70% of online users find that there is nothing morally wrong with online piracy, whether it’s downloading a movie, a song, a CD, etc. Only 30% of online users are thinking about the product-creator’s benefits from a purchased item.
Let’s look at this matter from a few different of schools of thought.
The utilitarian point of view would look at each case of copyright infringement differently and decide the morality on the basis of whether it causes the most amount of good or not. In a utilitarian outlook, if the outcome of the act does more good than bad, then it is moral. So this could go either way for internet piracy. If the act of not paying for something online outweighs the good that having that thing will do, then the situation is morally wrong. But if something goods from that person having that piece of work, than even if was stolen it is still morally good.
Immanuel Kant and the categorical imperative point of view would say that if piracy is theft, then piracy is straight out unethical, regardless of the situation. The categorical imperative view focuses solely on the act, and judges the morality of the whole situation on the act. So if piracy is an act of theft, then in a categorical imperative outlook, it would be unethical. This seems very straightforward and makes sense, but this brings up a very interesting and messy point about piracy.
Is piracy actually theft? Technically speaking, theft happens when person A takes something from person B. Person B now does not have that thing which they originally had and person A now has that thing which person B had. Because this object is not being physically stolen from anyone, is it truly considered stolen? This isn’t the case for Internet piracy. When you download something online, you aren’t taking that thing, you’re making a copy of it. The original author hasn’t lost their work, there’s just more of it around now. Now that’s not to say that if the author didn’t originally put their work up for free online that they aren’t getting the money that they asked for, so in that way people would argue that it is stealing. So that’s when online piracy becomes very messy, and we’re stuck in between two sets of views that are both agreeable yet can’t exist together within the current ways that copyright infringement is dealt with.
2011 U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. The act tried to be passed with the intention of allowing the US government more ability to combat online piracy and copyright infringement. This act threatened to shut down many sites that allow copyright infringement
This picture shows the other side of the story. Many people including major websites such as Wikipedia, Google, YouTube, and many others protested against the bill. And some sites, as exemplified in the photo above, shut down their site for 24 hours to raise awareness to the bill being passed. They protested against the bill saying that it was taking away the Internet’s capability to grow and become even more into a place of free doings and a place for a global community to grow. In the end SOPA was not passed, and had been put on hold.
What we are realizing now, through the example of the SOPA bill and everything we’ve talked about above, is that the way we are going about thinking these things, and the way that the government is treating piracy is a way that is using a viewpoint that won’t work any more. The set of rules that they are trying to fit the Internet under isn’t working. We need to create a new set of rules, and a new way to look at the Internet as a place that has a reputation for and will remain to be free. We may even need may need a total shift of our social paradigm in the way we view things. Ethically speaking, the basis on what we’re judging this to be moral and immoral needs to change because really if we think about it, are we to say that freedom is immoral. But then are we also to say that not paying for something that could be paid for is moral?
The whole social outlook on the idea of free is changing, and it’s not working together with the way the things are set up to run. Now we’re not saying that people shouldn’t get paid for the work that they do, we’re not saying that at all. We’re saying that there might have to be a shift in ways that we get these people the money that they deserve for creating these works. Maybe even further, it should be their choice if their work gets put out for free with no consequences of downloading it without paying for it. I mean it is their work, is it not ethically for it to be up to up for them to choose what happens to it? I don’t think anyone minds paying for work that people have done, we might just have to change the ways that this happens. Either way, the ethics of online piracy and copyright infringement are very tricky waters to tread with endless amounts of ways to view them. And we have to be willing enough to find different ways of solving these problems if we find that the old ways aren’t working.
Although we’re guilty of pirating things ourselves, after research and many statistics we can understand where both moral perspectives are really coming from.