May 2008

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« Is Copyright Violation Stealing? | Main | Pavlov’s Cartoonist »



Rationalizing it doesn't make it legal.

And its mere illegality doesn't make it unethical. Since we're talking about "good people," not "law-abiding people," your comment simply begs the question.


1. Good people are not criminals.

This is prima facie absurd. Good people jaywalk. That non-controversial counterexample tells us that good people can break laws and remain good. What's the rule to synthesize from (1) and counter(1)? It's likely that the goodness of the law itself is important to the moral calculus.

And that's pretty obvious.


3: But since I know I am a good person, my reason why it’s okay to violate copyright laws is...

...that statment #1 is not always true.

Adrian D.

C-ya needs a different line of work. Challenging a premise is valid argument. I do not know what he sees in his work but he have veen very dismissive here.

The premise that "good people are not criminals" is not valid. History is filled with people who broke existing laws to change the system. It is not immoral to break a bad law. Now, there is debate about whether the copyright laws are good. (I am inclined to think that there should be copyright laws, but that the ones we have are overly-strict.) A quick dismissal as "dissonance" is itself dishonest.


Late coming, but a music critic on The Now Show (BBC4) whose name I didn't catch had a different perspective on this that I'd genuinely not heard before. To paraphrase: Illegally downloading music is probably the only time in your life that you'll be able to take money away from Sting. Every time you click your mouse, Robbie Williams becomes less rich. This might eventually mean you'll never hear someone accept an award for best remix of an Abba song, and it might mean you never have to hear Westlife ever again.


how do you like this model:

1. laws are for stopping bad people doing bad things
2. i'm a good person
3. conclusion: laws do not apply to me

btw i only think this when i forget i'm an anarchist :P


Ok - I spotted the cognitive dissonance.

it goes something like this
A) I work hard on Dilbert, so I should get all the benefit
B) Other people are getting benefit
C) therefore they must be criminals (and they probably justify it by cognitive dissonance)

you then make the absurd justification for 3)

1. Good people are not criminals.
(lots are - think Nelson Mandella at one end, or me when I copy my purchased CD to my iPod at the other)
2. Criminals break laws.
(yes, but that does not imply that people who break laws need to be considered criminals - lots of laws are ignored by the legal institutions)
3. I break copyright laws.
4. But since I know I am a good person, my reason why it’s okay to violate copyright laws is ---That lots of people break laws---

PS - If you want to maintain the analogy between pants and copytight, how do you explain the construct that copyright lapses after time. Does that not imply that it is a different sort of property right to ownership of pants?

Stew Hawke

The only copyright laws that I might be breaking is when I record a TV show. Though I think the law on that was changed recently here to make it OK. But really what else am I supposed to do with a legaly bought machine that is for recording TV shows?

I don't even own an mp3 player. I have CDs and DVDs I bought that I play. Most modern music that I hear I wouldn't listen to it if someone paid ME. Ok it depends how much. For 5 dollars a song I'll listen to a few a day.

However here is my rationalization anyway. Breaching copyright is against the law. But not criminal law. It's a civil offence. One isn't thrown in jail for it one is sued by the copyright owner. If they wish to do so. So it is not stealing as such which is a criminal offence.

So there.

Stew Hawke


I was watching Blues Clues (children's television program)the other day together with my 2,5 year old daughter. The subject was 'difficult situations'. The situations were similar to the 'rationalizations' you describe.

For example:
1. It is bad to steal
2. Someone steals my book
3. That someone is a bad person

And than the question was: what do you do? Do you steal the book back? Or do you tell the other person that you're feeling bad and suggest that you read the book together?

Now, I'm a non-violent person. But my first instinctive reaction was to steal the book back, and put the thief upside down in a pile of s**t.

Best part of the story is that my daughter made me very proud and choose option 2. Although when I asked her why she choose that, she said that she could steal the other persons books when he was reading her book...


I evaded your cognitive trap. :)

Being an intellectual thief (which I have been :P) wasn't wrong, from my point of view.

It was from the authors own.
Maybe not even from theirs, actaully.

I was curious and I didn't have the money to feed my brain with enough inputs... today I'm still very curious, but I do spend a lot of money in supporting the people that give me brainfood.

My own theft acted as a strange form of investment.

Laws don't make people good or bad, they just set rules. Some rules, when bent, yield better results than the respective by-the-law conducts.

Thiefs are not smarter than law abiding guys, but some of them fit the picture just fine. :)


I wonder how many people who think downloading music = stealing used to tape songs from the radio onto blank casette tapes to listen to when they were younger? And edit out DJ comments/commercials/etc.?

Nicki Lagrange

the owners of "Felix the Cat" take their copyright seriously - after 70 years they've just discovered that the Kit Kat Klock people have been ripping them off!


Scott, I feel your pain. I deal with cognitive dissonance in my weekly groups with men who have been arrested for domestic violence. The rationale is similar to what you posted:
1. Good guys don't beat their wives/girlfriends.
2. I'm a good guy.
3. I beat my wife/girlfriend.
4. But I'm still a good guy.
5. So obviously it wasn't my fault and I had a
good reason and I am soooo not like all
these other losers in this group.


I also violate copyright because of my lack of free will.

The benefit I receive from copyright violation is substantial--I get the stuff I like for free, and in most cases it's higher quality (not encumbered by DRM, etc.) than if I bought a legitimate product.

The harm to the producer is negligible (meaning, the harm of my isolated act of infringement, not in the aggregate).

And the probability of my getting caught and being punished is virtually nil.

