Domestic bliss is regularly interrupted in this Naked Lawyer’s house whenever we rent a DVD and have to sit through the opening sequences. You know the ones I mean – “you wouldn’t steal a [car/handbag/puppy]”, “piracy is a crime”, “you won’t get a warranty on a pirate DVD”… (all perfectly true). But hang on: “Piracy is stealing” (and this is where I start to rattle my popcorn and shout at the screen) – no it’s not! Call me a picky lawyer (ok, I admit it), but surely “stealing” refers to the offences set out in the Theft Acts – that is, broadly, depriving someone of something tangible that belongs to them. It does not refer to copyright infringement, and the Act that sets out the infringement offences certainly does not use the language of “stealing” and “theft”. Copyright infringement does not, at its heart, involve the taking of tangible property – the whole point is that copyright is an intangible right which can only be misused (or “infringed”) by others, not put in a sack and slung over your shoulder.
Now the film industry (along with the music and software industries) would have you believe that copyright infringement is theft because you are “stealing” the money that would otherwise have been paid to them if someone had bought a genuine copy of the film/song/application rather than a pirate one. This has always seemed to me to be a gross oversimplification. Just because someone buys a fake DVD doesn’t mean, had they not been able to do so, they would have otherwise bought the real deal. In fact, I would have thought that many people simply don’t want to pay the higher prices of the genuine copies and so, if they can’t get cheaper pirate ones, may not bother at all. In any event, the loss of a chance for the film company to make some money (ie. because someone already has a fake DVD) is not the same thing as stealing money the film company already has in its bank account.
Clearly, given my profession, I would not advocate piracy or condone the distribution of fake DVDs. But I do object to the inaccurate marketing used by film makers to try to prevent it. Yes, the public should be educated as to the ownership of rights in films and what they are and are not entitled to do with their copies. But they should not be subject to veiled references to crimes which do not apply and which, to me, look like unnecessary scaremongering.
And with that, I’ll put the popcorn back down.