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Music and Movie Piracy

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Alexandros
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I was recently talking to a friend, trying to convince him that piracy is wrong, when he hit me with something that I haven't been able to argue. He was downloading some movie, and I asked "How can you reconcile piracy with Objectivism?" He replied, "Rights shouldn't always be protected. I do not acknowledged the rights of socialist governments, or any non-capitalistic government for that matter (dictatorships, communism, etc). The 'Big Four' companies in the movie industry have used government coercion to usurp control of the market. And, just as I have no problem with relieving a criminal of his rights when he fails to recognize the rights of others, so too I have no qualms with relieving arbitrarily established monopolies of their rights."

And I'm spent. The only argument I've been able to make is that, if this is his reasoning, he shouldn't be downloading the movie he is, because it happens to be a movie that is produced by Magnolia Pictures, a holding of 2929 Entertainment, which is owned by two men who made their fortune during the dot-com bubble when they sold their website, which they built from the ground-up, to Yahoo. He agreed to this, and admitted that he should have looked into the producer and distributor of this movie to decide if it was consistent with his argument. But that's all I have.

Does he have a point? It's so hard for me to believe because I have told myself for years that all forms of piracy are wrong because the owner of a particular product has the rights to it's distribution. But, I never thought to question whether or not the rights of the companies should be respected. To be honest, it is sympathy for the "artists" that gets me to buy their music, which isn't a good mindset to have. After all, if someone associates with criminals, even unknowingly, their life is still their own, and there is no reason to have sympathy for them. They are still accomplices.

Your thoughts?

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He replied, "Rights shouldn't always be protected. I do not acknowledged the rights of socialist governments, or any non-capitalistic government for that matter (dictatorships, communism, etc). The 'Big Four' companies in the movie industry have used government coercion to usurp control of the market."
This is classical bullshit sophistry. His claim about the movie industry is factually wrong, and reduces to the position that since we don't live in a free market utopia, nobody has any rights. It should be even more apparent to him that grand theft auto is justified by the fact of the auto bailout, bank robbery is justified by the fact of bank bailouts, and so on.
And, just as I have no problem with relieving a criminal of his rights when he fails to recognize the rights of others, so too I have no qualms with relieving arbitrarily established monopolies of their rights."
What a hoser! You can't have 4 companies being a monopoly: does he not even know what the word means? Presumably he has no problems with theft of software given Microsoft's share of the market, and no problem with theft of Macintosh computers given Apple's share of the Mac market.
The only argument I've been able to make is that, if this is his reasoning, he shouldn't be downloading the movie he is, because it happens to be a movie that is produced by Magnolia Pictures, a holding of 2929 Entertainment, which is owned by two men who made their fortune during the dot-com bubble when they sold their website, which they built from the ground-up, to Yahoo.
I think what you've discovered is that this weasel is a thief, with no moral code. He sounds like one of those "screw-you 'Objectivists'" who heard somewhere that Objectivism is all about getting what you can with no concern for other people. The type that has never actually read any Objectivist literature.
But, I never thought to question whether or not the rights of the companies should be respected.
You should not question that, because that form of the question contains an invalid presupposition: that property rights for "companies" is somehow different from other kind of property rights. If you were to ask "Should rights be respected", then you would have a valid question -- and the answer is, of course, "yes". To ask specifically "But should the rights of individuals or groups of individuals who work to make a profit also be respected" implies that you have not resolved the basic question whether rights should be respected. Nothing in the nature of rights hints in the slightest that they might go away because someone forms a "company"

A separate question is whether an individual should lose their rights because they failed to live a perfect laissez-faire capitalist life. The answer to that is "no".

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"Rights shouldn't always be protected.

I think this is a problem right here. Rights should always be protected. Of course, you must have rights in the first place to protect them. If someone forfeits their rights (as in, violates the rights of another person), then they have no rights to protect.

Your friend should be more specific on what a particular company is doing to violate rights. Even still, working at a company does not automatically mean you agree with everything a company does. The directors/writers/actors still work on the movies. They make money on the very movie that is being pirated.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Big judgments are coming down regarding catching people illegally distributing music, movies, and other copyrighted files via the Internet. Recently, a woman was fined $1.9 million ($80,000 per song illegally distributed).

"An attorney for the recording industry, Tim Reynolds, said the "greater weight of the evidence" showed that Thomas-Rasset was responsible for the illegal file-sharing that took place on her computer. He urged jurors to hold her accountable to deter others from a practice he said has significantly harmed the people who bring music to everyone."

