From a very young age, people told me I should be an attorney. When I was a kid I thought that was a compliment, but as I got older I realized it was merely commentary on my ability to come up with an argument for (or against, for that matter) almost anything.
It’s a useful skill. And I’m pretty sure I would have made a great lawyer. As an adult I even reconsidered going to law school about ten years ago. But at the end of it all, I felt the same way as an adult that I did as a teenager and college student: I don’t approve of most of what most attorneys do and didn’t want to join the party.
Every now and then I write something here in which I speak about the law, and feel compelled to point out my “not an attorney” status. And of course, our Intellectual Property clients hire us in part specifically because nobody at Answer Guy Central is operating from the position of having passed a Bar Exam; I’m a business guy; we see change and adapt, rather than trying to work the system to the point where that work stops meaning anything.
Lately, the subject of Intellectual Property has become one bandied about by regular people. Whether it’s the Carpathia/MegaUpload debacle or Neil Young and Elvis Costello coming out in favor of music piracy, IP is now being discussed in the mainstream. This is great news; it will force changes in the media business that the media business itself has been resisting. It’s the kind of discussion that needs to take place; if the only people willing to speak openly about piracy are the Fred Wilsons of the world, nothing’s ever going to change. Fred Wilson just doesn’t reach enough of the Joe Sixpacks to get a real groundswell going. (Sorry, Fred)
Yesterday, this piece ran at Freakonomics, arguing, as this one from The New York Times had several days earlier, that Copying Isn’t The Same Thing as Theft. Sounds like these were both written by lawyers, putting forth the kinds of “difference without a distinction” positions that I was so good at as a child.
In reading the Freakonomics piece I can twist my mind to the point where I think that the authors at least got it right in lawyer-speak, by titling their piece “Copying is Not Theft” and relying on the legal definition of theft to make their point. I was actually thinking they were smart for not having titled the piece “Copying is not Stealing”; but for the wording, they might well have been wrong.
But the New York Times article is called “When Stealing Isn’t Stealing”. So much for that argument.
So let me come out, once again with the disclaimer that I’m not an attorney, that of course copying something you know belongs to someone else and that you’re supposed to pay for the privilege of possessing a copy of, IS stealing. But let me also say that Neil Young and Elvis Costello are right; it’s time this stops being the focus of the discussion. The way this business is done needs to change.
There needs to be more common sense applied to this subject. Thank goodness the US Supreme Court had more of it than the New Jersey Supreme Court did; the age of bits and bytes is different than what came before. And seriously: In what world should it be illegal to sell used software?
Copying may not be theft, but of course it’s stealing.
The real issue, though, is that it’s time that stopped being the thing we’re talking about and instead we concentrate on making real business change.