The day we all became thieves…

However, I want you to cast your mind back to a time when people made things in exchange for other people’s money… when you wanted a loaf, a horseshoe, a barrel and an arrow, you paid a visit to Messrs Baker, Smith, Cooper and Fletcher.

Go to a company called that now and you’re more likely to find it full of lawyers.  Taking a loaf, horseshoe, barrel or arrow without payment or permission was theft, pure and simple.

Making a copy of any of these objects was not an option and until that SciFi staple the replicator is invented still isn’t.  If you wanted these things you had a simple choice to buy one or make one of your own.  To make one all you had to do was learn the skill, buy the tools and equipment, obtain raw materials and use all this to make one.

At the other extreme we have intellectual property; ideas.  There is no physical product to steal but we all understand a person should get credit for creating an idea which hasn’t existed before.  If someone at work comes up with a great idea in a meeting and their boss takes it upstairs pretending it was their own we see it for what it is; theft.

Inventors are almost universally admired, the image of a bearded, bespectacled uncle pootling about in his garden shed is an endearing one.  Once properly registered if someone dares to copy their design we are outraged that some faceless corporation has attempted to profit from someone else’s ingenuity without recompense.

Most of us won’t try to sneak into a cinema or theme park without paying.  We appreciate the investment in hardware they have made to bring us a larger than life experience and we’ll pay for the privilege of using it for a while.  By the same token those of us so inclined will pay to see a live performance of a play, festival, concert or opera.  The skill, dedication and effort of those individuals is appreciated and we pay a fee, safe in the knowledge that a decent portion of it makes its way to the performers.

However, place those same people in front of a video camera and record the performance.  Edit that footage and transfer it onto a digital medium, package it and send it to shops, online resellers and download services and suddenly its okay to just take a copy.  Replicate the bits, crack the encryption put there to help the artist get paid for their work.  It’s all fine.  They can’t catch you as long as you don’t stand on a street corner flogging the result.

So tell me this… Why is it socially acceptable to download films and songs without paying the people who create them? Leave aside all the arguments about corporate greed and the ridiculous fees top actors command.  As a matter of principle why is it okay to steal some things and not others?  Does everyone out there doing illegal downloads really see themselves as Robin Hood?  I think not.

I fear the simple truth is that the creators of music, films and books have been conveniently forgotten to assuage the collective guilt of people who know better.  Next time you’re tempted by a free track from a source you know in your heart isn’t approved by the artist, please spare them a thought and think again.

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