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Big judgments are coming down regarding catching people illegally distributing music, movies, and other copyrighted files via the Internet. Recently, a woman was fined $1.9 million ($80,000 per song illegally distributed).

"An attorney for the recording industry, Tim Reynolds, said the "greater weight of the evidence" showed that Thomas-Rasset was responsible for the illegal file-sharing that took place on her computer. He urged jurors to hold her accountable to deter others from a practice he said has significantly harmed the people who bring music to everyone."

$80,000 a song? Seems arbitrary, and thus has no place in the courts. Were I the judge, unless they could show evidence otherwise, I would fine her the cost of each song - assuming 99 cents on iTunes, that's $24. Maybe also force her to pay the $X in the plaintiff's lawyer's fees.

Edited by brian0918
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Miovas that ruling is absurd and offensive. It is not justice in any sense of the word. She is being fined 80k a song when she could purchase them on iTunes for a dollar. When most people steal 24 dollars worth of merchandise from a store (she only downloaded 24 songs illegally, or at least that is all that is being tried in this case) and gets caught, they normally just have to give it back, or pay for it. At most they might have a fine of 500 dollars or a night in jail. No normal company cares enough to file a massive lawsuit that lasts for years in order to get their stolen 24 dollars back. Its ridiculous.

Now you might make the argument that she helped a number of others steal it through bittorrent. So there are two ways to figure out a proper fine: fine her based on her seed rate (how much of the file she sent to others), in which case it should be no more than a few hundred dollars, or fine her based on how many people got a tidbit of the file from her computer, which would be no more than a 1000 or so and so her total fine should be no more than 25k.

80k a song is way beyond what her total fine should be under any rational court decision. The purpose of a court case is to establish guilt and repay the owner for the lost property. It is not to make an example of someone. And at 1.9 million dollars for 24 songs, that is obviously the only justification for the sentence.

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$80,000 a song? Seems arbitrary, and thus has no place in the courts. Were I the judge, unless they could show evidence otherwise, I would fine her the cost of each song - assuming 99 cents on iTunes, that's $24.

I'm not sure how they came up with that amount, but they did mention it wasn't the maximum. She distributed those songs to many thousands of users via her computer, so maybe it was something like $24 per illegal distribution. It would be like grand theft of copyrights. Besides, she didn't seem to be remorseful about her violations, and evidently, they couldn't throw her in jail but could only fine her.

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Well, obviously the maximum is infinity dollars, which is even more arbitrary. I'm curious how they figured out who she sent the songs to. Maybe it was just a torrent, and they calculated based on the number of leechers... but then that would be some 80,000 leechers for each song, not possible. They pulled the number out of their asses, and if the judge doesn't recognize this, he doesn't deserve the title, "Your honor".

Edited by brian0918
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The industry requested those higher amounts to make examples out of them, to discourage the practice altogether.

The court is supposed to interpret the law and decide cases individually, not attempt to enact their own version of "preemptive legislation".

Edited by brian0918
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The court is supposed to interpret the law and decide cases individually, not attempt to enact their own version of "preemptive legislation".

I guess the issue comes down to whether legal justice should be punitive or compensatory. If it was just to be compensatory, then anyone could do any crime, so long as he paid back the injured party; and this could open up a whole slue of violations of rights via after-payment. If justice should be punitive, then the point is to make the violation of the crime damaging enough to violators that they will think twice before committing the crime. For example, if you stab someone and they have to go to the hospital, and you pay their hospital bill, is that sufficient to say justice was done? or, if we are to have a society where individual rights are the ruling principle, then should that person not only pay for the hospital bills, but also spend time in jail for committing a violent act?

This woman took a whole lot of music, essentially claimed it was hers to distribute, and distributed them to thousands of accessors to her computer. So, maybe if you limited it to only her paying the damages of what a legal distributor would have lost by her actions, that might be compensatory, but would it be punitive and preventative?

Besides, the companies suing her are willing to accept a much lesser payment for damages done, if she settles with them, which would require her acknowledging she did something illegal. If she doesn't want to acknowledge that, then if they take her house and other property, she shouldn't complain because that's what she was doing essentially.

Bottom line is, you are responsible for violating someone else's individual rights; and she did violate copyrights on a grand scale. If you don't want to be so held for your actions, then don't distribute copyrighted material without prior permission.

