There are so many reasons the battles over copyright law are flawed, most of which, in my opinion, center around the fact that copyright holders spend millions of dollars lobbying and supporting political campaigns (now about to hit Canada too). The “voice of the people” is barely represented, so much so that the few who have tried, such as Lawrence Lessig, have found little success in their efforts. I’m personally not much of a “downloader” and over the past 12 months have found my position on the topic swing from “it’s stealing” to “I have no problem with it.” Also, to be sure I am clear on this point: I do unequivocally believe content producers and owners have the right to profit for their work.
A big problem we have right now is the use of the word “stealing” to describe “downloading pirated content”, as the two are very different actions. When I steal, I take something from someone in such a way that they are deprived from having it themselves. When I download, I am avoiding paying a royalty fee to a rights holder. Both are problems, but they are different problems. That’s an important distinction, and one which should be examined a bit closer.
The laws (such as the terrible PRO/IP act) are designed today to protect rights holders from having their content distributed without a royalty. Sounds fair, right? Here’s the problem: the acts of buying and selling used CDs are legal (as is buying/selling promo CDs, according to a recent ruling). So if I buy a used CD (which is what I personally exclusively do – haven’t bought a new CD in years), I am transferring no royalties back to the rights holder. Let me make that point absurdly clear: if I buy a used Madonna CD, neither Madonna nor her label make any money off that transaction, and… (wait for it…) it’s perfectly legal.
Theft, stealing, piracy, and other illegal acts are all bad for individuals and society at large. But worse than the individual acts themselves is our system. It is based on a cascading series of antiquated laws combined with the self-propagation of “big money” controlling the key decision-makers. I am not trying to sanction or condone the concept of depriving individuals from profiting, but I can no longer tolerate our hypocritical policies which call 61% of teenagers criminals. Nancy? Still listening?
Update: highly recommend reading Don Reisinger’s piece on CNET on a related issue