Between the victim and the criminal

As inspired by this
I contend that it is not ethical to report certain activities directly to the authorities, even if they appear to be crimes. Specifically things like copyright infringement, scams, theft (but not in progress burglary, where physical destruction of property can be stopped by quick police action) and so on. The reason is because it is none of your business, and you, as a quick passerby, do not have enough information to assess the situation.

Leaving things alone can be even more wrong, but reporting the crime to the victim can rarely be the wrong thing to do. If the victim, then, so choses they may report it to the authorities. As a person of peculiar behavior, often considered weird by others, I often find myself engaged in behaviors that can look criminal from a third party point of view, but are not actually. Now if they were, bringing my attention to them would certainly resolve the problem as I would contact the authorities right away. If they aren’t, then as a person reporting them you are risking having a person wrongfully arrested and unwanted government attention brought upon them.

Bringing such a crime to the attention of the victim is not always possible, and certainly often difficult. Artists and writers are often very private people who take great pains to be as difficult to contact as possible. In many cases, the copyright holder may not be immediately evident. Of course, one could try to contact the publisher, editor or other person or organization who may be able to take the appropriate action or to contact the copyright holder, but this is more trouble than most people are willing to go to in order to report “minor” crimes. This is particularly true for the case you link to, where there are multiple intellectual property violations being committed. No one is going to bother to contact every copyright holder whose work is being pirated on such a site. This is why we have the police, FBI and other such bodies. It is easy for people to contact them and report what they believe to be a crime, and then the authorities can make the determination of whether a crime is being committed. Law enforcement agencies exist for this very reason. It is my stand that it is incumbent upon everyone to report such crimes, since piracy and copyright theft ultimately hurts us all as consumers, and is therefore everyone’s business.

However, in the case such as that I believe either you attempt to contact the copyright holders (some or all) or you do nothing. I do not believe any third party has the prerequisite information to determine if copyright infringement is taking place, and if law enforcement gets involved people can lose their computers, internet connection and a lot of time before it is sorted out.

So unless you, a random passerby, can judge what’s happening in the situation, then nobody else should have the opportunity because it’s too much trouble? I find that confusing.

This is specious reasoning. Law enforcement generally will not (and can not) seize assets without probable cause, and certainly will not do so unless they have already investigated to the extent needed to determine that a crime is most likely being comitted. In most cases of minor intellectual property theft, the FBI or other agency will, in fact, do just as you suggest and contact the copyright holder, and work WITH them to build a case against the offender.

If a crime is such that the purported victim can be continuously unaware of it’s existence, the burden definitely falls on them to find out that it is happening.

Look at it this way: You suspect your neighbor might be routinely cheating the bank out of pennies every day somehow - a crime. You report him to the authorities, the matter gets looked into (quite an unpleasant situation), and he turns out to be innocent. Now, the only way your actions can be considered ethical is if you are willing to take upon the full financial liability for them (as in any other place in society). Unfotunately, the system does not allow this. If you call the cops on me and I’m innocent but was acting suspiciously, I’ll bet $20 I won’t win a mental anguish suit against you. So the only ethical choice remains is to not call the cops unless the timing of the situation makes it inevitable.

Anyone who’s unaffiliated with the copyright holder and still goes out of their way to report file sharing sites to the FBI has way too much time on their hands.

And can’t we have just one copyright thread without someone calling copyright infringement “theft”? The Supreme Court has ruled that it isn’t… what more do you need?

That was back in 1985. Things seem to have changed.

I find the concept of ignoring potential illegal activity without merit. I’ve stopped a number of crimes in my neighborhood using police intervention and I’ve also chased people down who’ve left the scene of a crime.

I’m not sure what “peculiar activity” should be ignored but if it looks,walks and quacks like a duck then a duck is how it will be treated.

If you believe that, then I guess you also believe patriotism is synonymous with surveillance, and children are never left behind anymore. Try reading past the politically-motivated titles of bills.

It seems to me that what you’re actually suggesting is that criminals should be rewarded for being clever, or their victims punished for being ignorant, unsuspecting or unaware.

Does that meet anyone’s definition of “ethical” aside from yours? If I’m acting in good faith and have reason to suspect something criminal is really happening, it’s not unethical to call the police.

I don’t know if I’d call it unethical to report the supposed crime directly to the police, but it seems… nosy. I’d rather report it to the bank and let them figure out if they’re really missing any money, and if so, what they want to do about it.

Kinda weak examples there. In any case, you overstate the Supreme Court’s postion. In the case you cite, Dowling v United States, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, “[copyright infringement] does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud… The infringer invades a statutorily defined province guaranteed to the copyright holder alone. But he does not assume physical control over copyright; nor does he wholly deprive its owner of its use.” Bolding mine. That’s a bit less decisive on the matter than you’d lead us to believe. But, I don’t want to get drawn into a long debate about wheter it is, or is not, theft. That is not the intent of this thread. I will concede, therefore, that it is not necessarily theft.

Depending on how I learned about the suspicious activity, and if we’re assuming I know enough about banks to figure out how and where they’d be missing the money from, perhaps I could do that.

Well DUH! Just because somebody chooses to commit a crime it does not mean they give up their fundamental humanity. Cleverness is still rewarded and being unaware or ignorant is punished on top of any punishment the society dishes out. That’s how the world works.

You always have to consider consequences of your actions. You have to realize that if you are reporting a person the authorities under a suspicion of a crime, they are put under a suspicion of a crime and authorities will go talk to them. The neighbors will see authorities talking to them. In the case of the original thread, the web host might decide to drop the website just because the authorities are asking questions and they might fear liability. The web host can decide to suspend the website indefinitely affecting revenue of the website, which could be a significant source of revenue for a family for all you know. And that’s the key, you don’t know!

I am a big proponent of making accusers liable of their accusations. Just like if you grab me and perform a citizens arrest and I turn out to be innocent, you might just very well have just commited assault (and can go to jail for a good year). You should suffer if your accusations turn out ot be wrong, you should be punished considerably! Now honeslty, if somebody is being hurt or killed and I know it, I’ll risk money and jail time to call the authorities. If somebody is infringing on copyright, scamming the elderly or selling counterfeit girlscout cookies I will take time out of my day to alert the victim, to give them a choice on how to procede.

I agree. Humans are accountable ethically and legally for what they do, ergo, that includes criminal humans. No exception for being skillful criminals.

The reward for clever criminality is supposed to be getting away with the crime. I can’t think of a reason I should try to make sure criminals get those rewards.

I fail to see why the risk of some embarassment outweighs the risk of not stopping crime.

In this country, citizens accused of a crime - and presumed innocent, of course - almost always have the right to face their accusers in court. And they do have the ability to sue people for false charges. I see accountability here.

So in other words, you’re suggesting that in a system where people are innocent until proven guilty, people should be discouraged from reporting crimes? Most people are not police officers, judges or lawyers. Their job is not to hold a trial or a criminal procedure to determine what laws have been violated, or how. Why should they have to weigh this many factors?

They shouldn’t. The only time I want anybody determining if a crime took place is at the request of the victim, or if the victim is unable to request such due to duress, incapacity, injury or death. Notice how “absence”, “ignorance” or “laziness” aren’t on the list.

In other words, again, if nobody’s positive a crime took place, nobody should make sure. I don’t think this attitude fits in with some of the high-profile white-collar crime we’ve seen in recent years.

I used ignorance to mean a lack of awareness, not stupidity. And I’m not sure how laziness worked its way into this discussion.

No victim, no crime.

No sequitur. :wink: