The ability of the human mind to rationalize is extraordinary. Take piracy. Among the many comments we have received in response to our postings on the subject, we have heard every rationalization under the sun, ranging from “I didn’t know it was copyrighted” to “I don’t know what copyright is” to “DRM sucks” to “The e-book wasn’t available on legitimate retail sites” to “Information wants to be free” to “I’m not reselling, just sharing with friends” to “The percentage of pirated books is an insignificant fraction of sales through legitimate channels” etc. etc.
Piracy is something that other people do. When we do it there’s always a good excuse. When other people do it, it’s as heinous as grand theft auto.
Clearly, there is a disconnect between the phenomenon of rampant piracy and the scarcity of perpetrators, and the reason seems to be semantic. If we can develop better definitions we may be able to develop better solutions.
Towards that end we offer the following categories of pirate:
1. The Innocent
Young children, technologically inexperienced individuals and others who know nothing about copyright law or Internet etiquette and don’t realize they may be stealing when they download music or e-books. People who simply don’t know better.
2. The Ignorant
These are downloaders who know enough about copyright law to understand the difference between right and wrong, but choose to ignore or flout it.
Though many who fall into this category are young, the classification includes adults, some of whom are highly educated – business people, computer engineers and other professionals who should know better.
We’re giving Innocents/Ignorants the benefit of the doubt by describing their acts of downloading as “inadvertent” or “improper” rather than “illegal.” But if nothing else they must be aware of the legal principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. If an aggrieved publisher decides to sue you for illegally downloading e-books – as has been done in the music and movie fields – your case will not be automatically dismissed because you didn’t know it was against the law.
3. The Customer
These are people who paid for one version of a book and feel entitled to acquire other versions without paying for them. A good example is the case of a consumer who buys a hardcover edition of a bestselling novel and feels justified in downloading a pirated e-book because the publisher’s legitimate e-book version has not yet been released. No less a personage than the New York Times‘s own ethical arbiter felt that a customer has the right to do this. (See NY Times Ethicist Condones Ripping Off E-Books). In other cases, consumers impatient with DRM restrictions will download a ripped off version of a file instead of paying for it and dealing with customer support.