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EC
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Well, I've just found myself in a bit of moral quandary. For the last six months I have been renting the basement (which is essentially set up as a full apartment) of my Mom and her boyfriend's house. About a week or two ago he brought home a full CD case of say 200 or so recent burned DVD movies. Who he got them from, I don't know; probably somebody who needed money quick.

Anyways I pretty much ignored their existence until yesterday when I said that I was going to go to the video store to rent a movie. My mom said something to the effect, "Why don't you just look through the one's we got here, they're all pretty new."

I responded simply that they were "burned DVD's".

She was like, "Well we watched a few and you can't tell", implying that they are good quality copies. She didn't understand that what I really meant was they are pirated and I think that it is immoral to pirate movies. My mom's no thief, but obviously as this technology is relatively new (especially to her) she never thought about the moral implications of viewing pirated movies.

So, instead of trying to explain IP rights to her and go in to a long moral explanation with my mother I just left it at that, and did my own thing.

As I am naturally curious however about twenty minutes ago, I actually looked through the case and did see quite a few movies that I want to watch. It is a pretty good selection. Whoever the anonymous money-needing pirate was, they did have a decent taste in films. :rolleyes:

So there's my dilemma, I know and accept all the moral arguments of why pirating and watching pirated movies is wrong. On the other hand, I had nothing to do with the creation of these movies, didn't bring them into the house, and don't even know who created them. They are here and being used by two others who do NOT understand the moral implications of watching them, and my attempt at explaining something so abstract to them would probably be fruitless in this case.

So they (the burned DVD's) are here. They are (and will continue) being used here. I have nothing to do with any of this. My question which I'm sure you all could tell I was getting at is would it be an absolute breach of morality and my principles to watch a few of these movies or given the context of the situation would morality almost not apply in this case, i.e., it is an amoral decision; I really don't know, or more precisely, I am not sure in this case. Any suggestions?

Should I watch the movies in the case that interest me or would it be a breach of morality?

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There is a difference between actual acceptance and integration of a moral principle into your life, and academic acknowledgment of the form of an argument, the conclusion of which nevertheless has no consequences for your life. How about if we substitute other things and see how that sits with you. To take the most egregious analog, what if your mom held up a bank and brought home $100,000. Would you be willing to share that because you had nothing to do with the theft? Or let it be the boyfriend who robbed the bank. Or, rather than it being money from a bank, what about chickens hijacked from a truck; or candy bars pilfered from the drug store? Would you eat a stolen candy bar if you were really, really hungry and did not feel that you could afford to buy one legitimately at this time?

It seems to me that an essential element of your dilemma has to do with the lack of proper moral foundation by others; so would your answer to the above situations change if the thieves did not understand that they have no right to the bank's money or the store's candy bar (one might for example follow a need-based principle that the banks have a lot of money and they don't need all of it, which would they mean that theft is okay)? More pointedly, assuming this is a simple (and, really, extremely commonplace) failure to integrate various moral principles -- not a deliberately evil act -- is there a reason to let the incident go without expressing moral judgment? Of course there is a reason to just it go. So then the dilemma is, I think, whether you should both totally suspend expression of moral judgment and enjoy the fruits of the misdeed.

I understand the problems of lecturing one's own mother on morality, and you may rightly want to pass this educational moment by. Why not rent those DVDs which you are interested in legally?

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So, instead of trying to explain IP rights to her and go in to a long moral explanation with my mother I just left it at that, and did my own thing....

...They are here and being used by two others who do NOT understand the moral implications of watching them, and my attempt at explaining something so abstract to them would probably be fruitless in this case.

It is common for people not to fully get IP. Yet, most people will also understand if you simply say "I don't like to watch movies that are pirated rather than paid for". At some level, people do get the notion that actors, producers and so on ought to be paid. Edited by softwareNerd
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It is common for people not to fully get IP. Yet, most people will also understand if you simply say "I don't like to watch movies that are pirated rather than paid for". At some level, people do get the notion that actors, producers and so on ought to be paid.

