"Piracy Is Not Theft" graphic by Patri Friedman

Piracy Is Not Theft

Thanks to Jessica Ferris for sending in this great image by Patri Friedman. How much more simply can one say it? Copying leaves the original untouched, therefore copying is not theft.

It's interesting to read some of the commentary on Friedman's post. For example: "This seems like semantic hair-splitting. If I go to some sort of practitioner of whatever and walk out without paying, I haven't stolen anything tangible, just their time. Is it meaningfully different than if I'd reached into their wallet and removed $60 or whatever? I doubt they'd be any less cheesed off if I told them "actually what just happened wasn't technically theft, it was something else." [1]

Friedman's response is terrific:

It is not semantic hair-splitting. It is a simple, genuine, important difference. Your example indicates that you don't understand it, which I find weird:

"If I go to some sort of practitioner of whatever and walk out without paying, I haven't stolen anything tangible, just their time."

But their time is not a copy. It is irreplaceable. They will never get those moments back. Therefore what you have done is theft. If you used the public record to create an AI simulacrum of the practitioner, and consult the simulacrum instead of the practitioner, that is analogous to pirating the time of the practitioner. (You may be stealing the time of the simulacrum, but that is a separate issue).

The question is not tangibility. The question is whether, after I do ____, someone else then has less of something than they did before. If I "go to someone for their services, and don't pay them", they have less time than before. If I ask Google what I was going to ask the professional and so don't need their services, they haven't lost anything.

There is a comment relating copyright with trademark law (that's something that we see all the time; can we come up with an equally powerful graphic to show how they're unrelated?). And there's the inevitable comment reiterating the received theory argument, which says that without monopolies people won't be motivated to innovate. We really need to start countering that one with the point that a monopoly in a given field tends to suppress innovation in that field. And anyway, where's the evidence? If these monopolies are so necessary for innovation, then why is there no shortage of innovation where monopolies are not given (the fashion industry, say, or cooking).

But all these words don't match the eloquence of Patri Friedman's graphic. It's simple, memorable, and irrefutable.

And no, by the way, I didn't ask Patri Friedman before posting a copy of the image here. His whole point is that we shouldn't have to. We credit him and link back, of course, because credit is like time or money, in that when you take it from someone, that person actually loses something. Copying the image while still giving him full credit is exactly in the spirit of his post.

August Break.

The Beach

Hey everyone: it's been quiet around here because I'm on vacation for August (and have already been for part of July).

No, this is not because copyright reform must involve long vacations. It's just that I'm in the middle of a move, and need some extra time to complete it. (But I admit there are a few beaches involved too.) Someday, it will be the case that just because I take a break doesn't mean QuestionCopyright.org does — but we're not there yet.

See you in September, and enjoy your summer (or winter, if you're in the Southern hemisphere).

-Karl Fogel

Help Wanted -- We're Launching the Ghost Works Survey

Ghost Works Survey temporary logo

We're launching the Ghost Works Survey, and you can help.

The Ghost Works Survey is a project to investigate how often, and in what ways, copyright prevents artists from making new derivative works.

In the article "Seen Any Ghost Works Lately?", we defined a ghost work as a creative work that never got made, or was made but not released, because copyright concerns prevented it from being started or from being distributed. Since then, informal conversations with artists, publishers and others have made it very clear that such suppression is a common event, much more common than most people think. But the public rarely hears about it, because no one does publicity for a work that doesn't exist.

The purpose of the Ghost Works Survey is twofold: to demonstrate the scope and scale of this phenomenon by gathering and organizing as much data about it as we can, and to highlight compelling individual stories of artists and other creators who had their work thwarted by copyright restrictions. The survey will not attempt to catalogue every ghost work — there are likely far too many, given that almost every artist we've talked to so far has a story of a work they had to alter or lay aside due to copyright concerns. Rather, we'll focus on qualitative results: we want to collect enough stories to discern large-scale patterns, so we can understand and publicize the effects of copyright suppression. For more information, see the projects page.

If you want to help, or are interested but want to know more before committing, please send an email to:

The time commitment will only be as great as you want it to be — we'll need help with tasks both large and small. Since much of the project involves receiving and processing stories from artists, our capacity is directly proportional to the number of volunteers: the more people are involved, the more we can do! QuestionCopyright.org can provide technical infrastructure and planning, but there is no substitute for human minds.

We'll also need some volunteers willing to take on specific responsibilities: for example, a maintainer for a MySpace page and a maintainer for a Facebook page (because we need to make it as easy as possible for people to send us stories).

And we welcome ideas, of course — please leave suggestions as comments on this article.

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