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$80,000 a song? Seems arbitrary, and thus has no place in the courts. Were I the judge, unless they could show evidence otherwise, I would fine her the cost of each song - assuming 99 cents on iTunes, that's $24. Maybe also force her to pay the $X in the plaintiff's lawyer's fees.

You can find out all about this trial at Ars Technica. Apparently the defendant came across as a liar to the jury.

Also, opinion as to whether justice is restorative or retributive affects the size of the damages awarded. Damages need to be retributive in order to function as disincentives.

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The court is supposed to interpret the law and decide cases individually, not attempt to enact their own version of "preemptive legislation".

I didn't say I agreed with it, I'm just telling you why the amounts are what they are. :P

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I guess the issue comes down to whether legal justice should be punitive or compensatory.

It should be punative in direct correlation with the damages. So if I steal a half a pack of post-it notes maybe I have to pay the person for a whole new pack of post-its. If I stab someone I have to pay all financial damages and spend some period in jail, with counseling to help me better handle stressful situations and be a productive member of society on my release. If I kill someone, I need to be put away for a very long time as well as have my property turned over to the family of my victim in order to at least partially pay back the damages to their family from that loss. Punitive measures should get worse on a graduated scale in proportion to damages.

This woman took a whole lot of music, essentially claimed it was hers to distribute, and distributed them to thousands of accessors to her computer.

Um, no. She took one or maybe two albums, maximum. That is not "a lot of music." And she almost certainly did not distribute it to thousands of accessors. She distributed parts of it to thousands of accessors. If it was bittorrent, then she sent tiny pieces of the file to a bunch of different people. Even if it was thousands, her part of their download was probably only a couple of percent, at most. As a result, she may have distributed the equivalent of a dozen copies (that would actually be quite high for bittorrent). She could only be held responsible for the equivalent of making a dozen or so copies and distributing them for free to other people. That is not an offense that should be punished with a 1.9 million dollar fine, because the size of the offense is so small (a few hundred dollars in damages).

While she shouldn't have downloaded the music, this fine (and even her previous fine of 220k) is way beyond a just punishment for the crime. The RIAA would be better served to work on changing its business model so that people would not be tempted to illegally download music anymore, by reducing prices and making the works more widely available on ad-based and subscription services. Punitive measures just make them a target for every hacker on the planet (even more than they already are).

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Big judgments are coming down regarding catching people illegally distributing music, movies, and other copyrighted files via the Internet. Recently, a woman was fined $1.9 million ($80,000 per song illegally distributed).

"An attorney for the recording industry, Tim Reynolds, said the "greater weight of the evidence" showed that Thomas-Rasset was responsible for the illegal file-sharing that took place on her computer. He urged jurors to hold her accountable to deter others from a practice he said has significantly harmed the people who bring music to everyone."

Now we're talking. Until now, I've heard reports of $10-20 thousand fines, and they clearly weren't doing the job. Music and movie piracy is still widespread.

The fines should continue rising until the penalty is big enough to deter the crime. Otherwise, what good is it to have a justice system that cannot protect people's rights?

While she shouldn't have downloaded the music, this fine (and even her previous fine of 220k) is way beyond a just punishment for the crime. The RIAA would be better served to work on changing its business model ...

Justice is supposed to work (deter widespread crime). If it doesn't it is not justice, quite the opposite: it is the sanction of theft(=injustice). That is the standard of justice, and since lower fines don't work they are unjust. Higher fines are needed, to accomplish justice.

P.S. A somewhat legitimate complaint would be that the rate of people who get away with the crime is too high, and no amount of fines will deter everyone, as long as the chances of actually getting caught are extremely low. That doesn't mean the high fines are unjust, but to accomplish justice, a narrowly aimed policing effort on the part of government is necessary. But calling on the record industry to change its business model instead is quite an affront to my sense of justice.

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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The fines will not ever deter the crime because they cannot be done in a widespread manner. they cannot catch or try every person. If you want to beat the problem embrace the method. Get music to people easier. Other than iTunes which has its issues there are not that many good options that provide good quality music online. Also instead of struggling to punish people with fines use the method of file sharing but find a legal and easy way to accomplish it and draw customers away from illegal download methods.

Fines work moderately but the way to defeat illegal downloading is by providing better ways that still provide ease to customers and justice to artists.

