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Copyright is Theft - Infringement is Liberty · Saturday August 20, 2011 by Crosbie Fitch

The copyright supporter (individual or corporation) belligerently claims infringement is theft, a violation of a natural or legal entity’s ‘human right’ to prohibit others singing the songs, retelling the stories, or printing more copies of the photos to which they currently hold the copyright. One should bear in mind that copyright holders that sue infringers are predominantly immortal corporations, not the human authors of the ‘protected’ works.

Why is there this desperation to describe the infringement of copyright as ‘theft’, especially when nothing resembling theft actually occurs?

To really understand what’s going on you do have to drop down to the rights of the matter, and understand the difference between a (natural) right and a right annulled (privilege). Rights are imbued in human beings by nature and recognised by law. Privileges are granted by the state (Queen Anne, James Madison, etc.) and created by law that annuls the recognition of a right, e.g. people are no longer recognised to have a right to make copies of their possessions, of a certain type, for a certain period.

One either violates a right, or one infringes a privilege (disobeying the annulling of a right).

Theft is the violation of an individual’s right to privacy (their right to exclude others from the objects they possess/spaces they inhabit), by invading it & removing a possession. Moreover, invading someone’s privacy to make a copy of their diary and remove/communicate it without, is an equivalent violation.

So, a burglar copying an author’s private manuscript could indeed be said to be stealing the author’s intellectual property – an act of IP theft (a violation of the author’s exclusive right to their writings). However, this form of rights violation is categorically distinct from the act of making a copy of an eBook for a friend, or uploading an MP3 rip of a CD to a file-sharing site.

By nature, once an author, Shakespeare say, has sold or given you a manuscript or copy thereof, you are at liberty to do whatever you want with your own possession, e.g. destroy it, perform it, translate it, or make and sell as many further copies as you fancy (as you might copy a basket or vase). There is no rights violation in doing so.

In 1709 Queen Anne annulled this natural right of individuals to make & sell copies of their possessions (relating to literary/graphic/printed works). The privilege of ‘copyright’ was thus created (annulling the people’s right to copy, for some arbitrary period, e.g. 14 years from publication).

To disobey this privilege of copyright is an infringement. It violates no right of the individual. On the contrary, it is a liberty and right that the individual is born with, but prohibited by law.

So, applying ‘steal’ or ‘theft’ to copyright infringement is to attempt to elevate the assertion of a natural liberty contrary to privilege into a crime. Similarly, when people claim copyright is a right (as if a natural or human right, as opposed to a legislatively granted quasi-right) this is to pretend a right is being violated, rather than a privilege being infringed.

By derogating from a person’s liberty to utilise their own property in certain ways (in private or in public), it is actually copyright that constitutes theft, not its infringement.

This is why natural rights aren’t taught in school – they undermine the state’s interest in derogating from the people’s rights, and interest in preventing popular challenge to pretexts that privileges so created are in the people’s interest.

If everyone knew that copyright represented a loss of cultural liberty in the people, to provide a monopoly to enrich immortal publishing corporations (and control public communications in the state’s interest), then it is more likely that people would today be discussing copyright’s abolition and the restoration of our cultural liberty than what punishments would best deter infringers/thieves/pirates (see TechDirt).

TheMortician said 3505 days ago :

Wow. You might be one of the stupidest people I’ve ever seen. I won’t get into a flame war on why, but spouting a bunch of random facts and 3 dollar words doesn’t work for your already idiotic cause.

Crosbie Fitch said 3504 days ago :

It would help if you provided a little more substance to your comment such that it referred to the article in some way, as at the moment it’s difficult to discern whether it’s vacuous spam or an apposite opinion.

dev said 3483 days ago :

I completely follow and agree with everything you have written to a certain extent, but I must ask a question (large immortal corporations aside). If States did not grant such a privilege to copy, do you really think there would be a proliferation of “Learned Men to Compose and Write useful Books” if I could turn around and profit from what you have just labored to write? The key here being profit.

Crosbie Fitch said 3482 days ago :


First imagine a world without copyright. Then please explain how you can profit from my labour in writing?

Even if you can’t explain how you can profit, but simply believe it’s self-evident, then on the same basis (whatever it is) I can profit as easily as you (if not more) from my own work. In which case you have just argued that copyright is not necessary for authors to profit from their work – since without it, one can easily profit.

Compare the world of free software. This is comprised of the writings of hard working software engineers, and all their published works are effectively free of copyright (its constraints), i.e. you have all the liberty restored to you that you would have in a world without copyright. If you think it is easy to profit from another’s work without copyright then you should be able to take any copy of any Linux distro and profit from it. I look forward to drinks on your yacht in a few months’ time. ;-)

dev said 3482 days ago :

Dear Crosbie,

In today’s society, it is more about what kind of profit you stand to lose than gain when you can copy instantly and without degradation. It also depends on the medium and form of your intellectual property. Say you write a novel that people actually want to read but you want to make some money from it. You put it up on your site for sale and it catches on. But wait there is no copyright in this world so as a savy businessman looking to make some money too, I put it on my site for sale at a cheaper price. I pay google to advertise your title but at rock bottom prices since I can afford to sell it for cheaper since I didn’t labor to make it. People come to my site to buy it instead. But that doesn’t last long either because who wants to pay for something when I can have it for free. So, everyone downloads a torrent and no one profits at all. You wasted a year working on a book that is now free. You are living in a dream land. Look up Titian request for privilege long before the Statute of Anne. In fact look at hundreds and hundreds of request for privilege in Venice because of the fact that someone else is always looking to profit from the hard work of others. If you are going to imagine magical lands, why don’t we just envision a world without money and scarcity while we are at it and no one will have to work and this whole argument will be unnecessary.

dev said 3482 days ago :

Oh and copyright is necessary not so much because it is a right for me to copy a work but the right to exclude others from copying the work. It’s a commerce trade law, it’s a monopoly for the person who labored to produce it or the person/company who forked over the money for the rights and then invested thousands to market it so it would be profitable.

Noyloj said 3358 days ago :

Yes, Dev is of course right whilst the capitalist system flourishes checks must be put in place to protect property. But actually he is also rigtht there is no need for scarcity and people shouldn’t ‘have to work’ longer and longer hours, and lets not forget that the reason these individuals were educated by our society is presumably so that they could be of benefit to it, and not just themselves or to certain controlling interests. I pay my Taxes for these people’s education, and build roads they can drive to work on, they benefit every day from my work and the work of millions like me.




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