Damien Grant: Integrity's lost with theft of copyright


It would be fair to say I have not always been scrupulous about respecting other people's property rights but, like St Paul, once I found the religion I became evangelical.

The theft of intellectual property by downloading songs and movies does not feel like stealing, but it is. No one cares about Hollywood movie moguls and the likes of Kanye West, who live in a world of great wealth and morally ambiguous starlets.

Copyright is important to New Zealand. A 2011 PwC report estimated that the film and television industry contributes $2.7 billion to annual GDP and employs 21,000 people who earn an average salary of $71,000.

It is a lucrative and important business that contributes more than the wine industry.

The NZ Federation Against Copyright Theft (NZFACT), an industry body, estimates that as much as a quarter of potential revenue is lost to copyright theft, yet the law has no effective remedy.

Frederick Higgins, convicted of illegally copying Sione's Wedding from the production house where he worked, escaped prison. He earned, instead, 300 hours' community service, despite costing the producers an estimated million dollars.

The three strikes downloading law is proving to be sadly ineffective.

Some copyright anarchists claim that making a copy of a film or a song is not theft, because the original is still intact. Copying a movie is not the same as stealing a bicycle, goes the argument, because if you remove a bicycle the original owner has lost it.

The argument is seductive. If I copy something of yours, you still have it. How is it possible that I have stolen something that is still in your possession? If this is true you will not mind if I copy your medical records and post them online. You still have them, what is the problem? Making a copy without the owner's consent is not just illegal, it is immoral. The material belongs to someone and they have rights over it. You do not.

Rampant breaches of copyright can lead to low-budget films being rushed to market, which is how some Indian studios respond, but this is a practical concern. The real issue is one of personal integrity. Stealing is wrong. Do not do it.

The other argument made to justify downloading is the cost is too high. It is "their" fault for setting the price too high. If the cost was "fair" we would agree to pay.

Rubbish. If you cannot afford an iTunes movie, tough. iTunes is not obligated to set a price at a level acceptable to you. I think the price of a taxi to the airport is too expensive, but this does not entitle me to a free ride.

- Herald on Sunday

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