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Why are you anti-theft?

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Amaroq
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I've noticed an interesting phenomenon when discussing certain ethics. Mainly that certain things, especially theft, are preached as wrong simply because it is wrong. Maybe you're just taking for granted that you already have selfish reasons for that. But I'm curious. Upon introspection, are you really practicing your virtues for selfish reasons, or are you practicing your virtues because you simply believe that they are intrinsically good?

The first time I started to wonder this was in a thread on consistency that wound up drifting into a discussion about whether it's ethical to download music without paying. When I discussed my view and my selfish reasons for thinking that way, the responses were simply along the lines of "Well THIS is the right thing to do" without really explaining the selfish reason why that's what you should do.

I understand that it's selfish to uphold rights. Life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness. If I want my rights to be respected, I should respect other peoples' rights. That's one simple reason why I should pay someone in exchange for the goods they have to offer. But why else should I pay? Would anyone here be able to answer a selfish reason for that question?

I'll offer my thoughts on a couple of situations.

Let's say I want to buy some bread from a bread vendor. I take the bread, and I give the vendor the money he wanted for it. Not only did I respect his right to the bread as property by not stealing it from him, but I made a trade with him that benefited me. I was willing to part with the money for bread, so I did. That the trade benefited him too wasn't a necessary concern for me. If it didn't, I expect he would not have agreed to it. But, the fact that I support his bread-making efforts with my money rewards him for making the bread I like so much, so he's more likely to be able and willing to continue to produce that I love so much.

Let's take a different situation and apply this line of thought to it.

I download a song that I'm interested in hearing. The song is the artist's property, so if I respect property rights, I should pay for the song whether I enjoyed it or not, right? That I have a selfish reason for respecting property rights is probably a given. But downloading a digital copy allows me to be more loose in what I do once I have the music.

Say I downloaded the song, and I loved it. I haven't physically taken the author's song away from him. I've only taken a copy. What selfish reason do I have to pay this man for what he has created? Simple. My payment is a reward for him creating a song I like. I want him to create more like it, so I'll pay him for having made it.

But what if I hated it? I don't want to reward this man for making a song I didn't like. That means he'll make more songs that I don't want. Why should I pay for it? I'm not going to be listening to it anymore anyway, so I'll just delete it.

I think that in both cases, I've ultimately respected the owners' property rights. The one whose music I liked, I paid. The one whose music I didn't like, I deleted the song and chose not to pay. But ultimately, I had selfish reasons for my actions. I wanted to reward or withhold reward depending on whether I liked the song. In neither case did I ultimately accept the unearned. I either rejected it without paying or kept it and paid in return.

What do you think about this whole thing? If you have a problem with the fact that I downloaded music without paying, even though I ultimately deleted it (respecting the owner's rights as a consequence), can you give me a selfish reason why I should have paid for music I didn't like?

My reasoning, that you should delete if you don't like and pay if you do, honors property rights as a consequence, but is ultimately centered in more general selfishness reasons. (I do/don't want to reward this author for the music they created, which influences future music that they'll expose me to.)

EDIT: The reason I'm asking this is because, I think, the best way to overwhelmingly guarantee that you practice a certain ethics is to have convincing, selfish reasons to practice it. If you don't have selfish reasons for practicing an ethics, it amounts to a self-imposed decree. "You have to do this." "Why?" "Just because."

Edited by Amaroq
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Do you not have the option to listen to the particular song before you purchase it and ultimately download it?

My reasoning is that you should choose to not pay and download a song that you dislike. I think if you do

want to respect the muscican's property rights, you should not download the song before payment is exchanged.

Retail stores don't allow you to take a product home, such as a music cd, listen to it and then decide whether you

want to keep it and pay it or bring it back to the store.

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That is true, brian. I would be more respectful of the author's property rights if I waited until paying to take the song.

It can be hard to find a place to hear the song, especially in full, before purchasing it. Peer to peer networks are available so you can download and listen to the song easily. Though arguably, they are tainted by the fact that the song was made available without the owner's consent.

