We hear it often. Download a few songs or a movie without paying for it means you’re stealing it. But now Mathew Ingram of GigaOm is among those who want us to understand that we’ve got it all wrong. Downloading without paying is not theft, it is “copyright infringement,” and that’s completely different from theft. Theft is when someone takes your car or coat and you no longer have these items that belong to you. If you walk into a movie store and take a DVD without paying, that’s theft. Of course, if you walk into a movie store, you’re part of a dying trend. But that’s beside the point here. Ingram says that when someone downloads a song, the owner still has that song and is able to continue selling or licensing it. So technically, unauthorized downloading is not the same as stealing.
Ha! You might say. In a digital streaming, downloading world of disappearing tangible assets, downloading is all there is, and therefore, downloading is stealing. If that’s what you think, Ingram says that media companies and distributors want you to think that way. It’s easier to criminalize downloading and put the fear of prison and fines into your heart. Downloading doesn’t represent the loss of a potential sale, says Ingram. In reality, many who download would never have paid for them anyway. They’re the borrowers of books and magazines. They may have copied favorite tunes from others who purchased the CD. Also, there’s the issue of “fair use,” which gets lost in discussions of piracy. Fair use allows individuals and corporations to use copyrighted content in various ways. But the law is confusing and requires legal scholars to decipher it on a case by case basis. So from songs in YouTube videos to Google’s copying of books, the emphasis is on theft rather than fair use.