US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

August 31, 2010 -

Speaking in Nashville, Tennessee yesterday at a symposium on intellectual property enforcement, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke publicly staked out the Obama administration's position on piracy and copyright infringement. It involves a quote from Vice-President Joe Biden.

According to Locke, copyright infringement is simply theft and should be dealt with accordingly. He also has a lot of sympathy for songwriters - who are being ripped off when it comes to royalties. First his comments on copyright infringement:

"I think it's important to lay down a marker about how the Obama administration views this issue," he said of online copyright infringement. "As Vice President Biden has said on more than one occasion, 'Piracy is flat, unadulterated theft,' and it should be dealt with accordingly."

Strong medicine. Now his comments on the fate of songwriters:

"Recently, I've had a chance to read letters from award winning writers and artists whose livelihoods have been destroyed by music piracy. One letter that stuck out for me was a guy who said the songwriting royalties he had depended on to 'be a golden parachute to fund his retirement had turned out to be a lead balloon.' This just isn't right."

During the conference Locke made a promise to work on "global IP norms," enforcement, and a tougher international copyright system. Naturally some of this is already being worked on thanks to the continued and mostly secret ACTA treaty negotiations, but no one from the administration talked about that during the symposium.

Source: Ars Technica


Comments

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

piracy is not always defacto theft. I am considered a pirate by Sony if I copy one of the music CD's I purchased legitimately. they also consider me to be a pirate if i take that same CD and convert it to mp3's for jogging. piracy has always been around and there is a reason for it: it's required for capitalism to function properly. the problem is not piracy, it's that it has become too easy. the RIAA never cared in the past if you made a cassette tape copy of a CD. just like an mp3, the quality is reduced. the difference is that you can't distribute your cassette tape to thousands or millions of others (well you could have but at great cost to the distributor). additionally, piracy itself is not so cut-and-dry as it is being made to seem by Biden and friends. remember, Robin Hood is still considered to be a hero to this day despite the theft he participated in. I knew kids with no money who got an illegal copy of photoshop or windows (etc) that now have important, productive jobs in the tech sector because of it. How many sales did these self-starters initiate because they 'stole' and learned a technology or skill that was out of their reach? answer: many times the cost of their originally stolen versions. furthermore, there are different kinds of pirates. some of them are out for personal financial gain. this is a different kind of pirate from the kid who wants to learn photoshop but cannot afford it.

i'm not advocating wholesale piracy but the issue is a lot more nuanced than is normally talked about and it is frustrating to me that only the ones in the pocket of Big Entertainment get a voice on this issue. Anyone not drinking the koolaid is angrily told to shut up. a bad apple can ruin the other apples but a bad egg is self contained leaving the others just fine. it's not so cut and dry.

as for the artist who says he doesn't get royalties anymore: I don't know the artist or their work but I will say that once everyone was able to freely check out what the record labels were trying to sell us, we realized that most of it was crap. THAT was the turning point, not piracy. how many times does it need to be proven that those who download music are the same group that buys the most music? it's pretty simple math. piracy is not the source of the music industry's problems but that is much easier for them to say than 'we screwed up' or 'we'll fix it'. they have an unreasonable sense of entitlement and lack of creativity, that's what they are really angry at.

you can't put the genie back in the bottle - even if they were able to totally eradicate piracy (impossible), music sales will NEVER be what they once were because the old model was based on consumer ignorance and naiveté - those days are over.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

For what it is worth, I'm getting sowered on the whole notion of IP anymore.

Sometimes I think the world would be a better place without it.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

"The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" - Herodotus

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- "The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" - Herodotus

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Given the demographics of this site it's depressing how many still wrongly equate piracy with theft.  Intelectual property isn't physical property, the two concepts aren't even related.

my vanity is justified

my vanity is justified

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

I wouldn't go so far as to say they're not related, but they ARE distinct.

Actually, "intellectual property" itself is an umbrella term for multiple different disparate areas of law.  There is overlap among copyrights, patents, and trademarks, but each is distinct, covers a very different subject, and has a very different set of rules.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

"Intelectual property isn't physical property, the two concepts aren't even related."

