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Ethics / Psychology

Copyright is Theft

This post is part of the series Ownership

I have already shown that copyright is not morally justified. I have also shown that copyright is not in the common good. Earlier I showed that it was only permissible for the government to take from individuals or organizations if something were in the common good. Since copyright is an instance of taking that is not in the common good, copyright is theft.

When you buy something such as a CD from a store, you own that particular CD. As a result of owning that CD, you have the right to categorically control that CD. So you have the right to destroy the CD, play it, memorize it, sell it and copy it. You could even sell the copies if you desired. When the government limits the rights of ownership in any respect, that counts as an instance of taking.

That copyright law is an instance of taking is also easy to prove. An individual creates a certain type of CD. This type of CD is that type because it contains a song a particular musician created. The government claims that because the musician created this type of CD, no token of that type may be copied with his permission. (I am ignoring fair-use provisions for the moment.) But this rule is not in the common good as was already shown. Nor does the musician have any natural right to the tokens of the type simply because he created that type. The musician only has a right to the token that he actually created. So when someone claims something that someone else owns, that is an instance of taking.

Remember that every instance of taking must be justified. If the government takes from individuals, then that taking must be in the common good. But this instance of taking is not in the common good. Therefore, copyright is theft. This means that every time the government enforces copyright law, it is stealing from citizens and organizations. Every time someone reports copyright law violations, they are participating in theft and every time someone appeals to copyright law they are supporting theft. Since theft is always immoral, doing these things is always wrong.

There are three further considerations. First, simply because theft is wrong does not mean that it is always wise to display one’ s open acknowledgment of that fact. Sometimes it may be wise to comply with copyright ‘ law’ not because it is right, but because it is better to avoid being harmed by the criminal actions of the government. Second, simply because copyright is theft does not mean that contracts should not be kept. Contracts are related to the issue of lying and making agreements not ownership. Third, copyright being theft does not permit the misuse of trademarks or plagiarism. These are instances of lying and are still forbidden on that basis. This is my last post in this series, and I hope that my series on copyright helped illustrate my theory of ownership.

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