Next time you see Times Square on TV, take a closer look: amid the glowing neon, plastered between underwear ads and stock tickers, are stars - pop stars, icons of the music industry, a multi-billion-dollar business that employs thousands across the globe. Out of a sea of individual spending decisions, an elegant commercial structure has emerged: music companies scout out talent, hire those artists that seem promising, pair them with professional songwriters and image-builders, and produce a product that consumers may then choose to exchange their money for. Those artists, songwriters, and image-builders whose products are most profitable are financially rewarded, encouraging others to adopt their practices and follow in their footsteps.

For decades, this has been a successful model, and an extremely progressive one -- thanks to innovations like automatic pitch correction, modern records like Britney Spears' Oops, I Did It Again are far superior to their precursors (John Lennon's Imagine, for example). But this continual progress may soon be past: a form of piracy known to its adherents as "file sharing" threatens to undermine the very foundations of the music industry.

Every CD has a cost behind it -- not merely the physical cost involved in creating and distributing the disc and packaging, which amounts to less than a dollar out of the 15 that you pay, but the salaries of producers (often tens of thousands of dollars per album), studio fees, equipment selection, etc. Moreover, successful albums subsidize unsuccessful ones, and multimillion-dollar flops from established musicians are not unheard of.

The money must come from somewhere, and for decades it has come from consumers. But with the advent of "file sharing", anyone with an internet connection can have access to almost any piece of music without paying a cent. The system cannot possibly survive, and without the system, music cannot possibly be produced.

Of course, many pirates have invented counterarguments to rationalize their theft - some assert that "file sharing" can increase the exposure of unknown bands (though if they are unknown, surely they can be producing nothing of quality) others that "downloading" free music has somehow caused them to buy more CDs. But even if these arguments were correct, they gloss over a central, inescapable point: "sharing" music with those who have not bought the right to listen to it is stealing, plain and simple. Stealing is illegal, and stealing is Wrong.

This much is clear and widely agreed upon -- legislation aimed at stamping out piracy has been passed, and more is in development -- but there is a far more insidious, far more pervasive threat to the livelihoods of content creators. For centuries, book publishers could count on sales to compensate them for the expenses incurred in those books' creation -- not just the ink and paper, but the salaries of authors and editors, researchers and cover artists. More recently, however, certain academics have been involved in the practice of hoarding thousands of books in central locations, where almost anyone can have access to them. In all those years after the initial purchase, as hundreds upon hundreds of people peruse a book's contents, how often is the publisher compensated? The answer, dear reader, is not a single time.

Some have argued that even if this did not constitute theft of intellectual property, the limitations imposed on those who "borrow" the books are enough to prevent sales from being seriously impinged on -- but that is ludicrous on its face. Anyone can borrow a book not once, but as many times as desired; moreover, there is nothing to stop someone from taking the book to a Xerox machine and "burning" a personal copy.

After further research, I was shocked to discover that one such "library" exists on my own school's campus. Nestled amid parking structures and science buildings, it is unimposing, but walking inside, I discovered that I was able to browse an almost unlimited number of copyrighted books without so much as a glance from a security guard.

I timed my browsing rate at approximately 2 books a minute; had I continued for a couple of hours, I could have gone through 240 books or so. Estimating the average cost of each book (a quality hardcover) at $50, my seemingly innocent afternoon at the "library" would have cost the publishing industry twelve hundred dollars.

It is obvious that this cannot stand - at the very least, "book sharing" is a severely destabilizing force in a major industry, but even if it were not, it is simply wrong. Universities should not encourage theft and piracy; Eastern must dismantle its library immediately. Perhaps in time a new library can be implemented, with non-Xerox-compatible books licensed for library use by their publishers and a subscription fee charged to cover the costs, but for now, students and teachers should purchase their information fairly rather than stealing it. There are plenty of bookstores available.

But even if the problem is corrected here, the U.S. government still, inexplicably, tolerates libraries. Though existing laws clearly rule them out, it seems that new legislation is needed to force the issue, and I urge you to write your senator or representative. Government officials receive form letters in bulk, so the most effective method is to write out your letter in pen. And, of course, don't forget to enclose the check.

