We’ve all seen the ads that run before movies, at least those of us who still pay to see them. “You wouldn’t steal a car. You wouldn’t steal a handbag. You wouldn’t steal a movie." And that’s what they would have you believe, that copyright infringement is exactly the same as theft. Not like theft, but the same as theft. Some (who themselves listen to pirated K-pop) even try to tell us that assault on copyright is the same as assault on a human being.

The funny thing about these ads is that only the people who aren’t pirating actually see them. Your reward for paying to legitimately see a movie, or for purchasing it on DVD, is that you are forced to sit through this crap. Meanwhile, those watching pirated versions get a copy with the ad removed. Seems to be a case of preaching to the choir.

Digital piracy is covered by copyright law and not by theft laws because it’s copyright infringement, not theft. I’m surprised at how so many people get caught up in the gain aspect of piracy. They feel cheated that somebody could get something for free. Because they think that’s what theft is, somebody getting something that they haven’t earned. So piracy must be the same as theft right?

But that’s not how I see theft; Theft is about loss. If someone stole my car, I wouldn’t care that they had gained a car, I would care that I had lost a car. Likewise, I feel that piracy should not be about whether or not somebody has gained a movie but whether or not somebody has lost a ticket sale or DVD purchase. If I could copy my car and give it to someone else while keeping one for myself, I’d do it.

I’m not saying that piracy is justified or that I agree with it. I’m just trying to point out that there is a campaign out there to distort the public view of piracy in order to justify absurd law changes… Some of which get pushed through under urgency.

This attitude towards piracy benefits only two groups of people: lawyers and publishers. In a recent lawsuit against Limewire, the RIAA were seeking damages of up to US$75 Trillion (about NZ$92 Trillion). If that sounds like an absurdly large amount of money, that’s because it is. The GDP of all of the USA is only $14.12 Trillion. In other words, the RIAA wanted more money than the whole of the USA makes in half a decade. These are clearly not reasonable people.

Some talk of piracy as if it’s the armageddon but the only thing piracy will bring an end to, is old, out-dated business models. The hypothetical piracy apocalypse actually happened in South Korea and the world still kept spinning. Yes, some business didn’t keep up and fell behind, but the rest evolved and became stronger as a result. Piracy in China actually created a massive surge of sales of South Korean music. Studies have proven that those who commit the most digital piracy also purchase the most legitimate music and movies. Piracy is an amazing form of advertising.

The most effective weapon against music piracy hasn’t been the government or the RIAA, it’s been iTunes. iTunes has made music convenient and reasonable priced. Services like Napster and Limewire were successful not just because they gave access to free music but because they gave easy access to music. The public no longer had to drive to the store and buy an entire expensive CD just for the one song that they wanted, they could just download it from their computer. Similarly, in the USA there is now Netflix which allows you to stream movies and TV for a low monthly price. Services like Netflix and iTunes have been so successful that they now account for more data usage in the USA then all illegal file sharing services combined. Sadly, we can’t yet get Netflix in New Zealand.

The answer to evolving technology isn’t just new laws but also new business models. Government’s can’t create laws that infringe on the rights of the people, just to appease outdated monopolies and foreign lobby groups. Copyright infringement is copyright infringement, not theft and a consequence of internet termination is a far greater punishment than is deserved.

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