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Friends Who Steal?

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I myself have not been 100% perfect with intellectual property rights in the past, but it has been a very long time since I willfully went and downloaded something that I knew was clearly somebody else's property. I've actually made some mistakes with technicalities in more complicated areas of the law (wasn't sure about jailbreaking an iPod), or viewed something that was put on a public site expecting it to be legally put there (but it turns out it wasn't).

However, a lot of my friends, who are otherwise decent people, are really involved with piracy. For example, it's no big deal for them to download a several hundred dollar audio mixing program or photo editor. They have hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars of albums that were stolen from the internet.

Should I say anything to friends like this? I figure this is probably a common situation since I don't know many people my age who are against piracy that aren't Objectivists. Just my girlfriend actually, out of the hundreds of people my age that I've met. If that's the case for you too, maybe you've also thought of this issue.

Also, if they burn a CD or something and then play it in the car, I don't tell them to turn it off just because I know it's stolen. Should I actually do that? I think I'd be an outcast fairly quickly if I ever did that. They already did the deed I figure, and they know my personal position if they're close friends.

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My answer is, "I don't know what you should do."

It is complicated. The problems that led to and lead from intellectual property and the laws to protect it are multifaceted, often historical rather than objective. Most often the laws resulted from who held political power, rather than who discovered objective truth.

If you go to a concert and hear a new work, can you hum it to yourself? Can you play in on your own instrument? Can you play it for others? Charging for the performance is irrelevant. You would agree that you do not have the right to take someone else's physical property -- land; home; computer; car -- and give it away. At what level have you taken the property of the performer? When you hummed it to yourself?

You cannot prevent someone from knowing what they know. Thus, copyright laws protect the form, but not the content, i.e., the book, but not the ideas. You cannot reproduce and distribute The Virtue of Selfishness, but you can discuss Objectivism.

Originally, the goal of intellectual property laws was to protect the creator. Thus, laws were specific and limited in time. The creator gained the advantage of their invention, while at the same time, everyone else was admitted to now know what they know. Now, however, the Mickey Mouse Copyright Law extends far beyond the lifetime of the creator. Perhaps that could be an example of objective law, as corporations are eternal, also. But that has not been proved (to me) and the corporation itself rests on the state. Nothing in the marketplace previoulsly allowed corporations. So that is a separate argument. As I said, it is complicated.

You asked a question, so, on the one hand, you are also unsure. On the other hand, you asked because it bothers you. That, too, speaks to the problem. Your intuition based on experience is that this is wrong. I have to ask back: Upon what premises and assumptions do you base your dislike?

Is the problem not so much the nature of copyrights laws, as the nature of your friends?

Edited by Hermes
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In regard to your own actions you can and should act morally, but with something as prevalent as this sort of piracy it is impossible to avoid the result of the immoral actions of others.

What I do is look out for myself and if asked, or if it becomes an issue for some reason, I give my honest opinion of this kind of theft and explain why.

@Hermes...

At what level have you taken the property of the performer? When you hummed it to yourself?

At no level whatsoever. There is no comparison between physically copying a piece of music or a movie and singing the song you just heard.

Edited by Zip
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Hermes, I don't think it is an issue of grey area with the law if my friend downloads the 2010 version of a $500 piece of software as soon as it is available. It is a moral issue. There really is no big gap between intellectual property and physical property for me because I understand the basis of both: they are both products of man's effort and mind. I would really appreciate it if this thread does not go down that avenue of discussion though, so if you wish to reply to me, please do it in the intellectual property threads elsewhere on the forum.

For all others, I kindly request that we do not turn this into a debate about whether intellectual property is "real property" and ignore Hermes post.

Edited by ex_banana-eater
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  • 2 weeks later...
So all of you just remain silent unless asked about it? For example, your friend pulls up a $500 stolen program on his computer to show you how much he likes it, then mixes pirated music with it.

If I am in the mood and can think of something non-argument-starting fast enough, I will speak up once. Maybe, "For those of us who have to buy our music..." Or, "I can't afford to buy Photoshop yet..." Sometimes a person will catch the whiff, sometimes not.

It's so socially acceptable to steal things on one's computer, I don't hold it too much against people who do. Most people don't give a lot of thought to anything, after all. Anyone I know well enough to engage in an argument will most likely not be doing those things. And for the rest, you can't fix everybody.

