The Instigator
chicagovigilante
Pro (for)
Winning
7 Points
The Contender
LunaEques
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

Sharing music/movies/ideas without the permission of copyright holders is NOT theft.

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 1 vote the winner is...
chicagovigilante
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/8/2009 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,932 times Debate No: 10004
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (1)

 

chicagovigilante

Pro

I will argue that sharing/copying music/movies/books/ideas without permission of the lawful owners of that intellectual property (hereafter referred to as "piracy") does not constitute "theft" in a legal or moral sense.

This question arises out of the manner in which key groups representing copyright holders address the issue of piracy/copyright infringement. Both the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) use the word "theft" to describe the unauthorized duplication and dissemination of copyrighted materials. Here are two examples:

RIAA - http://www.riaa.com...
MPAA - http://www.fightfilmtheft.org...

This link - - shows a public service announcement placed by the MPAA in many DVDs. In this clip, text reads "You wouldn't steal a car", "...handbag", and "...television". It even shows images of a man shoplifting a DVD from a video store. It concludes by saying "Downloading pirated films is stealing" and "Stealing is against the law".

It is clear that the representatives of copyright holders have initiated a campaign to equate piracy/copyright infringement with theft/stealing. I intend to show that this argument is fallacious.

First, let's examine the definitions of "theft" and "stealing", as listed by Merriam Webster.

theft - 1 a : the act of stealing; specifically : the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it b : an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property
2 obsolete : something stolen

steal
1 : to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice
2 : to come or go secretly, unobtrusively, gradually, or unexpectedly
1 a : to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully b : to take away by force or unjust means c : to take surreptitiously or without permission d : to appropriate to oneself or beyond one's proper share : make oneself the focus of
2 a : to move, convey, or introduce secretly : smuggle b : to accomplish in a concealed or unobserved manner
3 a : to seize, gain, or win by trickery, skill, or daring

According to the definitions with which we're concerned (I removed references to the baseball term stealing), stealing, or the act of theft, seems to have three main necessary components:

1) Possession of Something (by a rightful owner)
2) Unauthorized Transfer of Possession (from the owner to the thief)
3) Deprivation of Possession (for the rightful owner)

Let's apply all three components to the case of piracy.

1) Possession of Property

In order for piracy to be theft, there would first have to be possession of property on the part of the copyright holder. Legally, intellectual content can be considered "property" (though not in the same manner as physical possessions can be considered property). However, the definition of theft seems to refer to "personal property" as something physical. In the digital music age, the only physical traces of stored musical content are physical and magnetic anomalies in the surfaces of CDs and hard drives. Therefore, although there may be a legally established possession of intellectual material, the possession of any physical property pertaining to stored digital music is a vacuous concept.

However, I recognize that legally, copyright owners have possession of intellectual material. Therefore, I will dubiously grant that the piracy case fits this component of theft. Remember, however, that the case must fit all three characteristics as defined above in order to be considered stealing/theft.

2) Unauthorized Transfer of Possession

In order for piracy to be theft, there would have to be an unauthorized transfer of possession of the music or movies in question. A RIAA representative might argue that sharing files constitutes an unauthorized transfer of possession. This is wrong in two ways.

Firstly, the act in question is almost always authorized. For example, the source of the file in question is usually someone who legally purchased the file (i.e. someone who bought a movie ticket and then took a camcorder into the theater). The next act (the sharing of a file between two peers) is authorized by the person currently in possession of the file (i.e. the person who recorded the movie in the theater). This person agrees to share the file by using P2P programs. This act is illegal because it has not been authorized by the holder of the copyright, but it does not constitute an unauthorized transfer of possession in the sense of theft/stealing because it the people directly involved in the transfer are both willingly engaging in the act.

Secondly, the idea that there is a "transfer" occurring in the same sense as the definition is highly suspect. The act of theft suggests that property must move from one owner to another. Yet when a file is shared, the original owner of that file retains possession and a new copy of the file is created. Let's apply the same logic to artwork. If I bought the Mona Lisa, possession would have moved from the Louvre to myself. However, if I painted a precise copy of the original, there would not be a transfer of possession. In the same way, when one downloads a song, information is transferred, but the original possession itself is not.

Unauthorized transfer of possession does not occur during copyright infringement. Because at least one criterion is missing, copyright infringement cannot be theft. But the third point is even more compelling.

3) Deprivation of Possession

In order for an act to be theft, the original owner must be deprived of personal property. In the case of copyright infringement, this does not occur. As mentioned above, when files are copied, the original is retained. If one person uploads a song on a P2P network and another person downloads it, the first person retains the original file and can still listen to that song. The owner is NOT deprived of possession of content or the ability to use that content. In an example in the video clip listed above, a man steals a DVD out of a store. This is a very misleading example of how file sharing works. A more accurate clip would have shown the man walking into the video store with DVD duplicating machine and making a copy of the DVD but leaving the original in the store. Even then, it would be a bad analogy because the man would have to break the factory seal on the DVD in order to duplicate it, making it depreciate in value. With file sharing, however, the original file is not damaged or altered.

