I have been seeing this image around the internets and Facebook, and it bugs me because of its simplicity. (Apologies to whoever originally made it–I wasn’t sure how to credit you for the idea.)
It’s such a simple idea, and makes an appealing argument. Piracy is simply copying–it does nothing to the original. Since copying the file doesn’t make it disappear, how can it be considered theft?
This argument completely ignores the whole reason why we have copyright laws.
On an ideological level, content need to be shared for the good of society. That’s the whole reason why we have libraries (and a whole host of library copyright laws and considerations)–so we can share content, learn, and build on the ideas within.
But we need to balance it with with the creator’s rights. It takes time, effort, and money to create content, and so creators need to have the ability to make back that money, and earn more to use toward future projects. Some people may choose to use a Creative Commons license that allows the free copy and sharing of their content (with attribution, of course), but that is their choice to make, whether they want to make money or share it for free.
Piracy interrupts this whole process. Even if it doesn’t actually physically affect the original copy, piracy takes the sale away from the creator. That’s why piracy IS theft.
If you sneak into the movie theater to watch a movie for free, even though the reel is still in the projector room and unaffected by your presence, you are still stealing. There is also the indirect costs of your presence: the water from going to the restrooms, the staffing it takes to maintain a safe atmosphere, the costs of acquiring and showing the movie, not to mention the costs of actually making the movie. Both the theater and the movie producers are entitled to earn money from their efforts, and you are stealing by not paying the admission price.
The whole concept of stealing the sale is in the fair use part of copyright law, which provides guidelines as to how much of content you can use before you infringe on the creators’ rights. This can be boiled down to four factors. PNAM. (taken from link above).
P – “The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes”
N – “The nature of the copyrighted work”
A – “The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole”
M – “The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work”
Notice how it keeps mentioning the commercial impact of the copyrighted work? That’s exactly what copyright law is all about.
By pirating a song, video game, or movie, that’s taking away part of the market earnings that the creator is entitled to.
Piracy applies to printed matter, too. I know a lot of people will copy (or scan) many articles or an entire book in an effort to avoid having to buy them, but that still does take away sales from the copyright holder–unless they choose to give you permission to use/share the item.
You’ve got to let them make the choice to be generous, and you have to go along with it.
So, yes, piracy IS theft. No matter how appealing the above argument is.