Update, June 2004: I wrote this as a satire, but I've found out there actually is a movement by copyright holders to require libraries to pay continuous licencing fees. More information by Googling "library association" "publishers association" copyright fair use, or at

. Help fight this at the Electronic Frontier Foundation,

Node the articles you write for your college paper at 4 AM that to your great surprise turn out not to suck.
Incidentally, feel free to distribute this without asking permission, as long as you link back here.

In response to electricsheep's writup: I think what matters here is not the literal physical process but the effect -- and functionally, file sharing is exactly like having access to a library (a bunch of libraries, really), with 2 exceptions:

1. The library's less convenient. This is only a difference of degree, though, and I don't think it adds much weight to arguments against file sharing, especially if you consider what librarys will be like in a few decades time.

2. Only one person can check out a library book at a time. This might seem like a big issue, but I think it's actually irrellevant. Consider a hypothetical file-sharing system (broadband-based, a few years from now) set up so that while someone else is listening a song you put in your directory, you can't listen to that song (and vice versa).

I have most of my CDs copied to my computer (and so will most people, in a few years). Out of the 7 GB of music on my hard disk, I'm listening to less than a thousandth of that (most of my songs are less than 7 MB) at any given time -- and that's if I was listening 24 hours a day. (Granted, some songs will be listened to and downloaded much more often than others, but in my experience those sets don't overlap much -- similarly, the book I want to check out from the library isn't likely to be out of stock, and it would be even less likely if I had access to every library in the U.S.)

And that's if we put an arbitrary limit on the level of granularity. Not only am I listening to only 1 song at a time, I'm only listening to one part of the song at that time. If someone else downloads Thievery Corporation's "Fedime's Flight" from me 10 seconds after I start playing it, my computer could happily send them the parts of the song I wasn't listening to, denying me access to those parts (wouldn't matter, as I'd be listening to other parts anyway). The only conflict that could occur would be with two requests to play a song at the exact same time, which is very unlikely even for wildly popular files.

Tlogmer makes a good point. Now for some semantic nitpicking:

The difference between downloading an MP3 from Gnutella and checking out a book from a library is that when you check out a book you are not making a copy of the material. The book was paid for by the library, and then you borrow it for a short period of time. If you were to photocopy pages from the book (for purposes outside the grey area that is Fair Use), then you would clearly be violating copyright law. If you decided never to return the book, that would be theft.

When you download an MP3, you are essentially "Xeroxing" the music. The person who originally ripped the CD still has that CD, or just made a copy of it and returned it. The copyright holder did not receive any money the copy in your posession. However, if the person you downloaded the music from deleted his copy, and the person he got it from deleted his, and so on until the original media was destroyed, then one could argue that this was perfectly legal. It would be like purchasing a used CD.

File sharing is not theft. To quote Webster 1913:

To constitute theft there must be a taking without the owner's consent, and it must be unlawful or felonious; every part of the property stolen must be removed, however slightly, from its former position; and it must be, at least momentarily, in the complete possession of the thief. See Larceny, and the Note under Robbery.

In the context of file sharing, "theft" would imply that the original copy of the song had been destroyed. The word "piracy" also implies this. The clearest description is "copyright infringement." It's not the same as theft.

What with the RIAA suing people and third parties exploring options to prevent filesharing programs from sending copyrighted music, it's important to remember that not all file sharing is illegal.

First off, the term "file sharing" is pretty broad. Let's look at clipart — there are innumerable image files on the Internet which are free for anyone to use. The creaters of these images have deemed them available for anyone's use, without requiring notification of the creators, and without any payment. Or how about a .pdf of lecture notes for that class you slept through? Many professors will post notes on their websites, free for anyone to download and print out.

Most of us aren't worried about clipart or class notes, though — at the moment, the issue revolves around music (although movies are getting involved in a big way, too). I'll spend the rest of this node talking about music file sharing.

