Is filesharing like shoplifting?

The record company fat cats would have you think so, the movie barons likewise. They say that file-sharing is like shop-lifting. If they want to use the comparison then let’s extend it. Julian Sanchez from Ars Technica does exactly that in his article on the dodgy accounting and lies that the movie barons and record company executives and their lobbyist like to spout when they cry about  the harms that piracy causes and why they support draconian laws like SOPA and PIPA:

As a rough analogy, since antipiracy crusaders are fond of equating filesharing with shoplifting: suppose the CEO of Wal-Mart came to Congress demanding a $50 million program to deploy FBI agents to frisk suspicious-looking teens in towns near Wal-Marts. A lawmaker might, without for one instant doubting that shoplifiting is a bad thing, question whether this is really the optimal use of federal law enforcement resources. The CEO indignantly points out that shoplifting kills one million adorable towheaded orphans each year. The proof is right here in this study by the Wal-Mart Institute for Anti-Shoplifting Studies. The study sources this dramatic claim to a newspaper article, which quotes the CEO of Wal-Mart asserting (on the basis of private data you can’t see) that shoplifting kills hundreds of orphans annually. And as a footnote explains, it seemed prudent to round up to a million. I wish this were just a joke, but as readers of my previous post will recognize, that’s literally about the level of evidence we’re dealing with here.

In short, piracy is certainly one problem in a world filled with problems. But politicians and journalists seem to have been persuaded to take it largely on faith that it’s a uniquely dire and pressing problem that demands dramatic remedies with little time for deliberation. On the data available so far, though, reports of the death of the industry seem much exaggerated.


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  • Pharmachick


    Excellent comment from KiwiGreg at Kiwiblog (unintentional alliteration there, but nice effect) … anyways he said that prosecuting Megaupload is like “…prosecuting Xerox because people photocopied books…”

    In the face of SOPA and PIPA defeats on the SAME DAY, NZ should have been a little more circumspect is being party to a world-wide test case. It is endangering our international reputation for being affable, friendly, independent and [largely since 1985] neutral. 

  • Petal

    Protection of people’s property in law is a reasonable objective.  The shoplifting analogy may be poorly chosen, but in the end there are people who are getting benefit from your property for free whereas the conditions you placed on its use requires a payment of some kind.

    We all know what is right and what is wrong.  Downloading movies and watching them is wrong.

    I do it mind you.  But I still know it is wrong.

    I get irritated by these stupid arguments that are in itself flawed, and then that’s somehow used to justify copyright infringement.   

    It’s crap, and anyone with a decent ability to handle logic knows it.

    • Pharmachick

      ” …I do it mind you…”

      and you expect us to take your argument that 
      1) it is “wrong” as well as 
      2) your [implied argument] that it is okay to arrest and prosecute those nasty people that enabled copyright infringement through Megaupload. 

      Pray tell, is this simply because you choose to download from a different provider (so you’re still okay), or because your definition of “wrong” is “not being caught” 

    • Thorn

      Suggest you stay away from moral high ground issues.

    • Petal

      Both of you are idiots.  You are using exactly the same “logic”.  Just because I choose to download TV programs and watch them, that does not affect the validity of my argument.

      Attack my morality all you want.

      As I will attack your incapacity to think.

      Good grief.  

      • Thorn

        Rag time?

      • Pharmachick

        “Just because I choose to download TV programs and watch them, that does not affect the validity of my argument.”

        Yes it does.

        You lie to the government (by not admitting your online content downloads), 
        You cheat (by not paying taxes on your free torrent downloads)
        You Steal (by downloading copyright materials) 

        Your first post was a rant about property and IP rights.  

        After myself and Thorn called you out about your hypocrisy you degenerated into ad hominem attacks (and by the way; I doubt that either Thorn or Myself are stupid enough to be classed as “idiots”). 

        But good luck Petal, keep supporting this effort all the while you download illegal content online (at your own admission). You are a perfect example of “McCarthyism” and/or certain types of “good Nazi”

        [Godwin arrives}

  • Anonymous

    The music industry would have us believe that the loss they encur due to piracy amount the GDP’s of small developing nations.

    The money they have supposedly lost due to piracy was never going to be spent on their products anyway, it can’t, it never existed, save as an accounting fiction.

    For years the industry has been avoiding the obvious, that the public want a cheap digital global distribution model. Maybe the kick back from SOPA’s failure will be the jolt the industry needs. I doubt it.

  • EX Navy Greg

    I can’t see how Megaupload can get prosecuted. Most of what is there is legit.
    The analogy I would give is someone putting a photocopied book in the shelves at Auckland library.
    Surely megaupload can’t check every single file people have uploaded.

