I am Gezegond, and this used to be my personal blog.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What is Piracy? What is copyright?

- Why do people pay $60 for a game when they can just download it off a torrent for free?
- Downloading games from torrents is ILLEGAL! The developers will be unable to earn money for their hard work and will probably lose their jobs when you pirate games!!!

The above conversation is what you typically witness in forums or chat rooms when the topic somehow shifts to the issue of piracy; some people are in favor of it, some are strongly opposed to it, and some just don't care.

But Who's really right? Who's in the wrong? To find the answer, first we must see what piracy exactly is.  And for that we need to know about the exact meaning of copyright:

Why Copyright?
Piracy is (not) Theft.
Fair Use: How to legally infringe a copyright?
Read More

Why Copyright?

"A copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state to the creator of an original work or their assignee for a limited period of time upon disclosure of the work." "To encourage a dynamic culture, while returning value to creators so that they can lead a dignified economic existence, and to provide widespread, affordable access to content for the public."
Before the passing of copyright law, people used to write books as a hobby. To encourage people to write books and be creative (which would in turn benefit the whole society) the governments began to give the authors "the right to copy their works". This meant that only the authors were allowed to copy their books, so they were the only people who were able to sell them. This would become a source of income for the authors, letting them live by simply writing and being creative. A copyright will expire 70 years after the death of the author, so the authors can even write when they're old, leaving the income of their books for their families.

If the copyright law didn't exist, anyone could copy a book and sell it to the public for any price he desired, leaving the original author with little to no income for living. Although the copyright law  originally applied to only the copying of books, today it covers a wide range of works, including maps, sheet music, dramatic works, paintings, photographs, architectural drawings, sound recordings, motion pictures and computer programs.

"The first Copyright law, passed in 1710"
"Copyright infringement is the unauthorized or prohibited use of works under copyright, infringing the copyright holder's exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works."

"The copyright infringement of software (often imprecisely referred to as software piracy) refers to several practices which involve the unauthorized copying of computer software."
Basically, if you copy someone else's (copyrighted) work, you're infringing his copyright. Doing so is illegal, and prevents the said person from earning from his work.
"Copyright Infringement" is a technical word which is not understandable for normal people, therefore companies try to use other more understandable terms, such as piracy. Piracy in itself is a kind of theft, that's why you hear this "Piracy is Theft" thing a lot.

However, calling copyright infringement "piracy" is a huge exaggeration. While Copyright Infringement is certainly a crime, it differs from theft in that theft deprives the owner of his possession, while this does not happen when a copyright infringement occurs. As an example, when you steal someone's car, that person won't be able to use his car anymore, because he does not have it, but when you copy someone's video game, he will still be able to play it because he still has his own copy.

Copyright Infringement is kinda like stealing a part of someone's belongings: If you pirate a game, the developer won't go bankrupt, but he won't earn the money he would've otherwise earned from your purchase. If everyone pirates his game, it can be (kinda) said that the game was stolen from him, as in he does not have the ability to use his game for the purpose of earning at all.
Thus, calling Copyright Infringement "Theft" is similar to calling an Assault "Murder".

 "The difference between Theft and Copyright Infringement"
"Fair use is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. In United States copyright law, fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders."
The definition of copyright raises a question for many: To what extent does copyright law prohibit copying? Let's say downloading a "Halo" game without paying for it is illegal, is downloading another game based on Halo also illegal? What about reading a Halo fan-fiction (a story written in Halo universe by a fan) online? What about drawing Master Chief (Halo's protagonist) in your notebook? Is that illegal too? How about talking about Halo with one of your friends? 

To define the scope of the law, to prevent authors from using copyright as a means of erasing criticism, and to prevent copyright law from interfering with the basic human right of Freedom of Speech, the government(s) added "Fair Use" to the existing copyright law. Fair use let's you use all or a part of a copyrighted material for
uses such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. So if you write a review for a Halo game, you haven't infringed copyright, since using the contents of the game for criticism is considered fair use. You can also publish screenshots of the game on your blog, as a piece of news.

There are two major shortcomings within the fair use doctrine:
1-It is not exactly defined what use is fair and what is not. You can't say for sure whether your usage was fair or not unless you go to a court and hear the judge's decision.
2-Fair use is a defense, not a right. This means that big companies can sue you over copyright infringement whenever they want. You then have to go to a court and use "fair use" (or other limitations to the copyright law) as a defense.

These two shortcomings allow big companies to abuse the copyright law: Even when it's clear that a use is fair, they send C&D (Cease and Desist) letters to people, asking them to take down their contents or face legal action. They know that most individuals can't afford to engage in an expensive lawsuit, so they will obey them even when they're sure that their use was fair.

 "Did I just commit a CRIME???"

I will talk more about this subject in my next article about piracy: Criticism of Copyright.

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