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OMG! Stealing is teh illegalz!

Arrr! It turns out that even though everyone's doing it and no one expects to get caught, piracy is technically illegal.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated less than five hours before deciding that Jammie Thomas, operating under the user name "Tereastarr" on the Kazaa file-sharing network, copied or distributed all 24 songs for which the companies sought compensation, and it set damages at $9,250 per song.

Okay, $9,250 is more than any song is worth. But then, Ms. Thomas was the one who refused the initial fines in the thousands and took the case to court, where she thought she could evade justice by being tech-savvier than the recording industry. Replacing a hard drive isn't savvy, Jammie.

What troubles me is just how vehemently people seem to feel like it's their right to shoplift online. For example,

it's not about "protecting the artists" or copyright infringement... it's about money and power which these RIAA goons have in their clutches and they don't want to lose it. They'd rather wipe their a$$es with every single person they can hack underhandedly. Run and hide 12 year olds, and middle-aged soccer moms, and cranky old men, because you're next! ... Posted by: WTF!! | Oct 4, 2007 2:51:34 PM

I don't get it. Artists (or the corporations that employ them) are in no way obligated to provide their services for free to anyone who feels like listening. If an album is that great, why aren't you willing to pay for it? And if you do choose to break the law, don't cry foul when you're nabbed. That's the risk you knew you were taking. Part of civil disobedience isn't running from the law; you're supposed to confront it if you think it's wrong.


The problem here isn't that people feel they are entitled to get away with stealing, it's that there's a mismatch between technology and law--a mismatch that was deliberately engineered by the record industry and its allies in Congress.

The purpose of a fine is to deter illegal behavior and to compensate the victim (or society at large) for harm resulting from illegal behavior. As such, a fine really can’t be higher than the actual damage plus court costs and a reasonable punitive amount. This is really a gnat/sledgehammer problem; the record industry is combating what is effectively shoplifting with a weapon (copyright law) that’s designed for large-scale copying and reselling operations. Except that the DMCA was created explicitly at the behest of the record industry to do just that! Their strategy thus far has been to have this massively overpowered weapon available so they can threaten and intimidate people into settling out of court for a comparatively smaller amount. (As you noted, “Okay, $9,250 is more than any song is worth. But then, Ms. Thomas was the one who refused the initial fines in the thousands and took the case to court.?) It’s as if Congress were to make a law setting the fine for shoplifting at a million dollars. Then if some kid steals a few CDs from Target, the store could tell him, “If you give us $1,000, we won’t take you to court, where you would have to pay $1,000,000.? Yes, the 1K is much closer to the actual economic impact of the theft, but if it stays out of the courtroom, how are we to know if justice was served?

The problem with this approach is that it removes justice from the court system and puts it in the hands of private interests, with the corresponding abandonment of standards of evidence, rights of the accused, etc. It’s basically government-endorsed vigilantism. The reason the news media reported this as the first lawsuit over file-sharing is that, up to this point, the industry campaign of threats and intimidation has been 100% successful in coercing settlements.

Copyright laws are intended to prevent some from profiting at the expense of others by misappropriating their ideas. “Piracy? is what happens in China, where intellectual property laws are weak and software, music, and movies are copied on a massive scale and resold at prices that undercut the rightful distributors. File swappers aren’t pirates, they’re thieves, and the law needs to be revised to recognize this.

(cross-posted to blueshifted.org)