Tlogmer's writeup above makes some excellent points. Essentially, it boils down to this: the music industry's current form is that way because it is "a successful model" — the pattern of search for talent, pair with other talent, create a product that the public will pay for, and then PROFIT is well-established and not likely to go away any time soon.

However, Tlogmer also says "without the system [i.e. the way the industry is now], music cannot possibly be produced" — ignoring the fact that music can be produced without the multi-million dollar pop music industry, and furthermore it is being produced as we speak. Good music, too, not just shitty stuff recorded in some pimply teenager's garage.

"Every CD has a cost behind it -- not merely the physical cost involved in creating and distributing the disc and packaging, which amounts to less than a dollar out of the 15 that you pay, but the salaries of producers (often tens of thousands of dollars per album), studio fees, equipment selection, etc."

This is true — but what if there was no CD? What if the album wasn't put together by expensive producers, and wasn't mixed in a prestigious studio with fancy equipment? What if an album was put together by people in their spare time, with the intentions that it was to be a freely-distributed album? Tlogmer asserts that "'sharing' music with those who have not bought the right to listen to it is stealing", but if the right to listen to it does not need to be bought, you can't steal it.

That's what Soulseek Records has done. The small label's couple albums are all free to be downloaded by anyone, and distributed in any way you see fit. Some tracks are created by people in their spare time, and some are created by "actual" musicians. (You may recognize "Soulseek", the file sharing program, in the label's name — Soulseek Records is a branch of the file sharing program, which was initially created to promote and legally distribute little-known electronica artists.)

Art Tatum makes exactly this recommendation in a node expressing distaste with a major player in the music industry, and emil gmeer's writeup in the same node makes it apparent that this way of creating and distributing music has already taken hold.

This certainly isn't the norm for albums these days, but there are other ways to download your favorite album and still be okay with the law. Many popular music groups have announced that it is fine with them to record and distribute a large part of their musical repertoire — namely, live recordings. Groups such as the Grateful Dead, Medeski Martin and Wood, and Phish have thousands of hours of live material which can be freely downloaded off the web at sites like and the impressive There are even file sharing clients like specifically designed for this, like FurthurNet, "the first and only 100% non-commercial, open-source, peer-to-peer network of legal live music".

Tlogmer also says "many pirates have invented counterarguments to rationalize their theft - some assert that 'file sharing' can increase the exposure of unknown bands (though if they are unknown, surely they can be producing nothing of quality)". For the time being, I'll disregard the fact that many already-popular bands have agreed to let their material be shared (AC/DC, Dave Matthews Band, Radiohead, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Sigur Ros...see FurthurNet's list or's list for more), and instead point out that the music pirates' argument actually is true — many a small-time band has built up a strong and loyal fan base by file sharing and word of mouth alone.

Tlogmer also refers to a library as an instance of "file" sharing. In this analogy, the problem with the term "file sharing" is evident — while a library really does share its books, when you use a file sharing programs you're actually making a copy of the file. (This same sort of thing happens at your local video rental store, too, or when you lend a friend a book.) Obviously, when you check out a book at a library you're not copying the book; you eventually return it, at which point it's no longer in your possesion. Electronic files rarely work this way — it's as if instead of checking out a book, a librarian hands you a photocopy of the book and says you can keep it. Also, though it's certainly possible to photocopy every page of that book (which would be a better analogy to electronic file sharing), it's somewhat misleading because copying things electronically is much easier than photocopying a book one page at a time. (Also, libraries and video rental stores know where you live.)

I'm done with the majority of my argument now. All I ask is that the next time you're poking around some insanely offtopic Slashdot thread about the inherent problems with file sharing and how the best solution is to delete the Internet, or just put everyone who uses Kazaa in jail, remember that file sharing is not always theft.

Quote about FurthurNet from

File sharing is never theft. It is often copyright infringement, but never theft. 'Theft' and 'Copyright Infringement' are well-defined legal terms, and the two are not the same. 'Theft' and 'Piracy' are loaded words used by 'creators' and 'artists' to describe copyright infringement, in the hope to elicit sympathy for the way the big bad world is treating them.