Doesn't matter.  Theft is simply the act of stealing.  Nothing in the word's definition requires the stolen property to be a physical object.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

We're talking about legal semantics, not linguistic semantics.  It doesn't matter what the dictionary says, the law defines each crime and provides separate reasoning for why each is illegal.  You and I have been down this road before so it's not like you don't already know this.

Furthermore Webster's dictionary certainly doesn't conform to your assertion of what the definition of theft is.:

a : the act of stealing; specifically : the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it

b : an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property

Copyrights and patents are not 'property' so violating them is not theft. No act of taking occurs when something is pirated either.  To take something must be removed.  What dictionary are you even using?

my vanity is justified

my vanity is justified

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Legally, theft is simply a generic term for all crimes where someone steals someone else's property.  That property does not have to be a physical object.

And yes, copyrights and patents are property.  Property is merely something that is owned.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

I'm not doing this with you again, once was quite enough to put me off talking to you about it again as you were a complete ass about it the entire time.

my vanity is justified

my vanity is justified

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

A "complete ass"?  Really?  I'd love to know how I earned that one.  Anyway, may as well address a few more points while I'm here...

"...the law defines each crime and provides separate reasoning for why each is illegal."

Doesn't matter.  All forms of theft, while certainly legally distinct and separately designated in criminal charges and statutory punishments, are still all forms of theft.

"Furthermore Webster's dictionary certainly doesn't conform to your assertion of what the definition of theft is.:"

It most certainly does and you proved it quite handily by copying the definition.  My assertion had two parts.  The first was: "Theft is simply the act of stealing"

You'll notice that's exactly what the definition says: "a : the act of stealing"

The second part was: "Nothing in the word's definition requires the stolen property to be a physical object" and you'll notice that, indeed, nothing in the word's definition requires the stolen property to be a physical object.

"Copyrights and patents are not 'property' so violating them is not theft."

As I explained above, both are indeed property but that's irrelevant because no one's talking about the theft of a copyright; we're discussing the theft of what's copyrighted.  Violating a copyright is a function of the theft.  In other words, committing theft is how you violate it (notwithstanding any other ways it's possible to violate a copyright).

"No act of taking occurs when something is pirated either."

Incorrect.  You take whatever it is you took.  If you pirate a copy of Halo: Reach, then you've taken a copy of Halo: Reach.  You didn't have it before.  You pirated it.  You now have it.  You took it.

"To take something must be removed."

No, as my above Halo: Reach example clearly illustrates, but if that's a sticking point for you, you can look at an illegal download as the removal a copy.  The copyright owner has all the copies.  You take one.  You've removed a copy.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Check their definition of "property"... it includes "something to which a person or business has a legal title".  Also their definition of "intellectual property"; "property (as an idea, invention, or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect; also : an application, right, or registration relating to this".

The definition of "steal" is likewise interesting.  Including, "to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully".

I'll agree that the idea of stealing is tied to physical things in our thinking.  Because we're physical things ourselves.  Our intuition is about physical things.  So we don't intuitively see what's wrong about copying.  But it is stealing none the less.

===============

Chris Kimberley

===============

Chris Kimberley

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Again, the dictionary definitions are completely irrelevant.  There is a completely separate and totally unrelated line of reasoning behind physical property rights and intellectual property rights and likewise a completely different reasoning for theft being illegal and piracy being illegal.  They're not legally the same thing regardless of what they are or are not linguistically.  Honestly I should have just ignored the linguistics argument instead of addressing it at all because it could not be less relevant.  That was my mistake and I apologize.

my vanity is justified

my vanity is justified

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

There was a time when the candle makers used animal fat for candles. Then there was a time when all the world was hunting whales for oil. Then the advent of petroleum destroyed the whaling industry. Now if someone actually banned the petroleum industry because it was putting whalers out of work. Petroleum is stealing money from the whalers. STOP Petroleum.

