Is Copyright Infringement Stealing?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Copyright laws protect creative works, such as books, music and movies, from unauthorized copying or distribution. For example, pirating music, which means it was copied without permission to avoid purchasing it, is a copyright violation. Such copyright infringement can cost a copyright owner a lot of money, but some people argue it is not really stealing.

Copyright laws protect creative works, such as books, music and movies, from unauthorized copying or distribution. For example, pirating music, which means it was copied without permission to avoid purchasing it, is a copyright violation. Such copyright infringement can cost a copyright owner a lot of money, but some people argue it is not really stealing.

Copyright Infringement Vs. Stealing

Copyright infringement, which is the unauthorized copying, distribution or other violation of someone else's copyright, is illegal under U.S. copyright laws, but copyright infringement is its own specific crime. It does not generally fall under the same criminal provisions as other types of theft, like stealing someone's physical property.

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Two Sides of the Argument

The recording industry and other groups of copyright holders argue that copyright infringement is stealing just as if the infringer stole the owner's physical property. They argue that the theft of intellectual property through copyright infringement has a very similar impact to stealing of physical property--it costs someone money. However, some people argue that there is no proof the average copyright violation actually costs the company money and, thus, is not stealing. These advocates of copyright infringement say that a person who downloads music in violation of a copyright, for example, may or may not have purchased the music if it had not been available for pirating. Additionally, they say, such downloads may actually increase the copyright holder's sales since it can provide publicity for the creator.

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Music Piracy & Copyrights

References

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How Is Copyright Intangible?

A person may own three kinds of property: real property, such as land or buildings; tangible property, including anything that can be touched but is not permanently attached to land; and intangible property, which can be owned and has value but cannot be touched, such as goodwill and customer loyalty. Copyright is an intangible property interest held by creators of artistic works.

Copyright Laws and Downloading Music

Whether or not you can legally download music from the Internet depends on whether you have permission from the copyright holder to do so. In most cases, free music downloads are illegal. Even paid downloads can be illegal if the copyright holder receives no royalties from the purchase price. The U.S. reserves the right to enforce its copyright laws even against people who download copyrighted music from overseas.

Music Performance Copyright Laws

An artist with a registered copyright has the right to take legal action against someone who is copying or distributing her work without permission. A person who records or distributes copies of a performance of copyrighted music—a digital copy of a live concert, for example—without the artist's consent is subject to criminal and civil remedies under the United States Copyright Act. State laws may add extra penalties and remedies to a case of music performance copyright infringement, as per Chapter 11 of the Act.

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