The other reasons you gave, I have heard before actually. I don't think it makes sense to equate something that is digital and easily copied without depriving the owner of material property with something that is physical and cannot be taken without depriving the owner of material property.

A principled respect for property rights is one way to make sure you never download music without ultimately paying. You could respect what the owner wants to happen to that data as part of your considerations of their property right.

Are there no other selfish reasons why you should listen and pay first, and download later? If download is easily available to you, easier than finding a place to listen, are there any selfish reasons why you should refrain until you find a place where you are able to listen first?

Edited by Amaroq
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If you have a problem with the fact that I downloaded music without paying, even though I ultimately deleted it (respecting the owner's rights as a consequence), can you give me a selfish reason why I should have paid for music I didn't like?
I dunno if I can, but I have some questions that go in that direction. The basic assumption that we make is that man lives as a conceptual being, which means that our proper existence depends on identifying correct abstractions that relate to entities and also actions. Thus we have to correctly identify "tigers", "food", and also moral concepts like "good" and "bad". It seems to me that you're saying that there's a mistake in the concept "property" as we have defined it (so perhaps there is no such thing as "intellectual property"), but maybe that's not really the mistake that you're suggesting we've made.

To test whether your problem is with "property" in general or "intellectual property", I restate your questions with reference to some tangible consumer good, "widgets". I take a widget from a widget-seller, without permission or compensation. Then I evaluate the widget, and decide whether to keep the widget (in which case I pay for it), or I return the widget. I don't want to reward this man for making a widget I didn't like, and I certainly don't want to encourage him to make more widgets that I don't want. This analogously respect's the owner's property rights in the same way -- namely does not respect his rights. A man's property rights are not simply to determine whether you ultimately accept the unearned. His rights are to determine whether you ever accept the unearned.

So my question to you is whether you'd accept this scenario regarding the theft of widgets. (By "theft", I mean "unpermitted taking of another person's property"). If you would accept theft as morally proper in this case involving widgets, that suggests to me that your problem pertains to the concept of "property"; but if, for some reason, you reject as immoral the theft of tangible widgets, then I would conclude that you reject the concept of "intellectual property". Which is it?

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I regard taking any material property before paying for it as immoral. That would include the widgets. I think what I'm having trouble with is intellectual property. Whether it be material or intellectual, the owner should be able to tell you that you're not allowed to do anything with it until you pay, and a principled respect of his property rights would require you to comply.

It makes sense to me that, were I to come across the owner's personal website with his digital works on display, if it required me to pay for them before downloading them, it would be unethical to try to get around that. I think that that highlights a contradiction with my early scenario of just downloading first and paying later. Whether I know what the owner wants or not, I'm probably not complying with what he wants in the end by doing it that way. Respect of property rights would require me to seek the owner and find out what their position is on downloading their digital works.

The main reason I made this thread, really, was out of curiosity. Like I mentioned before, there was another thread where the responses piqued my interest. Someone would simply respond "But that's theft!", as if that were the sole reason why downloading music is wrong.

I was ultimately wondering if they just saw theft as intrinsically bad because Oism says it is, or if they had already integrated selfish reasons why it was bad and assumed that I had as well. I can't remember who was all involved, so this thread wasn't directed at anyone in particular. Just generally to everyone.

EDIT: Also, I found it really neat that I could conceive of a selfish reason for paying someone for their work when I technically could have gotten away with the unearned scott-free. Rewarding the good for being the good, you could say. It boosts my confidence in the human race that I can think of selfish reasons for them to be benevolent to each other in their exchanges. I was curious if there's a selfish reason not to try before you buy if you can't find anything that tells you that you're prohibited from doing so.

Edited by Amaroq
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In that case, Black Wolf, I'd say do what I suggested earlier. Try before you buy.

