SOPA and The Difference Between Boycotting and Stealing

Readers of this blog know that I don’t write a lot about politics. I think my politics category has less than five posts. Friends of mine will know that I’m bit of an enthusiast, though. I’m not a straight up fanatic, but I love talking politics with more politically-minded friends.

Yesterday, I was talking with some friends about SOPA because of the whole Wikipedia blackout thing. SOPA is an interesting bill. It was introduced in order to crack down on piracy – the illegal downloading of copyrighted material online. That’s a problem. But SOPA gives a lot of power to the government to censor sites, and that strikes a chord with some people. And not a minor one, a major chord.

I don’t know enough about SOPA to have an intelligent opinion on it. But I do know enough about piracy to have an intelligent opinion on it. I’m going to be honest. Not everything I do on the internet is entirely legal, but I try to pay for my music and my streaming when I can. But in the end, I think piracy is wrong. At least legally. Piracy is no different from copying an entire book for yourself. What is important about the book is not the physical shell it’s in; it’s the intellectual property.

People who pirate have a couple of arguments.  First, they argue that the people they pirate from are much wealthier than pirates are. True. But so are the people who own IKEA, and it would be stealing to take a chair from there. I don’t know if this is much of an argument.

Second, they argue that pirating is a way of pressuring record companies and big corporations to be fairer to the artists. I was walking listening to an album that someone had let me copy (ironic, right?) when it hit me. This argument sounds legitimate, but it’s not. In no other realm do we allow this kind of behavior. If we dislike something a corporation is doing, we have a right to disagree and there are actions we can take to pressure them. Boycotting is one of those actions. Stealing is not. If we are so fed up with the music/television/movie industry, why don’t we boycott them, listening to only independently produced artists instead or only watching independently made films? It’s because our moral reasoning is really just justification for our actions. We want to be able to watch movies or listen to music for free. So we say we are doing it in reaction to the big bad corporations. Boycotting would do the same thing. And it wouldn’t be stealing.