Theft is the illegal taking of an item of someone else's property (be it tangible (like a car), or intangible (like a domain name), depriving them of that property. The physical manifestation of a work of art (a CD, painting, book, etc.) is tangiable property, and can be stolen. The work of art itself (a song, image, story, etc.), however, is not property, tangiable or intangiable. By looking at a painting, reading a novel, or hearing a CD you make a copy in your long-term memory that lasts for a lifetime. The source of the art (the CD, painting, book) is not affected in any way by this copying. Copying an MP3 from one (electronic) computer to another is exactly the same as reading a poem from memory to a friend. Neither is theft.

Copyright infringement is the illegal breach of a government granted monopoly on the reproduction of a work of art. Simply observing (and therefore memorising) a work of art is not copyright infringement; to infringe copyright, you must share the work of art with another, where you do not have the right to do so (the 'copy right'). Certain acts of copying (listening to loud music in your car in public, or reading a book aloud to your children) are legal; this is known as fair use. Other forms of copying (Showing a DVD on a large screen to your film society, or selling copies of a CD for which you do not own the copyright) are illegal, unless the copyright holder grants you permission.

Illegal file sharing is copyright infringement. To say that illegal copying of files is 'theft' or 'piracy' is dishonest, unless the files are somehow copied while shoplifting, or forcibly boarding a vessel on the high seas.

The law, especially copyright law, is very much a grey area. I am not a lawyer, and this should not be considered legal advice. Furthermore, I discuss British Law. The law may well be different in your jurisdiction, indeed in the United States of America, it may well be the case that Copyright Infringement is one of a number of crimes, all referred to as theft.

I cite

  • The Theft Act, 1968 -
  • The Theft (Ammended) Act, 1996 -
    "A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and 'theft' and 'steal' shall be construed accordingly.
  • 'Theft', 'Intellectual Property' - wikipedia -,

The title of this node strikes me as a little vague. Asking "Is file sharing theft?" is a bit like asking "Is driving a car murder?" (If during the course of a drive you intentionally run somebody down with your car in an effort to kill them and they die, yes, of course it's murder ... but otherwise, no.)

File sharing is, as a general concept, not a problem. It's a perfectly legal thing to do if you either own the materials you're sharing or have the right to share them because they're in the public domain or the owner has granted permission for them to be shared.

The real question is ....

Is file sharing other peoples' intellectual property theft?

Now we're getting down to business!

What is theft?

Theft, all by itself, is a general term that is not given a technical legal definition at the federal level in the U.S. (some states do define it; others don't). It's often used synonymously with larceny (which is defined technically, which we'll get to in a minute).

The 'Lectric Law Library Lexicon defines theft as commonly meaning to secretly and dishonestly take someone else's property (in other words, steal it) for the sake of money (either to sell the property or to simply avoid paying for it). It further defines theft-bote as being the crime of knowingly receiving stolen property from a thief.

Thus, both stealing an item and receiving stolen items can be considered forms of theft under those definitions.

The Oxford Dictionary of Law (which covers British law, which is similar but by no means identical to U.S. law) defines "theft" as "The dishonest appropriation of property belonging to someone else with the intention of keeping it permanently."

Criminologist Thomas O'Connor states that "all modern theft laws have their origins in the ancient law of larceny."

He further says that:

Larceny is the wrongful taking and carrying away of personal property which is in the possession of another with the intent to convert it or permanently deprive the owner thereof.

Okay, so what's larceny? And what has it got to do with filesharing?

According to O'Connor and other sources, classic criminal larceny involves:

  1. Wrongfully taking something from someone else (stealing) To do this you have to have control over the object -- but it doesn't have to be actual physical control. You can claim that a book on a shelf is yours and sell it to someone else. When the person walks off with the book they think they've legitimately purchased, they have not committed larceny, but you have. When an item has been taken for personal use, a common defense is to claim that the person was only "borrowing" the item and intended to return it. In that case, it's up to the court to decide whether the evidence surrounding the incident indicates an intent to steal or a real, honest intent to return the item.
    • The act of ripping and making a copyrighted MP3 available for upload has been seen by the courts as wrongfully taking control of an intellectual property. Once other anonymous users have downloaded copies, there's no feasible way to "give it back" to the rightful owner. On the downloading side, however, a user who downloads an illegal copy, tries it out, and then deletes that copy could arguably be seen as just having "borrowed" it.