If you like his music, and he let you have it for free, it's still probably in your selfish interest to pay him for it. If you loved it enough to warrant paying for it, you could give him a donation and leave him a message to tell him that you're paying him for the song you downloaded. It might make him more likely to make more music like it that you'll also enjoy.

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Whether it be material or intellectual, the owner should be able to tell you that you're not allowed to do anything with it until you pay, and a principled respect of his property rights would require you to comply.
I don't exactly get this. Are you saying that a man must actively assert his property rights by declaring "You may not take my property without my permission, which I grant only by paying"? This is like the way property rights are now, except that silence is not interpreted as permission to take another man's property. So are you saying that as long as a person expressly forbids theft, you should respect material and intellectual property rights?
It makes sense to me that, were I to come across the owner's personal website with his digital works on display, if it required me to pay for them before downloading them, it would be unethical to try to get around that. I think that that highlights a contradiction with my early scenario of just downloading first and paying later. Whether I know what the owner wants or not, I'm probably not complying with what he wants in the end by doing it that way. Respect of property rights would require me to seek the owner and find out what their position is on downloading their digital works.
It may help you to think about these questions hierarchically. The most important, logically first, question is whether you may by right take the property of another person without their permission. An easy answer would be "Absolutely not", but that would actually be wrong in the area of certain kinds of "taking" of intellectual property (the so-called fair use exception). However, on the assumption that we're not talking about you citing the evil assertions of a demagogue politician without his permission, then the next question should be "can I assume that I have permission to take?". When the IP owner makes an active (but technologically ineffective) effort to prevent free taking, then you cannot reasonably assume that there is permission to take.
Someone would simply respond "But that's theft!", as if that were the sole reason why downloading music is wrong.
That would be good enough reason; and that illustrates the power of moral principles.

Suppose that you agree that taking music without permission is theft, and you agree that theft is wrong, then fairly elementary logic leads you to conclude that taking music without permission is wrong. The only way out of this is to deny that theft is wrong, to deny that "theft" is the taking of another's property, or to deny that there is such a thing as intellectual property. The first two positions are completely ludicrous, and I just don't see how anyone could even begin to square the third position with basic Objectivism. So the only "hope" that I can see for a person who wants to be able to take IP without permission and still be able to stand themselves, morally speaking, is if they evade the basic logic that it is wrong to take the property of another person without permission -- that is, to agree to each of the individual components of the argument against stealing IP, while not accepting the unifying conclusion "it is wrong to download music without the owner's permission".

A basic selfish reason to not engage in that kind of evasion is that it is a fundamental contradiction of reality, and denying reality is never in your best interest.

I was curious if there's a selfish reason not to try before you buy if you can't find anything that tells you that you're prohibited from doing so.
There's still something about your hypothetical situation that I don't get. Are you referring to the fact that there are various sites where people steal entire CDs and post them so that anyone can download them for free? You can be pretty sure that those sites are not actually operating with the permission of the IP owner, and thus the lack of an explicit statement "you may not morally download this stolen property" is totally unsurprising. Perhaps if you were unaware of the nature of these sites then your error would be innocent. Otherwise, you've basically just asked whether there is a rational self-interest reason "why one should act on principle".

If the IP owner gives you a preview option, then use it and save yourself the heartbreak of buying crap. If he doesn't, then you either take a chance that you'll like it, or you won't, and you just will not buy or ever acquire that music.

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I think you are having issues with realizing that philosophical and mental products are still products in themselves. To say that "Just because it is not a material or LITERAL item, then it is not the same as stealing from him", is a dangerous precedent to set for yourself. Think about it on the terms of your so called "rights" that you possess. Those are not literal or physical materials, they are more or less intellectual ideologies am I right? To set the precedent of saying that "Because it is intellectual property, I can steal it," is to write a blank check on all other intellectual rights or property.

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I don't think theft is okay. I suppose I wasn't thinking of downloading as theft because of the ease with which the product can be obtained and the fact that the originator notices no difference at all in their profits by whether or not you make the download. Though they could have made a profit had you bought the copy from them.