  • Peter Wilson

    Here’s another, albeit socialist analogy: Equate it with worker’s low wages which enable a corporate to earn big bucks on their product. Without the workers, the product couldn’t get made. Ergo, without buyers of CD’s etc, the artists wouldn’t get rich. So this is handing some power back to the people that generate the income to the artists.

  • Argon

    Does filesharing cost them money? Yes and no.
    No – because if I watch something I like I generally will go out and buy it (depending on price, availability, rewatchability) and recommend other people watch it.
    Yes – because if something is crap I will not watch any more, I will not buy it and will not recommend it thus filesharing has saved me money and cost the studio money.

    Good media sells and makes a profit.
    Bad media does not.
    Stop making crap movies/TV/music  and you’ll get better sales/income/profit.

  • Anonymous

    Argh when the state of the ‘entertainment’ industry includes paying people like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton to make stupid reality shows then I have no sympathy for them. 2 and a Half Men? I can’t see the investment in Ashton Kutcher paying off there. 

    It’s been said before and I’ll just repeat it because it’s so true – the entertainment industry needs to change its business model to adapt to the changing market place. The analogy about shoplifting is pretty accurate – it’s always been illegal to shoplift but people still do it. Chain stores don’t punish the public in general for the actions of the few – they invest in technology to prevent their goods from being stolen in the first place. Surely there’s a way (whether we can imagine it or not right now) that files can be protected from sharing or copying. Then the ‘pirates’ will find a way around that. Then the entertainment industry will fix that loophole and so forth and so on. Name an industry that doesn’t have a constantly changing market place or security protocols? Movie/TV/Music makers are just being lazy and don’t want to invest in the technology to protect their property – they would much rather waste the American tax payers money trying to push these through Congress and then generate more revenue through fines than they ever would have through sales. 

  • Roger

    Mr Farrar made a good point in his one blog post for stuff a while back.

    You want to put a HUGE dent in piracy then the MPAA and the RIAA need to realise that it isn’t 1985 anymore and that old staggered release and region restrictions don’t work anymore.
    Make your content available, everywhere, at a reasonable price using established distribution platforms (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Steam, Playstation Network, XBox Live etc.) or even create your own platform if it works well.
    And a huge number of people who are pirating things will pay for it (sure you will always get the people who don’t want to pay anything)
    Case in point, I wanted to purchase and  download a tv series I enjoy (Avatar: TLA). I cannot purchase it off iTunes as I do not have a US billing method (i.e. a US c/card). The only means by which I can actually get the TV series is to download pirated copies. (I haven’t)
    Here I am someone who would willingly spend my money on their product and they have ensured that the only way I can get it is through piracy.
    Oh sure I could get the DVD’s (which are more expensive) and rip them (I want to be able to put them on my tablet). But technically that is illegal as well because you aren’t meant to get around copy protection (which ripping does).

    Now I’m not naive enough to think for a second that doing that will magically end all piracy. But it would put a fairly large dent in it, and they will get revenue that they would not otherwise get (My +-$90 for all three Avatar: TLA seasons may not be that much, but add it to the other people around the world who would do the same it sure does add up)

    • Jay

      If you must pay, then buy some US iTunes recharge e-vouchers off eBay, or get one of those NZ multiple currency debit cards.

      • Roger de Laborde

        Yeah, you can also get a virtual visa debit card that is US based. That is still technically illegal though (believe it or not) because the idiots have declared bypassing regional restrictions to be illegal

  • Pharmachick

    This is just perfect … from today:

    ” …The gun in question, discovered in a safe just metres from where police arrested the German internet lord at his Auckland mansion, was a type never seen before by arms experts in New Zealand.”

    and here is the link

    I am thoroughly incensed at the NZ media about this. They originally tried to imply that this gun was in Mr. Dotcom’s hand or close to hand for immediate use. 

    Is it possible to complain to the Broadcasting Authority and/or the Media Council (do they still exist) about inaccuracies in media reports that are designed to imply guilt?     

    • Guest

      Great point. I would support this complaint!

    • Michael Duke

      I made the same point on this morning.

    • Roger

      What’s the bet the guns were registered and “found” properly secured in the gun safe.

      The longer this case goes on the smellier it gets. Adam Feely was probably pissed off that he wasn’t on the lead team given – I’ll hazard a guess he is smirking now. Wait ’till Paul Davison QC rips a new one for Captain Wormald

  • Mike Bravo

    I realise this is a complicated situation, even in my camp of libertarians.  If you read more on the history and origin of patents and copyrights you might be surprised to see how ill conceived the idea of intellectual property is.

    Even utilitarians will have to admit that there is no proof that protecting IP has a net increase in “utility” for a society.  In fact, most studies actually show the opposite, namely that the IP system and its cost far exceed any possible “benefits”.

    Furthermore IP does not conform to Private Property rights, as I see them, espoused by Locke, Bastiat or most Austrian economists.

