Opinion

Just Because It’s Easier to Steal, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Stealing

Back when I was a musician, writing songs rather than things like this, I was just about the only one I knew who wasn’t stealing music via the heist website Napster. And I lived in Austin, Texas, the “Live Music Capital of the World.” I knew a LOT of musicians.

Napster was “originally founded as a pioneering peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing Internet service that emphasized sharing audio files, typically music, encoded in MP3 format. The original company ran into legal difficulties over copyright infringement…”

Translation: People downloaded music for which they never paid. Hence the “legal difficulties over copyright infringement.”  Napster was a monster music shopping mall, without the shopping.

The arguments in defense of this theft were (and remain) patently (no pun intended) absurd. Some of the absurdest:

“The musicians make money from touring, we’re only stealing from the record companies.”

A microcosm of the Democrats’ “Tax the evil rich to pay for free stuff for you” mantra. Which is obnoxious. Stealing from anyone is stealing. Oh: and of course musicians get paid for their music. Unless their music is stolen.

“I’m not stealing anything physical. It’s not like I’m taking a compact disc. So they’re not out anything.”

Behold the absolutely ridiculous “Intellectual property isn’t property” assertion. Even many center-right and libertarian people and outfits — some of some stature — lamely put this forward.

But a compact disc bereft of Adele, Drake or Taylor Swift is nothing more than high-tech plastic. You’re not stealing it to get the high-tech plastic, you want what’s encoded thereon.

It’s the musical ideas — which beget the music, the recording, the marketing and the teenage madness — that matter. These ideas are intellectual property.

Thus is intellectual property, in fact, MORE important than physical property — not less. And it always has been.

Technological advances don’t change any of this. New platforms — same principles. Stealing vinyl records was wrong. So too was stealing 8-track tapes. And cassettes. And CDs. Stealing MP3s is stealing.

Napster was only a toe-in-the-water beginning. The theft of digital goods has only exponentially grown. Into a HUGE global problem. (And that is not just a Kim Dotcom pun.) See also: China. And….

Of course there is always a constituency for free stuff (see, again: The Democrat Party). Some major players have in fact made it a key component of their business model (Hello, Google). These intellectual property thieves have lots of coin (because they rarely pay for anything) so they can dress up their thievery quite nicely.

They can hire lots of lawyers and organizations to pretend that opposition to their thievery is actually opposition to technological advancement. (When it, of course, defunds and undermines future technological advancement. If you can’t get paid for your last advancement, why on Earth would you or anyone else invest in your next?)

And these thieves can hire lots of lobbyists to have law written that all-but-legalizes their theft. To wit: The Innovation and Patent Acts currently under consideration in Congress. Bills which would make it so much easier for people to do to patents what thieves like Napster, China and Kim Dotcom do to copyrights (and trademarks). It would become dramatically more difficult for intellectual property holders, whose property protection device is patents, to stop the people who are stealing their ideas.

These bills are anti-intellectual property. And anti-property. And anti-technological advancement. And anti-capitalism. What they are is pro-theft. It makes a lot of illegal thievery less subject to the law and its enforcement.

I understand why the thieves would want this. I have zero idea why anyone else does.