I was trying to argue that downloading can be okay because a rationally selfish person would have a reason to want to pay for music that they like, and they'd also have a reason to not take the unearned if they don't really like the music.

I accept what you say, about those copies being made available by people who stole it in the first place. Buying/accepting things from thieves just gives them more reason to keep stealing.

Maken, I actually had misunderstood Objectivist rights until recently. I did think of them as things, intellectual ideologies, or whatever. They're actually simply a right to action, so long as you don't get in the way of another person's right to action.

I originally made this topic because people said "that's theft". Given the context of Objectivism, I can see how theft is wrong. But I was curious whether they were speaking within the context of Objectivism, or just taking "theft is wrong" as true without context.

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What if an artist doesn't even make the majority of his money from CD sales, and he encourages people to download his music?

It depends, if he actually offers it on his own website, or he releases the music under a license such as Creative Commons - then of course you can download it.

If he is just making some statement, but his music still has a proprietary license attached to it - then you probably cannot, since the record label etc. still need to be reimbursed.

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I suppose I wasn't thinking of downloading as theft because of the ease with which the product can be obtained and the fact that the originator notices no difference at all in their profits by whether or not you make the download. Though they could have made a profit had you bought the copy from them.
The "doesn't notice" problem also arises with shoplifting, i.e. there is a discrepancy between inventory and sales. When a dozen ski-mask guys with shotguns burst in to a jewelry store and lift $100,000 in diamonds, that's pretty noticeable theft. Shoplifting is probably the second least-noticeable kind of theft -- small-scale IP theft being the least-noticeable.

The first point is really the core, IMO. It is so easy to obtain stolen IP that it can be actually difficult to grasp the fact that it is stolen. People tend to think "Surely 'they' would shut this place down if it were illegal", analogous to what actually happens with stores that deal in stolen tangible goods. But the interwebs being what it is, in fact 'they' don't have the physical or legal power to do so, or the resources to actually identify stolen IP web sites.

I was trying to argue that downloading can be okay because a rationally selfish person would have a reason to want to pay for music that they like, and they'd also have a reason to not take the unearned if they don't really like the music.
I agree that a customer should selfishly demand a 'taste' of the product, or else be certain that there is a satisfaction-guaranteed return policy. The market is addressing that first desideratum, in the form of online samples. But supposing that you find yourself hankering after a CD that does not have legal samples online (e.g. Vafaryada Az Eshgh), then it would simply be a mistake to think that taking without permission is better for you than the morally valid alternatives. The alternatives are, buy the CD and take your chances, or do not obtain the music at all.

I find "music downloading" to be the most difficult moral issue for anyone, because the reduction of the principle "don't do it" to that which you can perceive is a very long chain of reasoning. The reminder "theft is wrong" should suffice in any context, but in the context of discussions with non-Objectivists, there could be problems with that argument if the person does not recognize intellectual property. (Denying the validity of intellectual property is very popular with Marxists and their derivatives, thus I believe that the most important issue to establish and defend is the concept of intellectual property).

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I am against theft because I believe that it deprives individuals of the fruits of their labors and makes them slaves, since you are taking the fruits of their labor without agreed compensation, as you would a slaves labor. On a personal note, three years ago my car was broken into by a group of young kids no more than 13. These young boys had no clue how hard I had to work for the items they had stolen and how much difficulty I had replacing them. For them my labors were simply unimportant. Some would argue that they were just acting "selfishly," however, if you consider what was in their very best "self-interests" they were not, because eventually they were caught and prosecuted for the crime causing much more damage to themselves than what they gained from me.

Even if they had gotten away with stealing I still feel they would have not been putting self first because they would have been contributing to a less stable society in which they too would have to live, a society where their property would also have been at risk for theft. Moreover, once habits like theft are established they are hard to break and thieves do get caught if they continue the practice thievery, thus losing far more than they could ever gain by steeling.

Edited by Re4mer
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