Edited by JASKN
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Outside of my family, the majority of the people I've known for the past eight years or so steal software, music and movies without even considering it to be theft. If they're very blatant about it, I may say something once, otherwise I only do if they try to give me copies of the things they've stolen, or want me to give them a copy of music or software I've purchased. With regard to friends playing stolen music—you're free to disallow it in your own car or home. If you're riding in their car or are at their house and they're playing stolen music, that's their problem. I would personally reconsider whether I want to remain close friends with someone who does not respect the intellectual property rights of others, however.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Of course you should speak up. Tacitly standing by as they engage in immoral actions is basically giving them a sanction. If they are rational, they will listen to an argument you have about why it is not in their self-interest to violate rights. If they are not rational, you have no business spending time with them, in my opinion. However, it may be that in most facets of their life, your friends are virtuous and that they have a slight flaw in their character in this particular respect. If that is the case, then there is nothing wrong with spending time with them when they are using stolen property, so long as you point out to them that you know it to be wrong.

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My brother used to get pirated software from one of his friends, and his brother pirates everything under the sun. Once I found my brother playing games that I had paid $50.00 for and I would give him a bunch of shit for it. I don't see him with any newer stuff any more and he has been buying his music/movies/games now. I guess it's easy to guilt trip someone when their dad and brother are software engineers and they are about to pursue a degree in CS as well.

I don't make it a big issue with my friends but I will suggest open source alternatives to them if the issue comes up. Then again I don't have many friends who pirate if at all because people who feel entitled to another's products rub me the wrong way. Some people I knew thought it was weird because I would listen to all my music from Youtube from a band's official channel. I eventually settled to getting a ZuneHD and my account with that allows me to listen to all the music in their 4 million + song library and download 10 DRM free songs a month for $15.

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My opinion is much the same as what others have said. You don't actively violate copyright, etc., and that is all you need to do. You aren't the police. I can see it being so noxious to you that you decide to confront a serial abuser, but I don't think it must be done. If you have pirated music played in your presence, yours is a passive role; you aren't culpable.

I agree with those who said that if it comes up in conversation, you have a positive obligation to speak your mind, though it be unpopular. Think what it would mean regarding all sorts of immoral acts, if we were all obligated to take the initiative to point out the errors of others' ways. BTW, it isn't only younger people who offend in this way. I've known of a number of mature, financially secure people who actually delight in this sort of looting.

(I find myself wondering if there isn't a connection with envy; they simply take what someone labored to create, and is selling, with success and rewards coming to him--they take it to trump the success of the creator.)

-- Mindy

Edited by Mindy
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My opinion is much the same as what others have said. You don't actively violate copyright, etc., and that is all you need to do. You aren't the police. I can see it being so noxious to you that you decide to confront a serial abuser, but I don't think it must be done. If you have pirated music played in your presence, yours is a passive role; you aren't culpable.
Moral evaluation is not exclusively over the question "does this action of mind initiate force?". It is evaluating choices, period. Moral evaluation is not an optional pastime: it is a mandatory and constant action for all active minds. It is true that one can exist passively, living a quasi-parasitic life, but choosing such an existence is immoral. It is true that you can sanction evil by not confronting it when you are faced with it, sanctioning evil is immoral.
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I simply make it explicit that I pay for music or movies. I am certain that anyone is smart enough to fill in the blanks as to why I pay for my things. Its also important to take into account the point of life that many people are at. Adults with discretionary money are a lot more likely to purchase art they enjoy whereas kids often do not have the same ability. It would be great for people to think in terms of principles and to not download illegally no matter how little money they have, but that requires an enormous dedication to principles on an issue that seems inconsequential most of the time.

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Moral evaluation is not exclusively over the question "does this action of mind initiate force?". It is evaluating choices, period. Moral evaluation is not an optional pastime: it is a mandatory and constant action for all active minds. It is true that one can exist passively, living a quasi-parasitic life, but choosing such an existence is immoral. It is true that you can sanction evil by not confronting it when you are faced with it, sanctioning evil is immoral.

I have to take exception to your reply. The sense of passivity I used does not involve anything remotely like "existing passively (loosely quoted,)" or being a parasite! If you buy a book, and it turns out the author has some awful ideas, are you guilty of supporting evil? Nonsense.

I didn't urge or condone moral passivity. I can't quite understand how you came to formulate your response.

-- Mindy

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I didn't urge or condone moral passivity. I can't quite understand how you came to formulate your response.
It came from your statement "You don't actively violate copyright, etc., and that is all you need to do. You aren't the police." That is an endorsement of passivity in moral evaluation. I can't see how you don't realize what you just said.
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What in the world are you going to gain or preserve by chastising your friends about their bad behavior?

You have no duty to do anything, keep that in mind,

If they are truly your friends you should care enough about them to want a better existence than that of a thieving parasite.

You should also respect your self enough to have certain standards for who you call "friend".