  2. Taking the item away from the place it was stolen (asportation) There's a lot of variance in how this is interpreted. For instance, in some states, a person can be convicted of shoplifting if they are observed taking and sequestering an item but abandon it in the store before they are apprehended. Theft laws also cover people who can't really asportate anything in a legal sense, such as a parking lot attendant who is given a customer's keys and then goes for an extended joyride in the car.
    • Transferring a file to a fileshare server certainly seems to fulfill the broad asportation criteria, as does downloading it.

  3. The stolen item being personal property. According to modern laws, personal property can be real property (land, houses, etc.), tangible property (moveable things like cars), services, information, intellectual property, and even contraband. Under the vast majority of legal systems, the value of the item determines whether the act of stealing it is considered a misdemeanor, felony, or civil matter.
  4. The item being in the posession of the thief. Most laws require the owner of the item to prove that it was taken without their consent, that they can identify the object as being theirs, and that they did not abandon the item (thus creating a situation in which a reasonable person might think the property was free to whomever wanted to take it).
    • If you've made an illegal copy of an intellectual property and make it available for upload, you are quite obviously in possession of it. However, you might be excused if you legitimately thought the intellectual property was abandoned (for instance, because it was out of print) or in the public domain due to a lack of a copyright statement.

  5. Taking the item with the intent to sell it, gain a reward for its return, or to permanently deprive the owner of it. The "permanent deprivation" part is a little complicated. Courts have ruled that cases like taking a car temporarily for joyriding constitute larceny. Why? The item has been taken recklessly without permission, and the owner stands a strong chance of suffering some kind of financial loss due to the item being damaged while in the thief's control. So, even if the thief always intended to return the item, the risk of permanent loss to the owner makes it larceny.

    In other words, larceny (theft) either permanently deprives or has a strong risk of permanently depriving the rightful owner of money.

As I mentioned previously, some U.S. state laws explicitly define theft. For instance, the Ohio Revised Code defines theft thusly:

2913.02. Theft.

(A) No person, with purpose to deprive the owner of property or services, shall knowingly obtain or exert control over either the property or services in any of the following ways:

(1) Without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;

(2) Beyond the scope of the express or implied consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;

(3) By deception;

(4) By threat;

(5) By intimidation.

(B) (1) Whoever violates this section is guilty of theft.

Ohio law further classes the following larcenous crimes as being forms of theft, several of which apply to file sharing:

  • 2913.03. Unauthorized use of a vehicle.
  • 2913.04. Unauthorized use of property; computer, cable, or telecommunication property or service.
  • 2913.041. Possession or sale of unauthorized cable television device.
  • 2913.06. Unlawful use of telecommunications device.
  • 2913.07. Motion picture piracy.


But wait! My filesharing isn't depriving the owner of anything! They can still do what they want with it!

Or, as lj put it in an earlier version of his writeup: "Steal an idea, they still have their idea, but now you have it too."

Not so fast, pilgrim.

First of all, we're not talking about ideas -- ideas can't be copyrighted. Art and stories and songs contain ideas, convey ideas, but they are not in and of themselves ideas. Arguing that it's okay to trade a song because it's just an idea is like saying it's okay to shoot a human being because we're just nitrogen (hey, humans contain nitrogen, and they give off nitrogen, so they're nitrogen, right?).

Second, refer to the part in #5 above about the larcenous nature of taking a car for joyriding. Now, think about identity theft, a well-recognized but very new form of theft.

If someone commits identity theft against me, I still have my actual identity. My face and fingerprints are still on my person. My friends and employer still recognize me.

I still have my identity, and now somebody else has it too ... and they're racking up credit card bills in my name. It's going to cost me a lot of time and money (because, after all, time is money) to get it all stopped.

Even if the identity thief figures her actions are harmless because the credit card companies will surely forgive my debt once they figure out I couldn't have made the purchases -- it's still theft because it's depriving me of money.

So, yeah, in the end it's all about money. And most writers, musicians, and artists stand to make money in royalties off sales of individual copies of their work, so every copy that gets downloaded off a filesharing server represents a potentially lost sale. Furthermore, a work's resale value may be diminished; publishers release work they expect to profit from, and if they see that the work is rampantly available via filesharing and people are getting it for free, they may question the profit in re-releasing the work.

The actual ramifications of lost sales from filesharing are hard to determine, of course. Some quantity of people who download a PDF or MP3 or EXE probably never would have purchased a legitimate copy of the property in a store; either they really were too damn broke, or they just weren't interested enough to buy but were curious enough to download. But many people fileshare because it's free and convenient, and presumably they do represent lost royalties to the creator.

However, just because the financial loss from a theft is miniscule doesn't mean it's not a theft. If I pocket a 5-cent piece of bubblegum in a candy store, the store owner may never even realize the gum is gone. But I still stole it, and I can't argue otherwise. Even though my theft is trivial, I am still a thief.

Making unauthorized copies of a protected intellectual property such as a song, book, or game available on a filesharing server is arguably a form of theft theft because it conforms to the U.S. legal requirements of larceny. No breaking and entering or forcible boarding need be involved to become a thief.

Congress could of course pass a law at any time explicitly excluding filesharing copyright violations from being considered larceny in any way, and in that case illegal filesharing might be a form of theft in a moral sense but not in a commonlaw sense. Laws are set in paper rather than stone and are constantly being renegotiated and changed. That's why the world has so many lawyers.


The Morality of Filesharing (or, Legal, schmegal, filesharing isn't wrong, and you can't make me believe otherwise!)

We are all ultimately responsible for the ethical decisions we make. Hundreds of teeny-tiny little events that are technically crimes go on all the time, unnoticed amongst the great raw screaming chunks of misery that represent larger crimes like armed robbery, rape and murder.

Circumstances can make almost any crime an unfortunate necessity or even a moral good. If I have no money, and my child is starving, I will steal milk for her if I have to, because the needs of my child outweigh my need to be a law-abiding citizen and not harm the store owner.

If I must learn Filemaker Pro to get a job I desperately need and simply haven't the money for a legitimate copy, I will download it and feel bad later when I've got the job.

There's a moral allowance for genuine human need.

There's also a moral legitimacy for filesharing in the name of civil disobedience in some cases. Copyright laws are supposed to balance the public good of being able to freely access and obtain artistic and intellectual materials with the creator's right to control those materials. A strong argument can be made that current laws have gone well past protecting creators -- and in some instances completely fail to protect creators -- and instead offer an unreasonably long corporate monopoly on intellectual property.

For instance, current laws have created a situation in which many musicians end up signing all their rights over to a music company in exchange for releasing their work. The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act is widely seen as a move pandering to Disney and other corporations that violates the spirit of the original laws. And many feel that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is bad lawmaking on several counts.

There are quite a lot of materials out there that, while technically copyrighted, have been functionally abandoned. The creators are dead or no longer have rights to their own work, the work is out of print, and the copyright is owned by a corporation that is indifferent to making the work available for sale at a reasonable price.

In such cases, file sharing functionally abandoned materials arguably does provide a benefit to the public and also is defendable under the 4th clause of the larceny rules above.

There's also a moral allowance for using filesharing to obtain digital copies of work you already purchased in a hardcopy or analog format. There's even a borderline slippery-slope argument with some ethical (but no legal) grounding that it's okay to download copies of cable channel TV shows if you subscribed to those channels when the episodes aired. In both those instances, you could have made copies of the materials for personal "backup" use (which is a legitimate thing to do) but the person who has helpfully uploaded the materials is still violating the law. It's an imperfect world.