    Don’t have a seizure, just have a look at Kinsella’s arguments:

  • Jam_Sammie

    I think the problem here is not that of copyright infringement because presumably someone had to buy it to share it in the first place. The problem is the music and movie giants just are not meeting the market with affordable products and are reluctant to get with the digital age of file sharing and online content availability. They stupidly leave it to people like Apple to corner the market and then use them as a benchmark for pricing, proprietary access and wonder why people turn to file sharing.

    People would be far less likely to replicate their own legally purchased products if they were cheap enough in the first place. That said there are the age demographics to consider…the current digital age is all about file sharing be it pictures, experiences, general files, movies and music. Facebook, Myspace (almost buggered) Flickr, Twitter and so on are the domain of the teens and twenty somethings (the rest of us are merely basic users). The same applies to Megaupload and Piratebay. They may have a few thirty and forty something users but far outweighed by the above mentioned. Filesharing websites are a huge business opportunity for the music and movie industries they just have to start thinking out of the box.For as long as the internet has existed there has been file sharing in one form or another starting with Napster and Limewire to name just a couple. they have 100″s of Millions of users does that not arouse the interest of some marketing gurus? Surely a better strategy is if you cant beat them join them and by doing so there will be money to be made. So, if i were SME or WB I would be looking at buying a successful file sharing site like Megaupload or Piratebay and using the userbase to my advantage. Megaupload from what I can tell is trading in millions of dollars of legitimate content so why would you not embrace that and charge the download users. the uploaders will in time probably replicate some movies or songs that are already out there and so that will manage some content. Advertising revenue alone would make sqillions for them. It makes more commercial sense to do that than trying to lobby governments to shut them down. File sharing sites have been around for 20 years they are not about to go away…time to embrace the technology and take advantage of the userbase.

  • I have an interesting position on this. I’m in a bit of a similar position to Petal, in that I am sort of aware that downloading music without paying is wrong – but I still do it. However – I also spend money on CD’s, or moreso these days – iTunes downloads, of my favourite artists. Some of those favourite artists, I would never have discovered a liking for without filesharing. I also paid to go to a concert of a band whose music I once “stole”. So it comes in swings and roundabouts.

    I also think that if rubbishy music that only appeals to kids with no money gets stolen, all the better, and hopefully the record companies stop investing their money in autotuned bieberboybands, then only good music will get made. I hope filesharing will do that. 

  • John Q Pubic

    Seems to me, to expand the shoplifting analogy, that many of you believe it’s simply a case of the retailer is perceived to be pricing this product higher than you think it should be, therefore pinching is ok because they should just change their business model, and stop being so 1985.

    That is well fucked up as an argument, particularly from right-thinking people.

    • Jam_Sammie

      That is not what I said JQP. 

    • Michael Duke

      It is not that we object to the price, it is that the US business model is only available in the US.  So much for a global economy I guess huh? 

      Look at a Hulu+ membership @ $6.99USD/Month or a Amazon Prime Account, or Netflix. None of these are available outside the US and that SUCKS.

    • Roger

      But the retailer doesn’t get prosecuted by the manufacturer for allowing the shoplifter access to the product stolen. Any more than NZ Post is lined up for proscecution for facilitating (by providing a mail service) the transfer of counterfeit CD’s between the counterfeiter and the purchaser.

      This megaupload case looks wrong on so many fronts.

    • Mike Bravo

      That seems to be the standard line from people I talk to as well, which would be more appropriate coming from socialists.

      My point is that IP is not private property.  See my other comment.

      It should be the task of the producer / author to spend his money to encrypt his software / movies etc rather than obtaining a privilege from the state allowing him to use the states courts and police to enforce his privileges.

      The only reason this happens is because it is cheaper for the IP holders to get the state to grant them privileged positions, than to spend moeny researching decent encryption abilities.

    • Roger de Laborde

      Not at all JQP. I’m happy to buy the product for a reasonable price (i.e. downloaded content should not cost more than buying the physical copy, goes for books as well as music, movies and games).

      The problem is, with their 1980’s distribution model, I have no legal means by which to purchase the downloadable content.
      I can’t even ask a friend in the US to buy them for me and send them along, because that is illegal (which I could if I was buying the physical copy).

      Their distribution model means that if I really want the content, the only way I can get it is by getting a pirated copy, despite the fact that I am more than willing to pay for the content.

      Heck the whole reason that places like MU and Rapidshare make money is because people are willing to pay money to be able to download stuff

  • Jam_Sammie

    Price is part of the issue but this problem has been built up over the last 12 or so years with the advent of MP3 audio encoding. I’m sure there are plenty of you on this blog that remember when this started and when it did almost all mobile audio hardware manufacturers got on board. Creative Labs had an MP3 player, Microsoft, Sony plus all the car audio manufacturers BUT not a single record company was providing MP3 files for download…Interesting!! Even before iTunes Apple were making iPods and where did they expect people to get their music from? they too were relying on the file sharing networks to drive sales of their products though I doubt they would admit it.