In the past, people used to start fires by rubbing to sticks together, then someone developed a match, which destroyed the fire stick industry. When matches were king, match monopolies popped up all over the world. Then someone developed the lighter, and it affected the match industry. By using a lighter you were stealing money from the match industry. Anyone caught using a lighter is a criminal.

Way back when art was getting started, People used to put on plays and concerts and dances. Then some evil people came and found ways to write down these plays, concerts, and music. They were stealing from the artist that created these works. They would sell these manuscripts, and music sheets without giving profit to the artist, they said it was to share the arts with the world, but they were just really stealing.

If anything digital distribution is something new. Either you adapt or make everyone a criminal. Apparently it will be the later.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Your third example goes against what I think you're trying to say.  If someone makes a record of someone else's work and sells it for a profit without compensating the original performer and/or author, then yes, they are stealing from them.

Digital distribution is new, yes.  I don't think anyone is saying that using digital distribution is wrong.  They're saying that taking someone else's work and not compensating them is wrong.

===============

Chris Kimberley

===============

Chris Kimberley

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

"Your third example goes against what I think you're trying to say.  If someone makes a record of someone else's work and sells it for a profit without compensating the original performer and/or author, then yes, they are stealing from them."

Leaving aside that infringement is both legally and technically distinct from stealing, your sentence still contains multiple assumptions.  First of all, it's absolutely legal to sell someone else's work without compensation IF YOU OBTAIN PERMISSION (take software licensed under the GPL, for example).  Second, copyrights expire (or at least they used to, prior to the modern trend of extending them every time Plane Crazy's about to go public domain); it's legal to redistribute someone else's work for profit if the copyright has expired.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

That's true.  I was trying to keep the point clear by not listing the various exceptions; having permission, expired copyright, lapsed trademarks (I know the exact case in question is not a trademark), fair use....

And yes, there are certainly distictions between stealing a physical item, pirating software/music/whatever and infringing copyright.  However, I would argue that they are all examples of theft in one form or another.

===============

Chris Kimberley

===============

Chris Kimberley

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Piracy is indeed theft. But my problem with anti-piracy activities is that the folks behind them are usually claiming that perfectly legal and harmless activities are 'piracy'. I will not support people who want to redefine piracy. Going after people who download songs and cracked versions of games for free is one thing. Going after me because I want to BUY games that aren't sold in this country and adjust my hardware so that I can play such legitimately-purchased games on my Xbox or computer is something else entirely.

Nor can I support those who want to control software I've paid money for in other ways - for instance by stifling the second-hand market.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Going after people who download songs and cracked versions of games for free is one thing.

Even that can have legitimate purposes.

I routinely download cracked exe's of games I've purchased, because disc checks are pointless and obnoxious.  It's illegal for me to do that.  It shouldn't be.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

As I posted on ARS:

"One letter that stuck out for me was a guy who said the songwriting royalties he had depended on to 'be a golden parachute to fund his retirement had turned out to be a lead balloon.' This just isn't right." - US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke

What about all the normal everyday people that lost everything do to the banking system, interest rates and securities scams due to all the associated deregulation at the behest of vested interest groups? Surely they are more important than people wanting to live off of work they did 20,30 or 40 or more years previously.

How about rolling back copyrights to match patents in duration and provide incentive to "award winning" musician to keep creating stuff which is supposedly for the ultimate benefit of society?

Wow!! Recently I have been wondering if Obama is the same guy I voted for. I'm starting to think he is a far more articulate W meat Muppet.

BTW: it is INFRINGEMENT not theft. Please think of the children! How are they supposed to learn to respect people in such lofty public office when they make such blatant malapropisms.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

"The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" - Herodotus

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- "The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" - Herodotus

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Recently I have been wondering if Obama is the same guy I voted for. I'm starting to think he is a far more articulate W meat Muppet.

Biden's record on this subject is unambiguous.  It's not new.  If you didn't do your homework on the guy when Obama picked him as his running-mate, that's on you.  Hell, GP covered it back then, too.