I think that the reason that people don't get IP is that, unlike with physical property whereby you can point to its existence and say "THAT is my property and you don't dare touch it!" and where no two people can, by the same methods, acquire the same property (for instance, the one who got to an island first can gate off as much of it as he can before anyone else arrives) intellectual property differs because the thing that's owned isn't tangeable.

Of course philosophical objections are no excuse for doing something which, in a free society, would still be illegal. I am assuming of course that if IP was done my way, people would use the free market methods available to allow them to distribute it without the assumption that anyone who wants to can copy it.

Regardless of such differences the principle, that people have control over precicely those instances of their work that they caused to come into existence is not under dispute by any rational person.

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I think that the reason that people don't get IP is that, unlike with physical property whereby you can point to its existence and say "THAT is my property and you don't dare touch it!" and where no two people can, by the same methods, acquire the same property (for instance, the one who got to an island first can gate off as much of it as he can before anyone else arrives) intellectual property differs because the thing that's owned isn't tangeable.

That's a part of it.

Another part is that when you buy a music CD or a movie DVD you're not paying for the discs themselves, but rather to the right to listen to the music and to view the movie as many times as you want (the price does include the cost of the discs, cases, inserts, etc, but these represent a very tiny portion of the sale price). And this is something most people either don't know or don't understand the implications of. the same goes with software, which is veen more intangible since it can be downloaded directly into one's hard drive.

Also many people will say something like "But I'm not stealing the song, just copying it," or "I'm not stealing the song. The owner also has a copy of the song." Which is true but completely irrelevant. What they're doing is stealing the right to the song, movie, book, program, etc.

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Thanks all, this is the first time, I don't know--emotionally, I guess-- that I ever had a minor contradiction when it comes to what I know to be moral and my feelings in regards to those thoughts. Maybe it was the way my mom made my sound so minor or non-existent that I allowed myself to partially accept that I guess. For the first time in my life, I actually at least partially wanted to do what I judged to be immoral. It must suck to be an altruist at have to do that every day to actually survive. Hmmm.... I need to do some introspection and study my psycho-epistemology when it comes to this issue, because a partial lack of morality just doesn't work for me.

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I tell you what I'd do, I'd toss the burned DVDs into the fireplace and light it up. Or break them into a million pieces and throw them away. What is your mother going to do, call the cops on you? :P

The important thing to remember about copyright is that it is the means by which the producers of creative works get paid for producing the stuff. If you want people to continue to make movies, you want them to get paid. Freeloading deprives them of income. There is no free lunch; while you are getting something for nothing, the producers are stuck in the situation of receiving nothing for what they have produced. It is not fair to them, and it does not help them stay in business.

(I do not agree with every arbitrary means of enforcing copyright, but that's a different subject.)

Some people complain about the fact that they have to pay before they get to see for themselves how good the movie is. This is true, but it is offset by the fact that movies are sold by word of mouth, and it is not a copyright violation to tell people what you thought of the film and why. You can reward or punish the producers of a movie you like or hate by telling all your friends to see it or avoid it.

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So there's my dilemma, I know and accept all the moral arguments of why pirating and watching pirated movies is wrong. On the other hand, I had nothing to do with the creation of these movies, didn't bring them into the house, and don't even know who created them.

Your dilemna put another way goes like this; Should I do what I think is right or should I do what feels good?

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Your dilemna put another way goes like this; Should I do what I think is right or should I do what feels good?

Yea, I realized that now, I've never really thought like that before.

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I think it would be better for you not to watch them. You could only make an exception if you find a burned movie that you really want to watch but somehow it's not available legally at the moment (although I don't know if something like that can happen in the USA :P )

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Why?

