Copyright law, theft, and restitution


#1

I was hoping to get some insightful answers regarding this issue since I have been unable to find any authoritative material on the relationship between copyright laws, theft, and restitution as a moral question in the eyes of the Church. If I’m wrong about any Church teaching in my post, please correct me.

My questions are partially motivated by past experiences of mind, and trying to find clarity in regards to how I should act in this digital age and if I have any obligations regarding restitution for past instances where I violated certain copyrights which may or may not be considered stealing depending on who you ask and the circumstances, something which I am highly confused on.

So basically the issue is two fold, is downloading copyrighted material without paying theft?
and is merely viewing copyrighted material without paying theft?

Let’s say you buy a DVD movie and invite some friends over and you all end up watching the DVD together. No theft right?

But Let’s say you burn the DVD and convert it into a file which you then post on a file sharing website where many people can in turn make their own copies by downloading it. It is my understanding that this is considered piracy and closely associated with theft if not theft itself. I think this is somewhat clear since you can see somewhat clearly how someone can suffer a loss.

But how about this third scenario where you upload the film onto youtube, and people aren’t downloading the film, but merely viewing it. Is it stealing for someone to watch it? And if it is stealing, how is it substantially any different from inviting friends over to watch a film they didn’t pay for? Let’s say you invited 10 friends over and you all watched the film, and then only 5 people ended up viewing your upload of the film on youtube. Can you see how confusing this is? Now the person who uploaded it may be in the wrong in terms of violating a civil law, but is it necessarily theft? And if it is theft, who is the one doing the stealing, the person who merely viewed what someone else uploaded, or the person who burned the DVD and created a file which they ended up uploading to youtube as an example?

Now if someone were to come to the conclusion that reproducing a product without compensating the owner is intrinsically immoral, then how do we reconcile this with the civil law which essentially allows for exceptions to copyright law commonly referred to as “fair use” One example of fair use is copying of a copyrighted work in an educational setting; so if someone were to photocopy a book and give out copies to friends it would be considered illegal, but if a teacher in the classroom did the very same thing with the very same book and handed it out to students it would not be considered illegal. So my question here is, is this copyright issue essentially a civil law issue with issues of morality sprinkled in, or the opposite, where this is at its core a moral issue with copyright laws muddling the clarity? Or is it some other combination entirely?

Now how this all relates to the matter of restitution is an entirely separate issue which is itself difficult to come to a clear conclusion on. I suppose one should seek out the advice of their confessor in specific circumstances, but in terms of general moral principles, what can we regard as the right course of action?

It seems to me from my reading of the catechism, and other moral theology, that if someone were to steal a CD from a store, they would be obligated to return what they stole, and if they no longer had it in their possession, then to compensate the store for the amount the CD would have cost them.

But if someone were to download music from a CD that was legally purchased, how would one make restitution for this? It seems to me that at the very least they should delete the music they downloaded illegally, buy beyond this is there any other obligation? It doesn’t seem like the artist has necessarily suffered a loss if it is a situation where the person who downloaded the music had no intentions of buying the music regardless, and in the cases of music uploaded to youtube where someone merely listens to a song and does not download it, is this theft on the part of the listener? It seems hard for someone to make that case to me since there are other instances where similar circumstances are present, such as if you were video chatting with a friend and they had music playing, in both instances you are listening to a song over the internet without paying, and the music is being played in two different locations even though in one instance (on youtube) there is an extra file involved.

And on a related note, does ignorance excuse the obligation of restitution in regards to things on the internet? Let’s say someone was ignorant of the law or thought their activity qualified as “Fair use” and ended up viewing but not downloading copyrighted works, would they have to then make restitution by actively going out and buying whatever they viewed, be it a film, a song, etc when had they known that such an obligation was present they would not have viewed/listened to the copyrighted work in the first place?

So basically, correct me if I am wrong, but the only conclusion that seems clear in the midst of my confusion is that at the very least, violating copyright law is breaking the law, and we are obliged to obey just laws, so on at least that basis people should refrain from downloading copyrighted material illegally, and uploading copyrighted material illegally, and refrain from any illegal sharing of such.

Now the jump from committing a sin of disobedience against legitimate authority to a sin of theft seems so much more confusing to me and if anyone has some good Church approved material on this I welcome it, but I haven’t seen a lot if any.

