Ted Olson, had an editorial a couple of days ago (hey give me a break, I'm on vacation) in the Wall Street Journal (sorry, I can't find it anyplace on line, you will have to take my word for what he says), explaining how file sharing is bad because it allows people to trade bootleg copies of music and movies. The editorial is up-front that Olson is representing the recording and movie industries, but you have to wonder what the Journal thinking when it commissioned the piece. As an attorney Olson is ethically bound to make even bad arguments if he thinks it will advance his clients' interest. That's what he was doing here, making bad arguments.
First, Olson writes that downloading copyrighted songs is stealing, and it's wrong to steal. It's just, he claims, as if someone was taking over our homes, bank accounts or our cars.
But, of course, file sharing is not "stealing" and its not "just like stealing", and Olson knows it. If somebody takes my car, they would have it and I would not. In other words, they would be with car, and I would be without. They would be driving and I would be walking.
But if someone buys a copy of Britney's latest (whatever the hell that is) and copies a song and sends it to me, I have a copy of the song without paying for it, but nobody is short a copy. You could argue that Britney and her record company are out the price of the song, but what if there isn't a chance in the world (in fact, there isn't) that I would ever have purchased such a thing? In that case, as I see it, there is an extra copy of the song in the world and it hasn't cost Britney anything.
Of course Olson knows darn well there is a big difference between making a copy of a song and emptying someone's bank account. But he is a good lawyer trying to help out his client, so he wants to fudge the difference. Why? Because we all learned at our momma's knee that it was wrong to steal, but momma didn't say anything about copyright violations (which is really what we are talking about here).
And, of course, whether something is a copyright violation depends a bit on the current state of the law, and I have a problem with the entertainment industry playing the morality card here. This is the industry which just used political influence (i.e. lots and lots of campaign contributions) to push through a significant extension of the copyright term. So this industry uses raw political muscle to give themselves additional property rights at our expense, and then pays expensive lawyers to cry "thief" when people don't respect these rights? Give me a break.
Moreover, the notion that a Britney fan is stealing when, after he buys the latest CD he makes a zillion copies of a song and sends them off to friends is based on the notion that he didn't really buy the song. Rather, when he purchased the CD all he was doing was purchasing a "license" to listen to the music under certain carefully controlled and non-commercial circumstances. Of course, Britney fan didn't sign any license, and he probably was unaware that this was all he was buying. So this is a legal fiction, which the law allows because it wants to protect the rights of artists to profit from their work.
Which segues nicely into Olson's other argument, which is that we benefit from all the dollars flowing to artists, because otherwise they would stop doing all the swell creative work on our behalf. But a hundred years ago artists were limited to selling tickets to however many folks could be crammed into a hall, and some people think that the quality of music was okay back then. And I don't think Olson believes for a second that the quality of music we are getting these days, with the huge amounts of dollars flowing in and with rock and rap stars living like princes, is any better.