• Panelist Login

Is it wrong to share copyrighted songs and video over the internet?

I think the law should be changed to take away the protection of copyright. What do you think?

January 23, 2006

Response from Bernard Gert on January 26, 2006
If it is illegal to share copyrighted songs and video over the internet, then it is morally wrong to share copyrighted songs and video over the internet. Not that it is always wrong to do what is illegal, but in this case, it is rational to hold that the law is a justified law, and except in special circumstances, it is immoral to violate what some impartial rational persons take as justified law. Many people under 21 think it is not wrong for them to drink alcoholic beverages even though that is against the law. However, it is rational to hold that this law is justified, and so it is immoral to violate it.

Although both the law against sharing copyrighted songs and video over the internet and prohibiting drinking by people under 21 are rationally regarded as justified laws, it is also rational to hold that these laws should be changed. Rational people, even when they have the same knowledge, do not always agree about what should be done. If one strongly believes the law is a bad one and should be changed or repealed, then it is morally permitted to act so as to get the law changed or repealed. If one can engage in nonviolent protest against the law, e.g., organize a very large group to publicly violate the law, this might count as justified civil disobedience.

However, to violate one of these laws secretly, that is, to hold that since one does not agree with these laws that some impartial rational people do accept as justified, one is not morally obliged to obey the law, is clearly immoral and example of arrogance. No impartial rational person would hold that anyone who disagrees with a controversial law can violate it secretly, but they might hold that someone disagrees with a controversial law can violate it publicly in order to get it changed.
Response from David Papineau on January 29, 2006

I'm going to comment on the question of whether copyright laws are in fact justified, rather than the question Bernard Gert addresses, namely, of whether it is morally wrong in general to violate laws (though in passing I can't stop myself observing that, when it comes to internet activities, it's not always obvious which country's laws should apply).

One possible view of copyright (and of intellectual property generally) is that the creators of such property have an absolute right of ownership, and that the job of the law is simply to protect this right.

But an alternative view is that intellectual property is a socio-legal construction (however it is with other forms of property) and that the job of the law is (a) to allow the public to maximally benefit from the creation, while at the same time (b) ensuring that there are sufficient incentives to encourage the creation in the first place.

Nearly all systems of modern law are based on the second view, as is shown by the fact that they place a time limit on the period for which creators can control their creations (twenty years for patents, seventy years after publication/creator's death for works of art, and so on).

From the perspective of this second view, it clearly makes sense that there should be some incentives for creators. But this leaves it open exactly how the balance should be struck between legal protection for creators and allowing the public to benefit. (This conflict is most obvious in the case of life-saving treatments patented by drug corporations, but the point is general.)

In practice, the legal balance is struck as a result of politic0-legal processes in which the creators' representatives argue for greater ownership rights, and and the consumers' representatives for more freedom.

In general, the creators' representatives invest vastly more resources in this process than the consumers' representatives. (Moreover, at an international level, the creators' countries generally have vastly more power that the consumers' countries.)

Given this, and applying Bernard Gert's test, it is hard to believe that any fully informed 'impartial rational' person would regard the current laws of intellectual property as justified.

Print PRINT Send2friends E-MAIL

Recipient's e-address: required
(separate multiple e-addresses with commas)
Your name: required
Your e-address: required



If you provide your e-mail address, you will be automatically notified whenever this question receives a response. Your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose, and it will not be given or sold to anyone.


Digg! Digg