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You ARE a criminal - you just haven't been caught yet!

Content owners would encourage us to believe that buying a pirate CD or DVD is theft. Perhaps content owners need to look in a dictionary.


What's the use of having a website if you can't have a rant every once in a while? Today's topic was prompted by settling down to watch a DVD with my family.

I put the DVD, a feature film, in the machine and it started automatically. But the menu didn't appear. Instead there was a lengthy item with fuzzy video and a distorted music bed that offered the opinion that since you wouldn't steal a car, a DVD, a handbag or a cell phone (mobile phone) then you shouldn't buy a pirated DVD because that is stealing too.

Despite pressing practically all the buttons on the remote, I couldn't advance to the menu.

And then came a lengthy trailer for a movie we had already seen. And then another lengthy trailer for one we had already decided we didn't want to watch.

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Still I couldn't get to the menu and the movie I had paid my rental fee for.

And then another lengthy trailer...

At last the movie started and we were able to enjoy it. For a time. At just over an hour into the movie, the picture froze.

There was nothing I could do. This isn't the first time this has happened and I know that the answer is to switch the machine off and start again, skipping past the point where it froze.

So I had to watch the piracy-equals-theft item again, and the trailer, and the trailer, and the trailer.

Now to my point. Since I have been inconvenienced by this DVD, I intend to get my own back by going to a car boot sale this afternoon and specifically looking for a pirated DVD to buy.

But won't this be stealing, as I have had a double opportunity to learn by now?

It's interesting how words change their meaning over the years. Here is a page on the subject.

But turning 'piracy' of intellectual property into 'stealing', or 'theft'?

The term 'piracy' in the field of intellectual property (IP) has long meant copying someone else's IP and selling products or services that embody that IP without paying the owner.

So pirate would buy a DVD, incorporate the content of that DVD into a new product and sell that product, either physically or electronically. Or even give it away - that would still be piracy.

A counterfeiter, for the record, is a close relation of the pirate. The counterfeiter though tries to pass off his unauthorized copies as the real thing.

So why is this not theft?

Simple, stealing or theft involves taking something without permission, thus depriving the owner of its use.

So you could steal a car, DVD, handbag or cell phone and deprive the owner of its use.

But if you sell copies of a DVD, whether similar to the original or in a different form, you have deprived the original owner of nothing. Therefore it would be neither stealing nor theft.

To steal someone's intellectual property, you would have to deprive them of the ability to use it and/or profit from it.

So to steal a movie, you would have to somehow forge documents to prove that you in fact owned the intellectual property of that movie. I suspect this would be impossible.

So on to today's activity. At a car boot sale there are lots of people selling all kinds of stuff. There will be many secondhand DVDs on sale, the vast majority entirely genuine and legitimate.

But you know what - I'm going to buy a DVD and not bother to ask if it is genuine. It is well known that pirates and counterfeiters distribute their merchandise at boot sales. But how I am to know? How can I be sure that I'm not being lied to if I ask whether a DVD is genuine?

Is the burden on me to ensure that the DVD I buy is genuine? If I make a mistake and buy a pirate DVD, am I stealing?

Am I a thief?

And what about the vast majority of innocent people who don't have a clue what intellectual property is, and couldn't really care less? Is telling them that they are stealing, when they are clearly not, the right thing to do?

Now don't get me wrong. As a content owner myself I fully support the concept of intellectual property. However, the means that corporate content owners use to protect their IP go far beyond the reasonable and are an intrusion on the day-to-day lives of ordinary people who would never even dream of stealing. They do that because it's easier than going after the real pirates - the people who make unauthorized copies.

Sometimes I feel that governments and corporations would like to designate us all as criminals so they can pick and choose who to target and punish. You can't not be a criminal - you just haven't been caught yet.

At some point, people who just want to get on with their lives free from government and corporate interference will have to stand up and speak.

And this afternoon, I'll could easily find myself saying, "How much is that DVD please?". I feel bullied and manipulated and that would be one way I could express my anger.

Actually I won't, because I've had my say. It will be secondhand vinyl I'll be buying at the boot sale this afternoon instead. I wouldn't be surprised though if sometime soon I'll be told that buying secondhand records is stealing too.

By David Mellor Monday July 17, 2006