    It’s been an electronic evolutionary process. The file sharers and copiers drove the market for many years for the afore mentioned manufacturers and nobody has said a word about that. Now we have MP4 for movies and internet speeds are able to deliver the content we have the ability to enjoy almost immediately. Prior to that people have been copying DVD’s and VHS for relatives  for bloody years and again nothing has been said about the hardware manufacturers and what drives their product development. 

    Sorry for the ranting people but my point is simply this: All the media products we have today have been born out of file sharing. Like it or not the entertainment industry will not stop it. It is part of what is the culture of the internet and the users.

    • Honcho

      Agree, if they prosecute megaupload, they might as well prosecute samsung et al, as I amongst others have used their CDR (when that was high tech) and DVDR drives to ‘burn’ media I do not ‘own’ to discs.

      • Jam_Sammie

        @d6abd0487414825e239e99c0e042273d:disqus  Honcho, yes that is really what it boils down to. Now that Apple have the lions share of the so called “legitimate” users the only other way to extract revenue is from prosecuting anyone else who is making a killing and seeking damages. Mr Dotcom is a target because of the money he is making and not because of what he is or is not doing. The real questions should be asked of the hardware manufacturers. How is it that their equipment has no built in content protection if this is such a huge problem? Why are their asses not being sued for allowing said content to be downloaded, distributed and held on these devices? Answer: Because without them there would be little or no legitimate market and what is better, live with the piracy and nab the big fellas or restrict the market and sell bugger all?

  • Cactus Kate

    I am more than happy to pay for tv and DVDs. What I detest though is Hong Kong being about half a year behind US releases. The pricks invite piracy by delaying releases of things. Why should I wait til I know how a tv series ended before I can buy the DVD?

    I tried to buy Apple TV the other day. HK doesn’t even sell the units least of all have iTunes music for sale, so fuck it.

    • Pharmachick

      Agree with Cactus 100% on this … it is a stupid hold over form the days when films (reels) were shipped. There is no apparent reason for delaying film premieres these days. The other thing there’s no excuse for is the bloody useless “world-wide zoning” of DVDs. Fucking stupid idea from Studio execs that are hanging on by grim fingernails and were mostly raised in the ’50s. Twats.

  • Tristanb

    For the people saying they know “it is wrong” to download MP3 files. You’re incorrect.

    It’s illegal, but it’s not immoral. You’re just copying files. What’s the problem? Did it cost anyone any money? Nope. Were you going to buy the album? Probably not. So where’s the wrong?

    It’s only illegal because media companies have undue influence over the US government, and make it a law that a song recorded 30 years ago can only be sold by the company who owns the rights. How is that fair?

    It’s disgusting that even our government passes laws that make most of its people criminals, just to suck up to their celebrity friends.

    Besides, if copyright infringement is the same as shoplifting, why are the punishments much more severe? 2 helicopters and 76 cops is not the usual police response when they catch Jaykob with a PS3 game under his hoodie!

  • MrV

    Isn’t one of the key issue here that the music and movie industries operate as a cartel.

    In other words there is very little price discrimination, you’d can’t pay less for Bieber because it’s s*it compared to say some more valued band. Same for movies.
    In this environment it is inevitable a black market will occur via file sharing.

    Why are these industries allowed to operate as a legal cartel? We would not accept it in any other area of business/society? (aside from central banking).

  • jay cee

    i’ll admit i’m an ignoramus abou downloading movies,my kids do it and i’ve watched movies at their places. this is the same situation that existed some 30 years ago when good old vcr’s hit the market. someone in authority the police i think tried to warn people that it was against the law to tape anything and share it with another. well we  all know how well that worked dont we?
    i’m all for the movies to be made more affordable. as a law that is so flagrantly being broken
    is a bad law.

  • MrV

    Important to note the history here …

    Playing artists music on the piano was going to destroy the music industry.
    Then taping music off the radio
    Then copying cassettes
    Then copying CD’s

    Now Digital File Sharing …

  • EX Navy Greg

    I just don’t get it. If I record something on the sky box, then have 20 people around to watch it, what,s the difference ? Technically that is sharing an electronic file as well.

  • Cobalt Wizard

    Me thinks John “I O U” Key is repaying his debt to Hollywood (we kept the Hobbit here) and his debt to the USA government (I got to shake hands with Obama) by letting the “honest” folk at the FBI come to NZ and lay down their paranoia about controlling the internet and arresting entrepreneurs. Silly me thought that only happened in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. USA are proving by their actions that they are controlled by the multinationals who can not innovate but instead manipulate. And it looks like John Key is but their puppet. This is a sad day for the internet.

    • Anonymous

      Whatever Robyn…