If you really want to watch the movie but you just can't get it legally (suppose it's unavailable, out of print, whatever), then by not watching you would only be privating yourself from a pleasurable experience. You wouldn't be violating the artist's IPR because, as the product is currently unavailable in the market, he/she cannot get money out of it anyway.

At least that's the way I see it, although this can only apply to very restricted cases.

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You wouldn't be violating the artist's IPR because, as the product is currently unavailable in the market, he/she cannot get money out of it anyway.
The rights-holder has a property right to withhold further copies: note that copyright does not simly say "you have the right to a percentage of the profit from sales", it says "this is your property, you have the right to dispose of it as you wish". That is why public licenses work -- the creator has the right to give away their creation. The creator has the same right to refuse to let copies be made.

In addition: the idea of the item being "unavailable in the market" presumes a very restricted view of "the market. Here's a case in point. I want to buy a copy of the CD Musta Lindu, which has been out of production for years and is not purchasable from ordinary stores or online. In order to get a copy, I need to find somebody who is willing to part with the thing for a price. I admit, I am not willing to pay $500, but I bet if I were to let it be known that I would pay that much for a copy, someone would be willing to part with their copy. By relying on the "it's not available" excuse for piracy, you are saying that respect for the creator's property rights are only worth such-and-such to you -- whatever it is that you'd have to pay to get a proper copy.

And finally, pent-up demand is a valid business reason to re-release / reprint an object. What you are doing is neutralizing this demand -- you are taking away a factor that a rational business will be concerned with in deciding to re-release, namely whether anybody would buy those new copies. You are thus potentially depriving the creator of future wealth.

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DVR's are readily available that allow you to record a movie. I have a MythTV box that does not lock down my recordings. This box is perfectly legal. Now, say I record them to a DVD instead of the hard drive. No difference. If your roomate recorded all those movies to a DVR instead of DVDs then there would clearly be no issue. So why are ripped DVD's so bad, but DVR recordings are perfectly fine?

Edited by skap35
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DVR's are readily available that allow you to record a movie. I have a MythTV box that does not lock down my recordings. This box is perfectly legal.
I have a number of devices which allow me to record any audio signal I get and put in on CD, DVD, cassette, make it into a downloadable file. I also have a copier that allows me to copy books. I happen to know that it is illegal for me to make copies that way. Your box may be "perfectly legal" -- what makes you think that copying shows with it is perfectly legal? Are you basing that on the fact that it's possible?
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I don't think these companies would be selling illegal devices.
Yes, and my point was that the device is not illegal per se, it's the particular use of the device that is illegal. A DVD burner in your computer is legal, but copying movies with that device is illegal.
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DVR's are readily available that allow you to record a movie.

I seriously doubt that box full of DVDs were recorded from television broadcasts. That would be the ONLY way it be legal to record and possess such a thing since the courts already ruled back in the 80s when VCRs came about that it is legal for consumers to make one recording of a television broadcast.

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You can somehow write essays that definitely point out that homosexuality is immoral from an Objectivist point of view, but you cannot come to the conclusion that using pirated goods is immoral?

The only 'burned' DVDs and CDs that are ok for use would be the safety copies you have made of your owned material (safely stored somewhere) to prevent the originals from meeting some unfortunate end (for example, my DVD copy of the VHS tape of We The Living/Goodbye Kira)- even sanctioning the use of your would-be stepfather's pirated movies turns you into an accessory of IP violation- essentially a pirate by proxy.

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You can somehow write essays that definitely point out that homosexuality is immoral from an Objectivist point of view, but you cannot come to the conclusion that using pirated goods is immoral?

The only 'burned' DVDs and CDs that are ok for use would be the safety copies you have made of your owned material (safely stored somewhere) to prevent the originals from meeting some unfortunate end (for example, my DVD copy of the VHS tape of We The Living/Goodbye Kira)- even sanctioning the use of your would-be stepfather's pirated movies turns you into an accessory of IP violation- essentially a pirate by proxy.