How can I not willfully infringe copyright in this kind of environment?


"All property rights are artificial."

Intellectual property aside, this is a fun statement. Tracking back the history of western governments and freedom in general, things like the Magna Carta, the Constitution, Common Law, and the writings of folks such as Thomas Paine, etc, the foundation of all our freedoms rests on property rights. And this moron thinks they are “artificial”?

I suppose s/he won’t mind when I breech the artificial limits of his front door and take his PC so he can’t post any longer because his right to be secure in his home and his ownership of said PC is, obviously, artificial.

Let’s follow the “if you don’t want it stolen, don’ release it” point with physical property:

If you don’t want it stolen, don’t buy it.
If you don’t want your house broken into, don’t live in one.
If you don’t want your car stolen, walk or take the bus.
If you don’t want your personal space violated by my fist, don’t show your face in public.


I don't agree with #1. Good people can be criminals and criminals can be good people.


I have no issues with 'Cognitive Dissonance'. I disobey copyright laws all the time, but I do not think of myself as a good person. I am soo bad that if I had a chance, I would feed nitroglycerine to kittens and put them in a washing machine, just to see them explode AND drown at the same time, MHUAHAHAHAH!

Now if you catch me doing something like adopting a puppy, or
helping an old lady, I will succumb to cognitive dissonance.


Copyright violation might be theft under the law, but that doesn't mean the law is great either. These days, copyright excuses are used as a tool to squelch fair-use. Ignoring the poeple who download 12,000 songs...

Also, I disagree with the notion that you can't compete with free and immediate. It's much faster for me to go to the library and checkout a book than it is to order it on Amazon. So why do I do it? I like owning books. I like reading them more than once. It's easier to download a PDF of a scanned book than to go to the library, but I don't do that either. I like having the book. The point is, you compete with free by offering more value or some other tangible benefit. A solid book has MUCH more value to the reader than an e-book.

Another example, maybe not as good, I could download linux within 30 minutes and install it and use it completely for free, but I use Vista. Why? Can't MS compete for free (no, I did not get Vista preinstalled on a system)? Of course they can, and they have for years. again, Vista offers me value that Linux doesn't have.

All of this is regardless of legality. The law should be enforced, but no FUD over not competing with free. That's ridiculous--plenty of people do it and succeed.


I have a compelling urge to say that Mindy should not be under your list of favourites.

"And then there’s Mindy, who believes it’s not a copyright violation to republish other people’s work as long as she doesn’t charge for it."

If this is just a case of misunderstanding full copy write law then it's nothing to do with Cognitive Dissonance and nether is it an absurd rationalizations. If your going to pick individual comments then at least pick ones that support your argument.

Any attempt to justify Mindy's comment being included will be taken as Cognitive Dissonance ;-)

p.s. I love this blog. Always a joy to read.


I also like the rationalization that says, "I am saving the artists/publishers/recording industry from their own bad business decisions." Apparently, these people consider those executives unqualified to make their own decisions for their own companies. That's a good one.


Rohit Krishnan

Firstly, I don't think it is wrong. Well, not very wrong anyway. That's what my gut says. Now for the rationalization.
The issue here is the definition of stealing, I think. If my downloading of music, whatever does not have any negative impact, it is not wrong.
As far as giving money to the artist goes - tough luck. Was taping TV programs a crime? If it was, then fine, this is too. On the other hand, if 3000 songs were downloaded yesterday and tomorrow suddenly God put a stop to this, hardly any of those songs would be sold over the counter. The actual revenue lost is nothing close to what they claim. I doubt it's even 1 Basis point of that.
Free always wins. Especially if the product is overpriced. Like for books. If the price was half of what it is, I personally would have made a couple of bookshops unbelievably happy. But they dont. So I dont.
Only thing that can beat 'free' is 'convenient'. Thus did Apple take the market. Coz CD's and DVD's are not convenient.
Instead of comparing this to a burglar taking a TV from a home, I think RIAA or whomever is against this should come up with a better metaphor. The old one is stupid and makes people argue against the metaphor rather than against the fact.
There needs to be a way for people to listen and try out songs before they buy. Unfortunately piracy (misnomer if I've ever heard one. And oddly enticing) is the only way. If you like one song of Metallica, you'll download the entire album to try the others out.
Long story short - is it okay for people to take what artists produce without giving money? Hell no. But once it's out there, is it okay for people to copy it for personal reasons? Well....yeah! Coz like the elections, unless everybody in the world starts to pirate music with immediate effect, it really doesnt matter. And the probability of that is rather low.


Nice try. Perhaps you are feeling some cognitive dissonance for charging people for the privelege to view your 'art'. The rest of us are simply giving reasoned arguments.


Copying music is clearly stealing, but the real justification is: "everyone else is doing it, and nobody is stopping me."

By analogy: when companies register a trademark (e.g., the Nike logo), they are legally required to actively prosecute any trademark infringement; being lax in doing so can mean they lose the trademark and it becomes public domain.

If Canada doesn't actively patrol the NorthWest Passage and stop unauthorized ships from using this route through the Arctic, it will become International Waters.

If Nordstrom left their stores unlocked & unwatched every night, they would lose a lot of pants.

It's up to the owner of any given property (intellectual or otherwise) to protect it. The recording industry should have seen the problem coming, and started putting digital copy restrictions on their physical CDs 5 years before Napster came along. Once the foothold of free & easy downloading had been established, it was too late.


"Because you don't DESERVE to have it if you don't pay for it.



Oops. I now see that I was being irrational.

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