File sharing is not a crime, it’s an infringement

This is in response to the cartoon in last Friday’s edition of the Opinion section. This cartoon depicted two inmates with markings on the wall to indicate how long they have been in prison. The inmate on the right marked the time in lines, the other marked in musical notes. The inmate on the right was asking the other whether he was “one of those internet music downloaders.”

There is a great fallacy with this cartoon, and it sends a dangerous message to everyone. Contrary to popular belief, file sharing is not a crime. In fact piracy is not a crime and even more so copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is exactly that, infringement. The most that can happen to a file sharer convicted of copyright infringement is s/he will have to pay damages to the plaintiff.

Copyright infringement will not land you in jail or give you a criminal record, which of course are much greater penalties. Theft, however, will. This is why copyright infringement is not defined as theft. When one steals, he/she denies the original owner access to something that is rightfully theirs and attempts to claim ownership over the stolen object.

When one infringes a copyright, he/she, generally, make a copy of the original work, thus decreasing its value. Copyright infringement does not deny the original owner of anything he already didn’t have. Appropriate sentences need to be given to the appropriate breaches of law. Jail time for a negligible loss of money is not appropriate.

People need to know their rights in these situations, and not be scared by the fear, uncertainty and doubt that the Record Industry Association of America spreads. Cases like copyright infringement are issues that can not be described in physical analogies (i.e. theft), and must be treated as a new and separate issue. The future of technology and how we interact with it depends on this.

Adam Ritenauer