Illegal downloading: more like trespass than stealing

April 22, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More

This ABC news report reframes what it means to illegally download intellectual property.

[Professor Stuart Green from Rutgers University Law School] says illegal downloading is more similar to the crime of trespass than it is to theft.

“To say that there was a trespass is traditionally understood to mean that there was a temporary use of someone’s property without permission,” he said.

“If someone trespasses on your property it means that they’ve come uninvited but they haven’t deprived you of use. They haven’t deprived you of the basic possession of the property.

“But to say that someone’s stolen something is to say something much more serious. It’s probably the single most substantial form of property crime that we have.

“And that’s exactly what the music and movie industries in the United States would like to happen. They want people to think that illegal downloading is just as bad and should be punished just as severely.”


Category: Intellectual property, Law Enforcement Abuses

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Adam Herman says:

    I don’t know about trespassing, because there’s generally no economic damage from purely trespassing, whereas piracy has a cost to the owner.

    However, I also agree that it’s not stealing, since stealing is denying the use of something to the owner. It’s probably a closer equivalent to sneaking into a movie theater without paying.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    In cases of copyright infringement, the concept of economic damage is suspect at best in most cases.

    The rationalization for economic damages is as follows:

    Someone either invents a new technology and patents it, or creates an artwork and copyrights it. Copyrights and patents are limited licenses granting monopoly control over the application of ideas.

    These licenses do not protect the originator of a new idea. As pointed out by Don Lancaster ip laws only give one the right to sue. Whether you win or lose is determined by how many lawyers you can afford.

    The only cases of IP rights infringement that can be proven to cause economic damage to an IP rights holder, are the cases where unauthorized copies are sold in direct competition against the IP owner. In those situations, the competitor is directly cutting into the profits of the IP owner.
    However, the vast majority of free downloads of copyrighted material are by individuals with no wish to profit from the material and in most cases are unable to purchase the material in any way.

    In many cases, the transgressor is a corporation. In these cases the corporations reap major rewards and can outspend the originator in legal arenas.

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