I've been disapponted in Obama too, but not especially surprised.  I think a lot of liberals used him as a sort of Rorschach test and treated him as a guy who would push his base's agenda in the same way Bush pushed his, but the truth is that he never campaigned as anything but middle-of-the-road.  He's, at best, another Clinton.

Which, mind you, still beats the hell out of the last guy we had.  Or McCain or, God forbid, Palin.

(McCain, in turn, beats the hell out of his recent primary challenger, JD Hayworth, my former Congressman.  It's a pity our political system is made up of a series of lesser-evil candidates.)

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

No doubt. I did my homework and well compromises have to be made. I figured a short leash would have been part of the deal. I did not see the CS left ball coming however.

For what it is worth, I concur with your base opinion on the the state-of-affairs politically speaking.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

"The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" - Herodotus

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- "The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" - Herodotus

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

its theft and stopping theft is all well and good ... apart from when what you do does little to nothing to stop it hurts your customers and often used as an excuse to attack the used game market.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Just FYI: The Ten Commandments say, "Thou Shalt Not Steal."

They do not say, "Thou Shalt Not Copy."

Don't get me wrong, I do think commercial artists deserve to get paid. I just think they need to cut out the middlemen. If the labels are suffering, screw them. We don't need them and we are increasingly finding that they get in the way more than promote artists and have no understanding of how the market works now. (OK Go's video embedding troubles demonstrate this)

Every major advance in technology "kills jobs" and causes dinosaurs to whine and lobby Washington, then suddenly the new technology, if Washington doesn't succeed in crushing it, creates ten more new industries and proves we don't need the dinosaurs. This has happened over and over throughout our history with every major advance.

I agree that "Piracy is theft" because piracy means taking over somebody else's ship on the ocean. Making a video that combines a Metallica song with pictures of cats isn't piracy.

Oh noes! The Catholic Church can't stop people copying the Bible cuz they have printing presses now!! Call the Lolcat Police!!

Another reason, as if any more were needed, not to vote for Obama and company!

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Ahem.

 

I agree with most of the post, but I must comment that the last line is oddly out of place.
It's not like McCain or Palin would exactly be on the side of "Copyright infringement"

All the major parties in the US are pretty much on the side of the RIAA and others who can afford to give them millions for their campaigns.

(And the smaller parties would be on those sides too if they had a chance in hell of getting elected)
 

All the political parties are like many businesses, relics of another time that refuse to update to the modern world.

 

 

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

It's not like McCain or Palin would exactly be on the side of "Copyright infringement"

Unless they wanted to use a Jackson Browne song in their campaign without permission.

Seriously, though, you're right; while Biden's one of the biggest cheerleaders for the RIAA, the alternatives aren't really any better.  The DMCA was passed by a bipartisan majority and signed by Clinton, and attempts to expand it have continued apace through Bush and Obama's administrations.  It's not a partisan issue, except inasmuch as it's corporations versus consumers.

None of which excuses piracy, mind, but if I want to play a DVD under Linux that should be legal.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Well, Biden is pretty much in the entertainment industry's pocket.

Not that Palin is a real prize either, mind you.  I'm just saying, on this issue, Biden is a terrible person to have in office.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Whilst I do agree that Piracy is theft, I still think the water gets murky when you are 'stealing' something that the company doesn't even produce any more. Who is REALLY costing the writer money in those cases, the person downloading the audio because it cannot be bought in shops, or the company who, for all their claims of supporting the artist, will drop them the moment they are no longer profitable? Don't believe this 'supporting the artist' bullshit, record companies expect the artist to more than return on that 'support'.

As for Government statements on the matter, well, forgive me if I take an institution that sells its opinion to the highest bidders' comments with a pinch of salt.

