Is there a lawyer in the house (Copyright and theft)

So over here they’re having the standard, twice-a-week argument over music filesharing.

It’s filled with all the usual outrage and self-justification on both sides. Frankly, I’m getting sick of it from both sides.

But there’s a point I wouldn’t mind getting clarified.

Is copyright infringement ‘theft’ in the eyes of the law.

In that above thread there’s quite a bit of yelling back and forth and cites being well, cited, and then being attacked.

So I thought I’d cut through that crap and ask the lawyers on the board.

Is copyright infringement ‘theft’ or is it not? Is ‘theft’ in a legal sense defined as something different from infringing a person’s or corporation’s copyright?

Enquiring minds want to put this argument to rest one way or the other.

So give me the skinny, Ginny!

Under a restricted technical definition of “Theft,” copyright infringement is not theft.

However, the general term for copyright infringement is “copyright theft” or “intellectual property theft.” The usage is standard and to try to split hairs over this is gross anal retentiveness.

The main difference is that copyright infringment is a civil crime, whereas “theft” is a criminal offense. But in any case, copyright theft is punishable by law and to quibble over whether it’s theft or not is ignoring the issues involved.

What, don’t you ever read the FBI warnings on your videotapes?

Yes, copyright infringement can be a criminal offense. Take a look at 18 USC 2319, “Criminal infringement of a copyright”; 18 USC 2318, Concerning counterfeit records, computer programs, motion pictures, and AV works; 18 USC 2319A, concerning unauthorized bootlegs of live performances.

Here’s a few links:

18 U.S.C. 2319

18 U.S.C. 2318

18 U.S.C. 2319A

Of course I agree with what Chuck cogently said. Arguing that getting the use of something forever without paying for it is not theft is simply a rationalization to try to make yourself feel good about being a criminal.

There will, eventually, be a way to pay the copyright owners for downloading. Then we’ll see whether the people who keep insisting that they would pay for it if they could were being honest or not.

The side issue of whether the RIAA will be able to fry your computer if you have MP3s on it is a red herring. It won’t come into law, but it makes for a handy scapegoat for more rationalization.

And thank you pravnik for reminding us how huge and varied copyright is. Nobody in the thread JC linked to seemed to be even passingly acquainted with real copyright law.

Noooo problem. :slight_smile:

I bet more people would actually read those warnings if they were to lay them over an impressive soundtrack. Maybe combine them with one of those THX trailers?..


Keep in mind also that there is no real legal definition of “theft.” Although most jurisdictions have laws defining larceny, robbery and other similar theft-related crimes, there is rarely a clear legal definition of theft. Similarly, on the civil side, there is the tort of conversion, but no tort of theft.

Rather, what is considered theft is really a matter of common English language definition. Whether infringment of copyright (whether criminal or civil) is theft depends on how broadly you define the term as a matter of English usage.

In any event, arguing over whether it is theft is really a useless side issue in any discussion of copyright violations. Rest assured that it is a crime under U.S. federal law, and that copyright owners have the right to sue in a civil action to get damages (including statutory and punitive-type damages).

There sure as heck is in Texas. According to the Texas Penal Code, “theft” is defined as follows:

Under that definition, copyright infringement is not “theft”, because the infringer would not have the intent to deprive the owner of the property. It’d be a real stretch to call copyright infringement a “theft of service”, although the definition of “service” does include “entertainment”, so I suppose you could give it a shot.

“Theft” can be a violation of the state penal code or the U.S.C. but in either case is strictly construed to be a violation of the precise words of the law governing it.

In some states, copyright infringement may be a state crime and in others not. The above references to the U.S.C. would indicate that it is always a Federal crime.

It’s also the tort of conversion – the taking of the property of another for one’s own use without permission or intent to compensate. Note that this is a civil action – the state doesn’t get involved on the side of the person making the allegation; rather, he must prosecute it himself.