But there isn't really any moral allowance for simply wanting to have something without paying for it.

lj said in an earlier version of his writeup: "'Theft' and 'Piracy' are loaded words, often used by 'creators' and 'artists' to elicit sympathy for the way the big bad world is treating them."

A legal advocate might reply "'Information wants to be free' and 'rock stars are rich anyway' are loaded and misleading phrases used by people to justify and elicit sympathy for their childish unwillingness to pay for their entertainment like the big bad world expects them to."

Songs and art and books don't grow on trees ... although seeing them everywhere might lead you to believe that they do.

Most people see the glitz and glamorous lifestyles of the latest vapid pop sensation, or hear about the millions of dollars Stephen King just donated to a charity, and they blithely think that all artists, musicians, and writers make plenty of money and a little filesharing surely isn't going to hurt. Besides, hey, they're getting exposure to new people, and they should feel flattered that people think their stuff is worth stealing.

The reality is that most writers, artists, and musicians work hard and don't get a lot of money for what they do. The flattery of seeing one's work on a filesharing server rubs off very quickly if one doesn't have enough money to pay the electric bill that month.

The reality is that artists, writers, and musicians have to pay their bills just like everyone else. They need money to survive -- it's a rare landlord or utility company that will take books and CDs in trade.

Most people create art, music, or stories because they need to express themselves. And for most creators, the whole point of being able to make a living off their creative endeavors is to enable them to keep creating. If they have to take another job to make their bills, the time spent at their day job is time and energy that can't be put to creating new songs or stories or pictures.

Thus, if professional artists, writers, and musicians are unable to make enough money off their work to live on -- they will produce less and less creative work. If Stephen King hadn't been able to make a living with his writing, he'd have had to keep being a low-paid, overworked teacher. We'd have gotten Carrie, certainly, and probably The Shining and maybe even The Stand. But what about later, more sophisticated work like The Green Mile and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon? Those very well might not exist.

In the end, the deprivation caused by mass filesharing might really end up being manifested as less and less quality entertainment available to consumers.

If you think books and songs and movies are overpriced, visit your local library (they might even buy new items they don't carry you if you and your friends request the materials), or buy used copies. And remember, you and like-minded friends can always try making your own for each other.

Hey! What about libraries? How come they get to exist?

Public libraries are run on a combination of tax-derived funding and donations. Their mission is to make books (and to a lesser extent audio and video works) available to everyone in their community.

Every book you find in a library has been legitimately purchased or donated by someone else who bought the book. In short, every copy represents a sale and thus money to the copyright holder. The First Sale Doctrine makes it perfectly legal to lend out a legitimate physical copy of a book, movie, or CD. When a book circulates, it goes out to one person who borrows it for individual or family reading, keeps it for a few weeks, and returns it. The book keeps circulating on this kind of individual basis until it is too worn to lend; then it is replaced with another paid-for book or sold in a booksale fundraiser. A popular library book might be read by 25 people in a year.

Contrast this with illegal fileshared copies of the book. I have seen books posted on IRC that haven't yet gone to press -- in short, somebody with access to the publishing company uploaded an illegal copy. Thus, the shared file doesn't represent a sale at all. And in the case of a person uploading a copy of a legitimately-purchased electronic book, the First Sale Doctrine does not apply because the intellectual content has been duplicated without permission.

A popular prerelease book might be downloaded by 25 people in just a few hours. And once those hundreds of people have downloaded the PDF -- what incentive do they have to actually buy the book, even if they enjoyed it and would have otherwise bought it? Very little, unless they understand the hard work the writer and publisher put into making the book. The sheer numbers make permanent financial losses a very real possibility.

But, as Voltaire said, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."

Do as your conscience guides you. Just don't be confused or in denial about what you're doing.


  • A conversation with OSU law professor Sheldon W. Halpern
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Law
  • 'Lectric Law Library Lexicon entry at
  • Anderson's Online Revised Code at
  • Theft Law: crimes Against Property & Hybrid Crimes by Thomas R. O'Connor at

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