Would you still be friends with them if they stole from you?

It is good to note that pirating an artist's materials is so commonplace many people don't even realise they're doing something wrong.

I know a few people who stopped pirating music & movies when I pointed out that it was not in fact a victimless crime and why. More of course told me to mind my own business or to go to Hell. You can point out to someone the nature of their violation without being a jerk about it.

Generally I ask if they are aware that piracy is in fact stealing from a person who has created a piece of art they enjoy. More often than not they never thought of it that way. I try to be informative rather than confrontational.

Edited by QuoVadis
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It came from your statement "You don't actively violate copyright, etc., and that is all you need to do. You aren't the police." That is an endorsement of passivity in moral evaluation. I can't see how you don't realize what you just said.

How does doing the right thing oneself equate with moral passivity? Do you query everyone you meet about their past wrongs, in case you might find something that would mean you don't want to associate with them? And anything less would be moral passivity? If there is a less strained way to look at it, please outline it for me.

-- Mindy

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How does doing the right thing oneself equate with moral passivity?
From "How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society":

I will confine my answer to a single, fundamental aspect of this question. I will name only one principle, the opposite of the idea which is so prevalent today and which is responsible for the spread of evil in the world. That principle is: One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment.

Nothing can corrupt and disintegrate a culture or a man's character as thoroughly as does the precept of moral agnosticism, the idea that one must never pass moral judgment on others, that one must be morally tolerant of anything, that the good consists of never distinguishing good from evil.

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From "How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society":

I will confine my answer to a single, fundamental aspect of this question. I will name only one principle, the opposite of the idea which is so prevalent today and which is responsible for the spread of evil in the world. That principle is: One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment.

Nothing can corrupt and disintegrate a culture or a man's character as thoroughly as does the precept of moral agnosticism, the idea that one must never pass moral judgment on others, that one must be morally tolerant of anything, that the good consists of never distinguishing good from evil.

Despite the temptation, I will refrain from responding in terms of a moral judgment. :lol:

Not everything is everyone's business. Being officious about announcing one's opinion of others is not the same as being moral. Are you really claiming that if you were riding in a friend's car, and he played a music CD without a printed label, you'd speak up about whether or not he had pirated the music? I'd be really interested to see if there is any actual disagreement about the issues here. Would you do that?

-- Mindy

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Not everything is everyone's business. Being officious about announcing one's opinion of others is not the same as being moral. Are you really claiming that if you were riding in a friend's car, and he played a music CD without a printed label, you'd speak up about whether or not he had pirated the music? I'd be really interested to see if there is any actual disagreement about the issues here. Would you do that?

-- Mindy

Are you deliberately ignoring the question that was asked or are you adding on to the topic by changing the nature of the question?

The question asked by the OP specified "if you know it was stolen".

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Are you deliberately ignoring the question that was asked or are you adding on to the topic by changing the nature of the question?

The question asked by the OP specified "if you know it was stolen".

Because I said the OP was not responsible for policing her friends, I was accused of recommending moral passivity. Well, that is the question that is up for grabs, so merely saying it means moral passivity was question-begging.

How does one proceed when the critic is begging the question? I like to take a less confrontational approach when a good one is available, so I posed the situation to this critic in terms of his experience. Nothing wrong with that.

-- Mindy

p.s. Keep in mind that the OP wasn't present at the crime, and has not pirated anything herself.

Edited by Mindy
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Being officious about announcing one's opinion of others is not the same as being moral. Are you really claiming that if you were riding in a friend's car, and he played a music CD without a printed label, you'd speak up about whether or not he had pirated the music? I'd be really interested to see if there is any actual disagreement about the issues here. Would you do that?

Actually here's what you said that I am responding to.

I pointed out to you that it is not the case that anyone is saying here that anytime your friend uses software, drives a car, plays a CD or DVD you must inquire as to the legal status of said materials.

The question begins on the assumption that you know for a fact that the product is stolen. You can make up whatever scenario you want to fill that requirement- perhaps they told you "I just downloaded this of site X" or it is a DVD that has not come out yet and is obviously an illegally pirated version. You just know for a fact, that is the context this question is asked in.

If you saw your friend steal a ribeye from a grocery store and let them then serve it to you for dinner you have taken part in the theft.

If you know your friend stole a car and you ride in it any way you have taken part in the theft.

If you know your friend obtained a movie illegally and you watch it with them you have taken part in the theft.

Now a situation that would be "passive" or "neutral":

If you are at a party and music is playing you are NOT expected to seek out the host and inquire how they aquired the music. Part of a benevolent sense of life is that "we" are not automatically assuming that everyone is doing wrong.

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