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on this whole issue CAF, since it is becoming more prevalent in this digital age.


#2

Ripping a film to Youtube, where it becomes available to others to watch without paying that which they should in order to enjoy the benefits of it is still just as bad as putting a film on a file sharing website. You're still complicit in the theft of that intellectual property by other people, and as the enabler you share equally in that guilt.

Fair use, in law, allows you to make extracts of some copyrighted work in order that it can be used as a reference in a larger original work. It is a restricted right under law and it means that you should not benefit financially purely on the basis of the thing you copied. It has to be a constituent part of a greater work where you add the value. Fair Use does not include sampling a musician's work and incorporating it into your own and making use of their efforts without their permission. A case in point: a group called the Fugees sampled a particular part of a track by an artist called Enya and used it as a repeating refrain in their work. They essentially used Enya's tune - on a loop - as the basis for their rap track. Enya won a court case over the matter and they had to pay up significant royalties. Had they asked permission in advance, they would not have been given it. That's commercial restitution in action.

Personal restitution? Well, the obvious thing is, if you have downloaded something you should have paid for, you go out and pay for your own legitimate copy immediately. If it is no longer available, you delete the copy you've got so that you no longer have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of someone else's labour without them getting their just reward.

Penance is up to your priest, but beware: simply confessing the act of pirating a music track of video is not enough if, after you leave the confessional, you still have that copy in your possession and it is still available for your benefit and use - at least unless the first thing you do is to go home and delete it of course. Ideally you should delete it before the confession if you know you're going to confess it.


#3

Let's not focus on the confusion part.

1) Copyright means the right to copy. Only the owner of a copyrighted work has the right to copy it.

2) The owner of the copyrighted work also has the right to the terms of its distribution. Making a copy and putting it on youtube violates that right if you are not authorized to distribute it. The average person isn't.

3) I have rarely seen anyone on the internet post a clear description of what "fair use" is, because too many times, it boils down to: I want a copy for free.

A) If you are in school, your instructor may hand out a limited number of copies of an article for instruction purposes. Or you are allowed to copy a limited number of pages from books and magazines to complete an assignment.

B) A review of any type of media that can be turned into digital bits can contain a few scenes, or a page of a book or magazine or a part of a movie, that is being used solely for criticism. Not the whole thing. Just enough to make relevant points.

This is Fair Use.

copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

And:

"How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?

"Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See FL 102, Fair Use, and Circular 21, Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians."

The FBI is also very concerned about Intellectual Property theft.

fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/white_collar/ipr/ipr

Hope this helps,
Ed


#4

I thought that youtube had some kind of a deal with itunes to allow music to be played on there. You might want to watch for that.

Otherwise, some corporations such as FOXNEWS, don't seem to care if tidbits of their program get posted by non-staff on youtube.

I guess some institutions feel that it's merely free advertising?

I noticed that some pro-Wrestling broadcasts that are on regular TV also appear on youtube, but if you upload one of their PPV DVD's, you can count on those getting deleted.

It's not something I would recommend, because it's really not your work.


#5

Let's say you buy a DVD movie and invite some friends over and you all end up watching the DVD together. No theft right?

But Let's say you burn the DVD and convert it into a file which you then post on a file sharing website where many people can in turn make their own copies by downloading it. It is my understanding that this is considered piracy and closely associated with theft if not theft itself. I think this is somewhat clear since you can see somewhat clearly how someone can suffer a loss.

Posting something on youtube would be the same (maybe worse considering the audience size) as if you went over to your local TV station and put up a full, unedited movie without proper permission.

Youtube is just that----a website with channels.


#6

Personally I think copyright law is hopelessly outmoded and needs a thorough revision.

If a nine-year-old child can incur a police raid & criminal fines because she downloaded a piece of copyright-ed popular music from the internet, something is terribly wrong:

bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20554442

If a farmer were to leave a bushel of apples in a public park overnight, can the homeless be prosecuted for stealing them? Can the city be sued for allowing the squirrels to eat them?

In the digital age, I worry also about the enhanced ability of a few corporate entities to commodify and restrict access to all sorts of information.

Artists should always have ability to be paid for their work. But the rights of publishers to market them as they do now may ultimately conflict with more fundamental human freedoms.


#7

[quote="pristine2, post:6, topic:315751"]
Personally I think copyright law is hopelessly outmoded and needs a thorough revision.

