Is Being Burgled An Excuse For Piracy?

The entertainment industry constantly tells us that downloading pirated movies and TV shows is a form of theft, but viewers often seem to operate with a parallel attitude: that theft is a reasonable reason for piracy.

I was reminded of this on a recent bus trip where I overheard two teenage girls discussing Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. It was no surprise to learn that both had downloaded episodes to watch them: Channel Ten's original late-night broadcasts of the show (which has since shifted to ABC2) displayed the usual cavalier attitude to regular timeslots. But one girl gave an interesting justification for why she had downloaded the entire series:

I had season 1 and season 2 on DVD, and it got stolen. I didn't even buy it on special! So I just downloaded it.

Leaving aside the welcome infusion of female fans into sci-fi, this kind of attitude is pretty typical. The logic goes something like this: I purchased a legal copy of this item and I didn't deliberately dispose of it, so why should I be forced to pay for it again?

Of course, this approach doesn't fly if your car or your couch gets stolen, where you're expected to have insurance. The crucial difference is that it isn't possible to download a replacement car online for no cost and with little chance of getting caught. Conversely, it's also much easier to make a backup copy of any DVDs you have purchased.

What do Lifehacker readers think? Is it fair enough to download a replacement if you've lost a purchased item through no fault of your own, or should you put more effort into getting an insurance policy or making backup copies? Tell us in the comments.


    Legally speaking, the 'but if your couch got stolen' argument stands, but from a moral/ethical perspective I see no problem with this. Likewise, I often download an album, then buy the CD if I like it. But I don't dispose of the original, illicitly sourced copy once I've sourced it legally.

    The issue for me is that the artist is compensated for their work. In buying the CD or DVD, I ("Tim") have paid the artist for their product. Technology enables the disconnect between the method of payment and method of consumption.

    Legal or not, from my own, personal ethical standpoint paying for the product buys me a 'license' to consume it using whatever means I choose.

    I think as long as you still have your proof of purchase, you should be entitled to download more copies of it

    This is a big reason why I believe media companies should stop selling movies/tv episodes.

    Sell an access license. So regardless of medium is damaged, destroyed or stolen - you can get it again.

    Now. I don't even believe companies will sell said license and its about money. Why sell me 1 access license when the current law requires me to buy multiple separate instances to watch on DVD or digitally.

    I don't really have an answer for you, but another question - if it's NOT fair enough to download a replacement, what should you do if you already had a (legally made) backup? For example, say you buy a CD, and legally format-shift it to your iPod. Your original CD is then stolen. Should you immediately delete the copy from your iPod as well? If not, why not?

      I've got a Zune. I just restore from the player back to the desktop (if it was a CD I owned and ripped)or use Zune Pass as God intended (if it was sourced otherwise).
      I guess technically if I had a iPod the inference due to the letter of the law is, yes, you'd be expected to delete it from your library. In practice I expect no one does this.

    I reckon it's completly fair to do this. It's a good reason, and considering the thousands of games I have at home, lord knows I wouldn't like the cost of replacement. Since I already have (or in a hypothetical case, HAD them) how exactly is it against the law for me to download what I've lost?

    I think is good that you can download it but as long as you don't share it with friends or uploaded it via torrents or posted on various websites I think that there should be no problem if you do it for personal use only. Before you do that make a backup of original :)

    Where does it stand when media is damaged. Do you purchase the media or the rights to the content?

    If it is the rights to the content then the media should be replaced for free for the life time of the owner! We should be able to hold the content in any form.

    This falls into the same category for me as cracking a game I've paid for to avoid the CD check. I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, but technically it's illegal. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the media producers tried to claim lost sales, but the reality is that I just wouldn't buy a second copy if I lost it, I'd just live without.

    Personally, I wish the whole concept of copyright and patent was completely abandoned right now, to force producers to consider new ways of making money from their ideas. The fact that we have these concepts, and the laws to back them up, means that for the most part alternative concepts aren't even considered. There *are* workable social models in which everyone can make sufficient money and which don't have copyright, but unsurprisingly, producers tend to want to stick with the more-profitable-for-them status quo...

    Copyright would dictate that downloading anything, you had purchased in physical form, is illegal.
    If you could download a CDROM to replace a CDROM that was stolen, that would get closer to possible (note: difference of mediums is the issue)

    The problem with a consumer downloading something for themselves isnt itself a problem either, as its more the social activity of providing (sometimes known as a caring & social activity titled sharing) which they fear the most. If you can make everyone not share & buy their own copies, you profit much more then if people were allowed to live & socialise outside the construct of capitalism.

    Slightly offtopic question: why is copyright infringment a criminal offense not a civil offense?
    Answer: read above for reasons for segregation!

    In the last decade I would have spent probably $5-10k on DVDs, many of them collectors editions and with nice boxes etc. They took up a *lot* of space with two bookcases in my lounge room just full of DVDs.

    When I got an HTPC recently, I ripped all my DVDs to my home server and now browse through movies with only my remote.

    So the situation now is - do I need to keep the DVDs? I really don't want to. I'd much prefer to get rid of them so I can reclaim the space. But then I have no proof really that I owned the DVDs. to begin with.