 

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Ah, conflation, the go to argument of choice for pompous, political, blowhards.

my vanity is justified

my vanity is justified

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

If free file sharing is theft, let's just call bullshit on digital distribution as a whole. When you used to pay for an album, you payed for an ALBUM. I acknowledge that I should be paying for a service, and I will, but if we want to put an end to 'digital piracy', we would have to put an end to digital distribution, which isn't going to happen. If you don't want your 'service' stolen, go analog. By virtue of being digital, information is going to be duplicated--Without expense. See, the world is begging for a nother revolution, and that can happen with digital distribution. If we want to remain capitalists, we're going to have to eliminate digital distribution. However, if we want to push forward with this new and exciting soft technology, we're going to have to desert old and even current economic models. The digital world is too vast and advanced a development to carry on as we do monetarily.

If we want to discuss property and services theft as a whole, then we still run into a problem. People used to (And still do) pay to both listen to and watch music performances at a music hall. And in the times of vinyl, it music was nowhere as expensive as it is now. Regardless, this 'intellectual property' debate is pure trite. No intellectual property has been stolen. Nobody is hijacking your music and profiting by selling it as their own property and service. If they are, those are the people you go after.

As per Biden and his comments, he's a wolf-in-sheeps'-clothing and his words are BS. First, I want to know the names of these artists who have had their livelihoods destroyed. I can list tons of popular noise-makers who are rolling in the dough. Whoever the artists are, they likely lost their livelihoods to a bad record deal. And as the other commenter has noted, really, the people who suffer are producers. If that's the case, they're not interested in preserving IPs, only the money they get out of a salable name. Also, you should never be so cocksure that you're damn salable enough to retire on royalties. That's just a very poor business and financial choice, no matter if you're digital or analog. That's purely unreliable and has little to do with how music was 'stolen' and that person ought to be embarrassed by their own financial illiteracy.

What it comes down to for politicians and the governement is money as well. When you get enough labels calling foul, feds see dollar signs for all the money they'll make in locking people up for a less-than justifiable reason. As well, the more people convicted, the more prison space needed. The more prison space needed, the more prisons constructed in small towns. The more prisons in small towns, the more economies get built up and pass the dollars 'round. All it's ever about is keeping government economics afloat.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Piracy has been going on since WAAAAAAAY before digital distribution.

That being said, most piracy isn't taking someone else's work and claiming it as your own, and piracy shouldn't be limited as such.  If that were the case, you might as well give IP owners absolutely no rights whatsoever.

---

With the first link, the chain is forged.

--- With the first link, the chain is forged.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

You are correct, piracy most certainly has existed since the dawn of mankind. However, original piracy actually dealt exclusively with the theft of property which had material value. And before there were means of both distributing music through both digital and material means, there was simply no such thing as music piracy. Theft of music only ever became a reality when we industrialized it. There was a time when bards and the like weren't reliant on selling a file or a record containing their music to support themselves. Encompassing this new idea of 'digital piracy', in concept, I suppose we ought to ban libraries, as they too promote the 'theft of potential revenue'.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

A couple points to consider here:

"And before there were means of both distributing music through both digital and material means, there was simply no such thing as music piracy."

Never heard of bootleg recordings?  There most certainly was music being copied and sold by pirates before anyone had even considered any such thing as digital distribution.  Same goes for movies.

"I suppose we ought to ban libraries, as they too promote the 'theft of potential revenue'"

Libraries actually do pay for the material they loan out.  I'm not totally familiar with the specifics, but I know that stuff does get paid for.

Finally, I work in the games industry.  If you download a copy of a game you haven't paid for, you're stealing it.  It doesn't matter if you would have bought it or not.  It doesn't matter if you didn't take away someone else's copy.  It's still theft.  Whether you walk out of a store with a boxed copy under your shirt, or get it with Bit Torrent, you're stealing.  Means of distribution has nothing to do with it.

And as for bards.... What possible relavence does that have to the discussion?  Are you arguing that musicians should only get paid for live performances because before recordings existed that was all they got paid for?

===============

Chris Kimberley

===============

Chris Kimberley

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Piracy is theft.

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

Which is why pirates are frequently convicted for larceny.

my vanity is justified

my vanity is justified

Re: US Commerce Secretary: 'Piracy is Unadulterated Theft'

 I'm so tired of people claiming that song writers are being ripped off when, in reality, its their record labels that suffer.  

 
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