Most license agreements regarding IP specifically forbid the creation of archival or back-up copies, making your DVD copy of the VHS illegal. Immoral? I'm not really sure.

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Most license agreements regarding IP specifically forbid the creation of archival or back-up copies, making your DVD copy of the VHS illegal. Immoral? I'm not really sure.

I think "fair-use" doctrine trumps that in the U.S. and Canada. Though, in the U.S. at least, the DCMA makes it illegal to break the CSS encryption on the DVDs.

From the all-knowing wikipedia.com:

In the noted "321" case, Federal District Judge Susan Illston, of the Northern District of California, ruled that the backup copies made with software such as DVD Decrypter are in fact legal but that distribution of the software used to make them is illegal. As of the date of this revision, neither the US Supreme Court nor the US Congress has taken definitive action on the matter.
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EC, I think the reason you don't feel any emotional response to the thought of watching these DVDs is because it IS NOT WRONG to do so. Any serious introspection you need to do would be on an entirely different moral question.

Another thread asked: "Is it morally wrong to drive on the Autobahn because it was built using slave labor by Adolf Hitler?" The answer given, correctly, was no because 1. everyone recognizes and the German people have acknowledged the immorality of the method of the construction of the Autobahn 2. the maintainance of the Autobahn (fixing the wear and tear you create when driving on it) is today moral and 3. destroying it or refusing to use it would not further justice, because it creates no retribution for those responsible.

In the case of DVDs, you are clear on point 2: viewing it will not in any way contribute to more immoral behavior on the part of your mother and her boyfriend because there is no wear-and-tear. Watching a DVD (a few times) doesn't wear it out- it is unlikely that any of us will ever wear out a DVD in our entire lifetimes. Neither the action of watching copied DVDs, nor any other action is intrinsically wrong.

Where you are not fine is on point 1: leaving your mother with the impression that your only complaint against copied DVDs is the quality. No, you are not obligated to fight with her about it or convince her or even to explain your reasons, but you are morally obligated to clearly state that you consider that behavior immoral. Don't make a big deal about it, but make it clear that you don't condone her actions.

Now for the messier issue of retribution and justice, point 3. Two questions here, the morality of doing business with someone who steals, and the morality of keeping quiet about an illegal action. True, you are not buying the DVDs from her, but you are paying her rent with which she is buying stolen goods. In a perfect world, the moral action for you, EC, would be to report your mother and her boyfriend to the police. Yes, you would aboslutely be morally obligated to do this. But we don't live in a perfect world, and the punishments for DVD theft are not just in our current system. People are either grossly over-punished as an example to others or totally ignored. Reporting the theft would not result in justice, and any other action you might take, such as moving out, would not result in retribution for her crime. You are not only not obligated to report it, but it would be immoral to do so. Similarly it would be immoral to report drug possession, hate-speech, or a "two-inches too short" shotgun if your only reason for doing so is because those things are illegal.

In sum, as long as you clarify that you morally object to stealing in all forms, you can certainly enjoy those DVDs, although you will have to deal with the frustration of the injustice and your inability to correct it.

By the way, there is NOTHING abstract or hard to understand about the immorality of copying movies and music. Simply say: "It's stealing." Everyone can see that, they just think it's only a little bit stealing, or that this kind of stealing is okay because the victim is far removed and wealthy. One of my favorite Rand quotes applies perfectly here: "What is the moral status of a man who only steals occassionally?"

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EC, I think the reason you don't feel any emotional response to the thought of watching these DVDs is because it IS NOT WRONG to do so.

3. destroying it or refusing to use it would not further justice, because it creates no retribution for those responsible.

You can't be serious.

It would have been hypocritical to knowingly benefit from stolen property (despite pronouncing that theft is immoral). Renting that DVD (properly gaining a value by trade instead) is justice as practiced by you. The fact that it won't bring retribution for other's actions is irrelevant to the question what is moral for YOU to do.

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