If a nine-year-old child can incur a police raid & criminal fines because she downloaded a piece of copyright-ed popular music from the internet, something is terribly wrong:

bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20554442

If a farmer were to leave a bushel of apples in a public park overnight, can the homeless be prosecuted for stealing them? Can the city be sued for allowing the squirrels to eat them?

In the digital age, I worry also about the enhanced ability of a few corporate entities to commodify and restrict access to all sorts of information.

Artists should always have ability to be paid for their work. But the rights of publishers to market them as they do now may ultimately conflict with more fundamental human freedoms.

[/quote]

It never fails to astonish me the amount of ways people will try to wriggle out of moral responsibility for something.

There is a difference between a starving homeless person taking a few apples that had been left unattended by the owner of said apples and a person making copies of a work that he paid for and giving away the copies to all and sundry for nothing.

For a start, the owner of the music is not leaving it unattended in that way. He is selling the right to use it to an individual on the basis that that individual shall be the only person allowed to use that particular copy of the music. The customer does not have the right to duplicate it, in any way, shape or form, and to do so is theft, and theft is sin.

I agree that sometimes the authorities come down on culprits out of all proportion with the sin being committed, but that doesn't make the sin right and the over-reaction doesn't mitigate the sins of other people doing the same thing.

In any case, there can be no justification of music or movie copying along the lines of the starving homeless man stealing an apple. Food is essential for survival. Movies and music aren't.


#8

I have to admit to owning pirated software and I know I should throw it away. I have had it years!

Should I throw it all away and also confess the fact that I have owned the software / music (after getting rid of it all)


#9

Yes.


#10

[quote="pristine2, post:6, topic:315751"]
Personally I think copyright law is hopelessly outmoded and needs a thorough revision.

If a nine-year-old child can incur a police raid & criminal fines because she downloaded a piece of copyright-ed popular music from the internet, something is terribly wrong:

bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20554442

If a farmer were to leave a bushel of apples in a public park overnight, can the homeless be prosecuted for stealing them? Can the city be sued for allowing the squirrels to eat them?

In the digital age, I worry also about the enhanced ability of a few corporate entities to commodify and restrict access to all sorts of information.

Artists should always have ability to be paid for their work. But the rights of publishers to market them as they do now may ultimately conflict with more fundamental human freedoms.

[/quote]

You mean the freedom to steal?

fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/white_collar/ipr/ipr

justice.gov/dag/iptaskforce/

iipa.com/

"information" is the wrong term. We in the creative community are seeing our books, our movies, our TV shows and our music being offered on file stealing sites for free.

theesa.com/policy/antipiracy_faq.asp

Billions of dollars are being lost.

Peace,
Ed


#11

Ok, so I will throw it away and buy a legit version. Will go to confession about it next week.

I can still receive communion until then though?


#12

[quote="ajecphotos, post:11, topic:315751"]
Ok, so I will throw it away and buy a legit version. Will go to confession about it next week.

I can still receive communion until then though?

[/quote]

That's a sticky one. On the one hand, if you didn't know it was a sin when you did it, and took appropriate measures to deal with the situation when you became aware, then you haven't fulfilled the necessary elements for mortal sin, on the other hand it should be possible to work it out for oneself that using something you should very definitely have paid for is wrong...

I would go by the gravity of the action: if it was low value software, then I'd give you the benefit of the doubt. If it was, say, Photoshop CS3 which retailed in the many hundreds of dollars, then perhaps I'd take the pragmatic approach and not approach for communion until my confession was heard. Go by what your conscience, now better informed, tells you.


#13

Well, confession is in available for me until next week. Went to mass this morn and had Holy Communion. I always offer it up for my dear parents who passed away several years ago.

Will confess next week. Hope Our Lord is ok with me receiving under the circumstances.

I trust in you Lord
I adore you Lord


#14

With all due respect, this is naive, and assumes that the creation and criminalisation of digital downloaders aren’t both encouraged. In fact they are, on a massive scale, with explicit corporate sponsorship. And many of the threatened prosecutions involve music that is nominally copyright-ed, yet is freely available for view and download on untouchable sites like YouTube or in many cases, the Web pages of the artists themselves.

You also misunderstood my analogy. Even if the apples in the park had been lifted by rich, well-fed people, the law holds that there is actually no crime, because they were left with no safeguards in a public place through intent or negligence.