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My understanding of the case is not that she was fined for illegally downloading music, which would be bad enough, and is theft; but rather she was illegally distributing files she had on her computer. Making a copy for yourself to play on your iPod or Computer is one thing, but delivering that out to many thousands of fellow thieves is what the music industry was against -- and what she is being punished for. She used her computer to distribute music against the will of the copyright owners; wherever she got the files from. If a thief gets you involved in dealing in stolen goods, you, too, will be held accountable and will most likely do jail time even though you didn't actually steal the materials.

And the excuse that the music industry ought to use their own bittorrent distribution mechanism is not an excuse to steal from them. If you don't like the way a store displays and makes available their products, you still have no right to steal those items and make a service distributing them "more efficiently." If it is not yours, don't take it and don't distribute it without proper authorization.

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P.S. A somewhat legitimate complaint would be that the rate of people who get away with the crime is too high, and no amount of fines will deter everyone, as long as the chances of actually getting caught are extremely low. That doesn't mean the high fines are unjust, but to accomplish justice, a narrowly aimed policing effort on the part of government is necessary. But calling on the record industry to change its business model instead is quite an affront to my sense of justice.

My view is very similar to fountainhead777's. A fine of 80k a song is already so high that no one cares any more, it doesn't deter anyone, because it is so ridiculous, and you can't go higher because it just doesn't affect people anymore. You'd have to be putting people away for years, even life, before you would have any significant impact, simply because it is almost impossible to detect and most people simply say "there's a one in a million shot I'll get that punishment, so I don't really care."

The only way you could bring about your vision of justice would be to have not a narrowly aimed policing effort but a massive and oppressive government effort to monitor and control the Internet. It would cost billions of dollars and would give the government far more power than it can be trusted with. The movie and music industries simply aren't worth the risks involved in granting the government the power to spy on everything everyone does at all times on the Internet. For that reason, the risk of getting caught will always be small, and massive fines will do little to deter the use of illegal services.

That is why I believe the industry's need to stop filing lawsuits against people (they only make enemies) and change their business model. It would work out better for them and for society than an ill-conceived effort to protect their copyright claims and their absurd insistence on extremely restrictive terms of use for their products.

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They should be going after people who re-sell stolen music and movies. Near my office there'sn itinerant marketplace that sets up all Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are at least 5 different stands selling pirated music CDs (around US$1.25) aand pirated DVDs (from $2 to $10) They even sell movies that are still in theaters. In the subway you can buy MP3 CDs with hundreds of stolen songs for under one US Dollar.

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Miovas that ruling is absurd and offensive. It is not justice in any sense of the word. She is being fined 80k a song when she could purchase them on iTunes for a dollar.

I suspect she wasn't fined that much because she could have bought them for a dollar a piece, she was fined that much because thousands of others who downloaded them from her DID NOT spend a dollar piece for each song from a legal venue in which they MIGHT have otherwise. She's not paying for what she didn't buy, she's paying for what she distributed and potentially denied the rights holders from making from legitimate sales.

I recognize it as a lot of money, but I'm reluctant to say that it is "absurd and offensive" because I'm not sure what the actual loss was to the plaintiffs. The companies had actually tried to settle with here before for considerably less, and still offer her the opportunity to settle for a lot less. The problem seems to be that she won't own up to being responsible for her actions. Tough cookies for her then.

$80,000 a song? Seems arbitrary, and thus has no place in the courts.

It's possible that it seems arbitrary because we don't know what evidence was presented in court in terms of the damages she caused in lost sales from the companies. Are you familiar with all the evidence that was presented by the RIAA? They didn't sue her because she stole them without paying for them, they sued her because she distributed them as well.

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They should be going after people who re-sell stolen music and movies. Near my office there'sn itinerant marketplace that sets up all Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are at least 5 different stands selling pirated music CDs (around US$1.25) aand pirated DVDs (from $2 to $10) They even sell movies that are still in theaters. In the subway you can buy MP3 CDs with hundreds of stolen songs for under one US Dollar.

This is rampant here in Maldives and Sri Lanka (probably India and even the whole of South Eastern Asia). But the sellers have actual shops, not just stands in a marketplace. But there are no ways at all to get legitimate copies of music or movies (at least here in Maldives) because airport security confiscates all the discs (under the assumption that it's porn, or too graphic etc). I just can't figure out why the police don't bust the illegal sellers in the shops. Nobody else seems to know either.

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