I’ve been having some interesting discussions in the backblog about piracy and related issues, yet the one thing we haven’t fully defined is “What is piracy?” This is not an idle question, nor is this post going to answer the whole question. What should be an easy answer becomes mired in a series of “What ifs?”
What is piracy?
- Reselling media without paying the license holder?
- Downloading from a website without paying for the content?
- Taping songs off the radio/
- Buying a used book or CD?
- Watching broadcast television but skipping commercials?
- Making a copy of a CD for the hot chick in biology?
- Getting fed up because you’ve already bought, like, ten copies of London Calling — why should you have to pay for it again?
Depending on who you talk to, piracy might be all this and more. If we take the simplest definition, which applies to the first and the fourth items on my list, then you lose the right to a long-affirmed privilege: the doctrine of first sale. But if I buy an entire album (also known as “collection of songs designed to be sold as a unit”) from iTunes and decide I don’t really want to keep the music in my collection, am I allowed to sell those songs on eBay…if I promise to limit my sale to only one bidder — and delete the music from my hard-drive once the sale is consummated?
Is that piracy? I’ve legally purchased the music, and, under the first-sale doctrine, I have a right to resell it. But things get sticky when it comes to digital media, don’t they? What if I don’t delete the music from my hard-drive? What if I’ve accidentally left a copy on my iPod?
How do my rights as a consumer come into play in the era of digital media? At what point in the process can I safely say that I “own” my music? This is not rhetorical question — I keep harping on the upcoming Zune versus iPod wars. Not because I think there’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight on the streets between fans of each device, but because I think people are going to get very angry when they realize there is no device portability for their music. Most people don’t know from digital rights management (“DRM”), and don’t fully grasp that the songs they buy won’t be playable on new, cooler devices.
So my question is, again, what is piracy? Shouldn’t we, as a planet, have a common definition of the crime before we start to legislate the punishment?