Is Copyright Infringement Stealing?

by Heather Frances Google
It is generally illegal to burn CDs of copyrighted music without the owner's permission.

It is generally illegal to burn CDs of copyrighted music without the owner's permission.

Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images

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.

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.