Why Piracy is not theft.

This is a letter sent to Peter Jamison, Chairman of the British Phonographic Industry. Essentially like the RIAA in the UK



Dear Peter,

I am writing to you as a long standing director of a successful software house. As someone who’s company has suffered losses that cannot be calculated I am intimately aware of the financial loss that piracy incurs to all kinds of media industries. However, I am curious as to why you think that piracy is theft and that the individuals you are prosecuting genuinely are “stealing from” the record labels.

Piracy, whatever it is, is not stealing. You are making a mistake of treating information with the same kind of moral metrics that we traditionally use for material objects.

Consider these facts about the proposition: A steals X from B:

  • A no longer owns X
  • X is no longer owned by A.
  • B now owns X

Now consider the facts about the proposition: A copies X from B without A’s consent.

  • A continues to own X
  • X is owned by A
  • X is owned by B
  • B continues to own X

These relationships can be expressed in many different ways, what is inescapable about them is the unauthorized copying is not stealing.

The closest you can come to equating copying with stealing is if you speak not of the thing copied but of the "act of purchase". That is, that what is being deprived from B is A's act of purchase. But this in itself is a nonsense because it assumed that A would in all cases have purchased x from B.

People who copy information, like people who gossip (the analogy of passing on “unauthorized” information here is intentional), are not thieves. They may not be as morally wholesome as saints but they only commit he crime of theft in your antiquated and mistaken view of the ontology of information. Information is not an object.

You are the position as head of the BPI to give impetus to a choice between the antiquated and the modern, the mistaken and the realistic, the sensible and the ridicuable.

Without doubt in future decades people will not pay directly for media. This will seem to future decades as ludicrous. People will pay for the value added onto media by artists and companies through concerts and merchandise and numerous other avenues.

I can go online now onto any P2P network and find pirate copies of our software. It doesn’t thrill me, it doesn’t depress me. It is a reality. A tax on the features that make digital information so wonderful – the fact it can be freely duplicated without error.

As BPI Chairman you are in a prime position to take these bold steps into the future. To begin the demise of the mistakes that have arisen because this revolution has happened so fast. Your industry, like the rest of us, has been taken off guard.

There are two lists being formed in the digital archives that will form history. The backwards and the forewards, which list do you want to be on?

Best wishes