I was told, “Copy, Don’t Attribute”

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice of any kind.

Here’s two related concepts that might be useful to you:

1 – Theory of property vs. theory of intellectual property (extremely briefly!) – (physical) Property rights are created for the benefit of the individual, whereas copyright exists for the benefit of all society.

Why do we have property? Lots of reasons, but they mainly boil down to things like individual autonomy, liberty, and the freedom to lead one’s life securely and independently. The benefits are personal, and related to having a civil society. When someone hunts that deer, or makes a chair, or earns money, it’s primarily for their personal benefit. Violating those rights carries a very high level of blameworthiness or reprehensibility, which is why it is punished severely (i.e. with a deprivation of liberty, i.e. imprisonment).

On the other hand, Copyright is fundamentally predicated on the quid-pro-quo of the creation of creative works. As a society, we grant limited exclusive rights to creative ideas based upon the premise that the work will eventually become public domain at which point the work enriches us all. The justifications are economic in nature. In these ways, interference with that exclusive right is inherently less blameworthy.

A prominent scholar in this area, Lemley, does a much better job of explaining these concepts here: [papers.ssrn.com] I *think* this paper is pretty accessible (apologies if it isn’t). Lemley is brilliant, but not only that, I think his writing is better than most.

2 – DrSeuss’ logic is irrelevant because the law is clear – Theft/Larceny law vs. Copyright law. Larceny is based upon centuries of common law, whereas Copyright is based upon the Copyright act of 1976. Congress had the opportunity to make copyright as much like larceny as they pleased, and they chose not to. Without discussing congress itself, they knew full well that they were creating a beast that did not resemble theft in terms of the rights granted, or penalties for violating them. (there are centuries of law which copyright is based upon, Magna Carta, Statute of Anne, but I don’t really know much about that.).

Egregious copyright infringement *DOES* carry criminal liability as statutorily defined in 17 U.S.C. 506, however the bar is high. It’s not related to individual copying, or even mere distribution, but a high level of interference with commercial exploitation by the rightful owners:


Things like proof of loss need to be demonstrated along with criminal scienter.

My personal take –

If anything, Big Content already got the deal they wanted. Does the RIAA *really* want to recoup $1 from you and have you to go to jail for copying a song, or do they want to be able to sue you for up to $115,000 per violation WITHOUT showing any monetary loss, or requiring the higher burden of proof that theft occurred (criminal vs. civil trial)?

Big Content talks the rhetoric of “you wouldn’t STEAL a purse… you wouldn’t STEAL a car…” They want the moral blameworthiness, but they do NOT want the legal repercussions. They’re fine with the huge civil penalties copyright already provides. That the general public has “learned” to associate IP infringement with “theft” just shows that their PR campaign has been successful.

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