theft should remain, as ever, a crime.



 

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