Why is a nine-year-old able to download illegally so easily? And how was she caught?

The answer is that the download sites themselves remain open because they co-operate with the shady law firms that take the majority of the profits after the downloaders are shaken down. They place files and track the IP address of all who download them. The biggest source of revenue is copyright pornographic films, because the downloaders are easily blackmailed.

Also, the publishers only rarely utilise the technology available to them, like DRM, to ensure that copyright music isn’t shared. That’s because they rely on the “illegal” download market to conduct business. It would not be possible any other way, given the very nature of digital information.

The largest RCAA-affiliated firms all closely monitor music downloads to mine them for marketing data, even as the RCAA itself protests, while planting adware/spyware on the “offending” computers. Access to the data is then sold on. Ultimately their aim is to see as many downloads as possible, as they still raise the value of their businesses even if no immediate revenue is taken. It is an extraordinarily potent marketing tool they could not function without, even as they call their clients criminals.Industry papers make clear that the “migration” to legal downloads is expected to take another ten to 15 years.

Sites that didn’t cooperate with status quo, like Megaupload and Napster, were easily shut down. Yet the Pirate Bay, the largest download site and the top Website in many European countries, continues to operate unhindered despite the imprisonment of its founders two years ago.

An illustrative example is that of Apple and Microsoft in the early 1980s. Apple strictly controlled its proprietary Macintosh operating software and made it hardware dependant, Microsoft, by contrast, encouraged the entire world to “pirate” its software. Hundreds of Asian companies began producing cheap PCs pre-loaded with pirate copies of Windows. In 1985 less than 3% of worldwide copies of Windows had actually been paid for. But Microsoft had captured 94% of the PC desktop market. It was another 15 years before before Microsoft decided it was time for governments to actually start enforcing copyright law. During the entire period, however, it did not hesitate to call the people using the pirated software criminals.

Finally, words like “intellectual property” gain substance only from their legal definitions, which historically would shift over time in accordance with the prevailing notions in society. “Modern” copyright law was designed to protect the earnings of artists and publishers for a given period of time, reflecting the pace of information in the society of the era. Those time periods are absurd, now.

Take the old spiritual tune “I’ll fly away,” routinely sung in churches, schools and open mikes across the US. It has important cultural meaning. All those performances, even your six year old singing it on a YouTube video, are illegal and can lead to civil and criminal penalties. It was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1932. He died in 1977. The copyright has been extended. The rights are nominally owned by people distantly related and three generations removed from Brumley, but it is a legal firm that makes the majority of money from the song, most of it through payments obtained through threats of civil prosecution.

None of this is an argument against intellectual property rights. My point is that the law is outdated and subject to abuse, in ways that pose significant dangers to human liberty.


#15

[quote="ajecphotos, post:11, topic:315751"]
Ok, so I will throw it away and buy a legit version. Will go to confession about it next week.

I can still receive communion until then though?

[/quote]

I hardly think that owning a copied version of something rises to the level of sin against God and man that requires sacramental confession before receiving the Eucharist. DexUK has a dog in the fight, so her opinion falls every time to one side, regardless as to facts, law and simple common sense.

If you feel it necessary to confess, then by all means do it but don't let an anonymous poster on an internet forum tell you that you are in a state of sin for something so innocuous as this.


#16

Thanks but I do feel guilty about it after being ‘Awakened’ to how bad it is.

I will confess it.


#17

Good enough. :slight_smile:


#18

Interesting replies to this thread I started, but I was hoping for more concrete reasoning particularly in the area of restitution owed. Restitution is obvious when it comes to theft of a physical object, you simply return that object. But when it comes to intellectual property, how does one make restitution for this? If someone watches a film on youtube without paying for it, is it right to say that the person caused damage to the owner to warrant forcing the viewer to buy the entire film on DVD? It's hard to see how this would be appropriate especially when the person views the film out of convenience; meaning that they wouldn't have bought it anyway, so the owner isn't actually losing out on any money, and in fact might be gaining from this if the viewer tells friends about the movie and they go out and rent/buy it based off of the viewer's positive reaction. It's a strange situation indeed.

Essential point is that it seems very difficult to come up with an accurate dollar amount of damage done to a particular property owner when it comes to violations of the law on intellectual property. So in regards to people wondering about what restitution they owe? I'm really confused here, and it seems that at the very least people should delete anything they have downloaded illegally and cease viewing or listening to things that they otherwise should pay for.