But wait! Many music/movie industry representatives argue that copyright infringement deprives artists of money! Could this be considered deprivation as described in the definition of theft? The answer is no; this argument is fallacious on several accounts, but here are the two most important ones.

Firstly, it refers to indirect deprivation. The property involved is not the property deprived; the artist may lost money because of lower sales, but the artist still retains possession of his/her music.

Secondly, it presents a false choice: that in each individual case, a consumer would have either paid for a song or downloaded it illegally. However, it is also possible that the consumer would choose neither option and elect to avoid the song entirely, still depriving the artist of income.

Copyright infringement/piracy fails to meet the third criterion for theft. It is clear that this act does not constitute theft.

To finish, allow me to paraphrase a comedian who joked, "I saw an ad that said, 'You wouldn't steal a car.' No, I wouldn't. But if my friend said, 'I just bought the new Lamborghini, would yo
LunaEques

Con

My opponent's whole case resides in his definition of steal. Let's take a look at it.

"steal
1 : to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice
2 : to come or go secretly, unobtrusively, gradually, or unexpectedly
1 a : to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully b : to take away by force or unjust means c : to take surreptitiously or without permission d : to appropriate to oneself or beyond one's proper share : make oneself the focus of
2 a : to move, convey, or introduce secretly : smuggle b : to accomplish in a concealed or unobserved manner
3 a : to seize, gain, or win by trickery, skill, or daring "

1. This definition fits piracy. Music--or movies--are taken wrongfully from the original owner(creator).
2. This is not useful to what we are talking about, as this is a method of moving.
1a. Also fits piracy. Music/movies are wrongfully taken and there is an intent to keep them.
1b. Not always true--only ONE aspect of stealing.
1c. Definitely fits. Piracy is taking without permission.
1d. Does not fit our uses, as it is talking more about attention.
2a. See 2.
2b. See 2.
3a. Fits piracy. Music/movies are gained by skill (manipulation), trickery(manipulation), daring (against the law).

Let's continue.

"1) Possession of Something (by a rightful owner)
2) Unauthorized Transfer of Possession (from the owner to the thief)
3) Deprivation of Possession (for the rightful owner)"

This is the most essential part of my opponent's case, however, it is not warranted.
1 is true. In order for something to be stolen, someone must own it.
2 is not always true. This is only supported by two definitions offered, making it unnecessary to the act of stealing or theft. Although possession is gained by the thief, posession by the owner is not always lost. What about stealing answers to a test?
3 is not supported by the definitions. Once again, only 2 out of many definitions my OPPONENT himself cites.

So now that we have seen that 2 and 3 are not necessary for theft or stealing, we can look at my opponent's contentions.

Contention 1:
I quote, "However, I recognize that legally, copyright owners have possession of intellectual material. Therefore, I will dubiously grant that the piracy case fits this component of theft." My opponent agrees with me on his first contention.
Contention 2/3:
Look at refutation of definitions of theft and stealing above. Here, we can clearly see these are not issues in this debate because they do not fall under the definition.

In conclusion, we can see that the dictionary definition that MY OPPONENT PROVIDES (please excuse the caps, they are there for emphasis) indeed fits piracy, my opponent's assumptions over the defintions are incorrect, and my opponent agreed with me over the one contention and point that is relevant in this debate.
Debate Round No. 1
chicagovigilante

Pro

Thanks for the quick response.

I regret that I did not address each of the specific listed definitions in my first argument. Unfortunately, I ran out of allotted space. Therefore, I'll clarify my analysis for the specific definitions and how they led me to my three main points here:

(Please note that I cut out a few lines from the definitions in order to save space. These lines were insignificant to the argument because they referenced "steal" and "theft" as plays in a baseball game.)

In question is the definition of "steal". Here are the listed definitions (minus the ones that my opponent dismissed as insignificant):

"1 : to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice"

The key word here is "take". In this context, take emphasizes the removal of something from the possession of one person so that it falls into the possession of another. The implication is clearly a seizure rather than a simple misuse of such property. If misusing property (as in copying intellectual property or cheating by using another's test answers) was implied, language such as "misuse" would be used instead of "take" to remove ambiguity. The primary definition of "take" when used as a transitive verb is:

: to get into one's hands or into one's possession, power, or control: as a : to seize or capture physically b : to get possession of (as fish or game) by killing or capturing c (1) : to move against (as an opponent's piece in chess) and remove from play (2) : to win in a card game d : to acquire by eminent domain

Note that in this definition "take" has only one context relevant to our argument (because we aren't dealing with hunting, games, or eminent domain): seizing or capturing physically. When something is seized or captured, it ceases to be available for use by others. Likewise, when property is taken in the sense of stealing, it cannot be used by the original owner.

"1 a : to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully "

"Take" and "appropriate" clearly entail deprivation of possession here as evidence by the example (stealing a car). In such a context there is both a transfer and deprivation.

"1 b : to take away by force or unjust means "

Once again, this definition of stealing implies deprivation of something, such as liberty.

"1 c : to take surreptitiously or without permission "

This definition seems to be lighthearted; it does not seem to be intended to describe criminal theft, given the example.

"3 a : to seize, gain, or win by trickery, skill, or daring "

This definition also implies gaining possession of something FROM someone (such as stealing the basketball away from an opponent or stealing the election away from an opponent). Unlike these circumstances, piracy does not deprive a person of possession.

From these definitions, I came up with three common characteristics of stealing and theft:

1) Possession of Something

We both agreed upon this, so we need not debate it further.

2) Unauthorized Transfer of Possession

My opponent writes that this point is only supported by two of the definitions offered. However, as I have argued above, in all relevant definitions there is a transfer of position that occurs without permission. I don't think that there is any contention over my use of the word "unauthorized"; an authorized transfer cannot be stealing. My opponent uses the example of "stealing answers to a test" as evidence that possession by the original owner is not always lost. However, this example begs the question: in order to use cheating on a test as an example of stealing we need to accept that stealing doesn't require loss of possession, a contention that has not yet been proven. "Academic dishonesty" or "cheating" are more commonly accept ways of describing my opponents example.

3) Deprivation of Possession

This criterion follows from the second; when there is a transfer of property, the original owner loses possession of said property. Since we have shown that stealing and theft involves a transfer of some sort of property, it follows that stealing and theft must involve loss of possession.

Keep in mind that I myself did not set the context of these definitions; my opponents in the RIAA and MPAA did. When comparing file sharing to grand theft auto, robbery, and shoplifting, the MPAA used the terms "steal" and "theft" to mean an unauthorized taking of property resulting in deprivation for the original owner. However, these instance do not equate to copyright infringement.

Legal differences between the definition of "copyright infringement" and "theft" enforce my argument. In fact, the Supreme Court of the United States addressed this very issue in Dowling v. United States in 1985. Addressing the question of whether or not bootleg copies of copyrighted work could be considered stolen property, the Supreme Court decided in a 6-3 decision that such items could not be considered stolen property. Here is part of Justice Harry Blackmun's majority opinion:

"The phonorecords in question were not "stolen, converted or taken by fraud" for purposes of [section] 2314. The section's language clearly contemplates a physical identity between the items unlawfully obtained and those eventually transported, and hence some prior physical taking of the subject goods. Since the statutorily defined property rights of a copyright holder have a character distinct from the possessory interest of the owner of simple "goods, wares, [or] merchandise," interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The infringer of a copyright does not assume physical control over the copyright nor wholly deprive its owner of its use. Infringement implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud."

Piracy is not stealing/theft by my analysis of the definitions of the terms nor is it prosecutable as theft by legal precedent. My opponent cannot cite an instance where copyright infringement has been legally recognized as theft and upheld by court decision. This is due to the fact that the two are distinct actions, each with different motives, processes, and outcomes. Therefore, the entertainment industry is incorrect in its use of the words "theft" and "stealing" when referring to copyright infringement.

The likely reason behind the equation of copyright infringement and theft is ethical reaction people have to the idea of theft. It is true that most people wouldn't steal a car, a purse, or a television. But tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Americans have broken copyright law when downloading music, perhaps because they don't feel that the act is morally wrong.

In fact, nearly every American has committed copyright infringement in the technical sense. Whether it be playing music at a public gathering or simply singing "Happy Birthday" (whose copyright is held by Warner), people share music, movies, books, and ideas without permission of the intellectual owners of that property. Stealing is not a word that they associate with these acts, and nor is it a word that American legal authorities associate with the act of copyright infringement.
LunaEques

Con

LunaEques forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
chicagovigilante

Pro

chicagovigilante forfeited this round.
LunaEques

Con

LunaEques forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by chicagovigilante 7 years ago
chicagovigilante
Haha, no worries, next time!
Posted by mattrodstrom 7 years ago
mattrodstrom
ARGH! I was just about to accept@$@!(@!

Anyways, no hard feelings. ; ) have fun.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Nails 7 years ago
Nails
chicagovigilanteLunaEquesTied
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