On the weekend, educational fair dealing advocate Howard Knopf used his blog to lecture Ms. Atwood about copyright infringement and theft. Knopf is a lawyer, specializing in copyright. He has appeared twice (so far) in front of the C-32 Committee. I have four times in the pool.
According to Knopf:
Ms. Atwood still doesn’t "get" certain basic facts about law and economics. Stealing cars or diamond rings gives the thief additional tangible possessions and deprives the owner of these possessions.
This is the beginning of the standard free culture canard about copyright infringement not depriving the creator of their creation. If I illegally download a copy of The Year of the Flood, Ms. Atwood still owns the original. Nothing of substance has been taken; therefore it can't be theft.
I believe a six year-old child can see the flaw in that logic. In fact, I've tested this out on six year-olds, showing them how if I don't put allowance money in their piggy bank one week despite their having earned it, they still have all the money that was originally in there -- therefore nothing is stolen. "See," I say, "it's like an egg management fee."
Still, we hear all the time that piracy is not theft. This point usually comes to us in the voice of comic-book guy from the Simpsons -- "erm, I think you will find that the legal definition of theft does not apply, strictly speaking, to the act of copyright infringement" -- but it's a relentless comic book guy assault.
Except today a very prominent pirate, TVO tech journalist Jesse Brown, has called what he does to obtain content "stealing" and has gone to great lengths to justify his thievery with all the standard anti-corporate favorites from free culture theory. I don't really want to steal; Rogers and Bell make me steal with their high prices and terrible customer service. Or, as Brown puts it:
It’s a no-brainer. I’d rather be a thief than a sucker.
Read the whole Toronto Life piece:
Honour Among Thieves
And by all means follow the comment stream for an interesting plot development. Many early commenters disagree with Brown's take on piracy as a mechanism for encouraging better telecom. They make legitimate rebuttals and express genuine dismay with Brown's rationalizations. A bit later in the stream we see a sudden wave of comments accusing those earlier commenters of being corporate astroturfers, linking to a tweet by law professor and free culture theorist Micheal Geist showing a creator-friendly website informing its followers of Brown's article.
Brown and Geist have played this game before, tag-tweeting novelist Nino Ricci with accusations of propagandizing. The irony here, of course, is that they rallied a flock of true believers to blame creators for being rallied. You can't make this stuff up.
But let's not lose sight of what's been said today. Jesse Brown has dropped the twin free culture mottos - "Stealing is wrong, but piracy isn't stealing" - "I believe creators should be paid for their work" - stepped from behind the mask and said, flat out, I steal creative content and I think I'm right to do so.
This is new, and extremely revealing. I've listened to a lot of bafflegab and flim flam from the free culture camp over the last decade, but I've never heard anyone just come right out with it like Brown did today. I'm tempted to admire him (but for all that astroturfing nonsense he pulls to avoid engaging with those who disagree with him).
I guess all that's left is for Brown's friends to back him up on his statement.
How about it Dr. Geist? You helped your buddy Jesse out today by releasing your hounds on the dissenters. I guess that means you think, like Jesse does, that content piracy is stealing, and that stealing is okay.
I'll wait to hear differently.