It just seems to me that there is a distinction that needs to be seen here between a violation of the moral law alone (sin of theft), versus a violation of the civil law (sin of disobedience). If the United States government determined tomorrow that they are no longer going to have copyright law on the books, would it still be considered wrong to do things like downloading music on file sharing websites?


#19

[quote="AaronsStaff, post:18, topic:315751"]
Interesting replies to this thread I started, but I was hoping for more concrete reasoning particularly in the area of restitution owed. Restitution is obvious when it comes to theft of a physical object, you simply return that object. But when it comes to intellectual property, how does one make restitution for this? If someone watches a film on youtube without paying for it, is it right to say that the person caused damage to the owner to warrant forcing the viewer to buy the entire film on DVD? It's hard to see how this would be appropriate especially when the person views the film out of convenience; meaning that they wouldn't have bought it anyway, so the owner isn't actually losing out on any money, and in fact might be gaining from this if the viewer tells friends about the movie and they go out and rent/buy it based off of the viewer's positive reaction. It's a strange situation indeed.

Essential point is that it seems very difficult to come up with an accurate dollar amount of damage done to a particular property owner when it comes to violations of the law on intellectual property. So in regards to people wondering about what restitution they owe? I'm really confused here, and it seems that at the very least people should delete anything they have downloaded illegally and cease viewing or listening to things that they otherwise should pay for.

It just seems to me that there is a distinction that needs to be seen here between a violation of the moral law alone (sin of theft), versus a violation of the civil law (sin of disobedience). If the United States government determined tomorrow that they are no longer going to have copyright law on the books, would it still be considered wrong to do things like downloading music on file sharing websites?

[/quote]

Personally, I wouldn't say that 'convenience' is an excuse. Something was done that shouldn't have been done. And the person doing it should have to shoulder equitable consequences.

So, if you watch a pirated movie on Youtube, then you should consider it equitable to make restitution by purchasing that movie as a DVD. By all means seek to find it at the cheapest price, but if you have had the benefits of someone else's work, they should have the reward in a just fashion. And trying to pass off not paying as acceptable if you somehow 'market' that movie to other people doesn't wash. You weren't asked to market it and you didn't watch the movie to market it. You had the benefit of it and therefore you should make an equitable contribution to the person who's original work it was in the most efficient way.

If you find you can't make a commercial restitution because the movie is no longer available... then perhaps you can make an appropriate donation to the General Artists Benevolent Fund (for actors who are destitute at the ends of their lives, for example). That would seem to me to make a morally worthwhile restitution for the purposes of salving a conscience.


#20

[quote="DexUK, post:19, topic:315751"]
Personally, I wouldn't say that 'convenience' is an excuse. Something was done that shouldn't have been done. And the person doing it should have to shoulder equitable consequences.

So, if you watch a pirated movie on Youtube, then you should consider it equitable to make restitution by purchasing that movie as a DVD. By all means seek to find it at the cheapest price, but if you have had the benefits of someone else's work, they should have the reward in a just fashion. And trying to pass off not paying as acceptable if you somehow 'market' that movie to other people doesn't wash. You weren't asked to market it and you didn't watch the movie to market it. You had the benefit of it and therefore you should make an equitable contribution to the person who's original work it was in the most efficient way.

If you find you can't make a commercial restitution because the movie is no longer available... then perhaps you can make an appropriate donation to the General Artists Benevolent Fund (for actors who are destitute at the ends of their lives, for example). That would seem to me to make a morally worthwhile restitution for the purposes of salving a conscience.

[/quote]

If I went to a friends house who owned the movie, and watched the same movie for free, I'm still not paying for watching it. How is this is substantially different in regards to an obligation for restitution than watching a movie on youtube? The way it is different is that the person who put it on youtube likely violated copyright law, but then that means this is a civil law issue in that regard of uploading, and the uploader bears the responsibility for violating the copyright as i understand the law, and I don't think any judge would #1 find someone guilty of theft by merely watching a movie on youtube, and #2 the judge would never sentence someone to buy the movie itself.

Secondly, what about clips from films on youtube? Sometimes people post short clips of films; of a favorite scene or something. If someone were to watch these short clips are they still obligated to BUY the entire film? I don't see how that is equitable.


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