    The other example I have is that there are a few long-running TV shows that I have on DVD. It would take me a *very* long time to rip all these (such as The West Wing on like 42 discs). So can't I just download it? But then if I throw away the DVDs, I would only have this downloaded copy and no proof that I paid hundreds of dollars for this series..

    @Schwolop "This falls into the same category for me as cracking a game I’ve paid for to avoid the CD check. I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, but technically it’s illegal." - It's not illegal, it's a breach of contract. They have to sue you, the government can't arrest your for it.

      This isn't entirely true. You're circumventing a "technological protection measure" - this is considered a criminal act. Essentially, the circumvention of any kind of DRM or related crap in Australia is illegal. Even if it's to enable the utilisation of our (very limited) fair use provisions.

      These are criminal charges, distinct from the breaching of copyright or breaching any contractual obligations on your part (which you are probably breaching as well).

      How is it a breach of contract? What contract? did you sight/read one or sign one when you bought the game? movie? soundtrack?

      Was there a sign or a contract given to you to read prior to purchase...

      Fair enough if it is a legal obligation, under law. But not a breach of contract, no.

    well meaning of theft is to remove original from somewhere for example my tv got stolen means tv is not at its place any more but downloading something is just copy paste we are not removing the original one.
    downloading is the issue of copy right or some one is earning from work of others.

    The problem with content is that it is treated as a physical good when it's convenient and as a contract at other times. If you were only to use your could only use a chair in certain room and had to pay to use if you wanted to use it as a step then we would have what we currently have with content. What we should do is wrens this to everying. Teachers should be paid every time you use something they taught you, the dentist should be paid every time you smile, etc.

    The consensus on this type of issue seems to be: While it's technically illegal, it's morally/ethically fine.

    One argument I've heard against this is that if you're sourcing the file through bittorrent (as I imagine is the case ~100% of the time), then you're not only sourcing a replacement copy, you're sharing the file with others, who may or may not have a 'moral' right to the content.

    I'm not saying I agree, but this I think it's worthwhile considering.

    I'm not even convinced that it's technically illegal.
    You do buy a licence when you buy media, the disc is merely a transportation medium for the Intellectual Property.
    If you retained a sufficiently detailed receipt as proof of purchase, I think a suitably expensive lawyer could successfully argue the case that downloading media (provided you did not distribute the media, ie you'd have to download or newsgroup it rather than P2P it) you have purchased a licence for is legal.
    NOTE that I hold no legal qualifications at all.

    When you purchase cd/dvd media, you buy the physical media and you license the IP on it. Even if the physical media is stolen, you still own the license you purchased to enjoy the IP.
    Copyright/IP law is a minefield and is nowhere near mature enough to support prosecution.

    sort of the same boat. my bedroom had a small fire and destroyed all my pc game disks. I didnt then run to my pc and start unistalling all my favourite games from my pc, I went and found no-disk patches so i could still play my legally bought games. soon as i get my 3d quantum printer thingy i am going to start copying couches...and de-loreans for that matter

    morals is doing what is right
    ethics is what you can get away with
    most people'r usually somewhere between

    my rule of thumb is buy what i was going to buy anyway (which is never, funnily enough, something i have already paid for and always, always for the cheapest sense being a sucker), and borrow/share everything else to your hearts content (oh, and try not to get caught..see ethics) - after all, not my problem if all those other torrent users aren't being honest like me!

    The mentality of " I'm effectively buying a license to own the product, so if it gets stolen then i'm entitled to download it illegally" doesn't stand up, for one simple reason- YOU HAVE NOT BOUGHT A LICENSE, you have bought 1 single copy. You can not buy something that someone who owns it doesn't wish to sell. And that is THEIR right to decide.
    One question that may raise some ironies is how many of the people that are downloading pirate copies or pirating illegally any any other way, actually earn their living from industries/employers that rely on licensing technology, selling proprietary information or software? If I buy 1 copy, 1 license for software, should I be able to make as many copies as I want...? Do technology/software companies dealing in commercial software not sell a company "user-licenses"...generally charging for each user in a company, even though that company, a single entity is " buying a license"? Why shouldnt the customer company simply "rip" multiple copies and just buy one..after all they have bought it.....If companies selling software were suffering the same way Movie Studios are ( and both invest many millions to develop a product and re-coup by selling multiple times), then all hell would break out in geek-world, as I.T employees started losing their jobs, screaming that bloody pirates are killing their business and putting them out of work...and quickly the investment into developing software, and the jobs associted would dry-up.... just a different perspective for all of us who have derive our wages from businesses that rely on selling/developing intellectual property such as software....

    One of the other issues is how much are you willing to insure and how much are you willing to lose?

    My wife and I recently started taking stock of our house and its contents in order to reassess our insurance and one of the questions we had to answer was how much are willing to lose.

    As she pointed out, we are unlikely to replenish our dvd/cd collection immediately, or in fact, for one-to-one (ie, we wouldn't replace every copy of the dvds/cds with the exact copy).

    While I do download the odd episode or tv series, I generally get either those that are hard to get, out of time (not in a viewing slot that is suitable to me) or I'm unsure of.

    With the limitations of disk space, I generally don't keep anything I wouldn't watch more then once. If I like the series, I will endeavor to purchase a copy (as the quality is generally higher). I tend not to use digital recorders due to the fact that the networks are less reliable then public transport when it comes to their schedules and lets face it, downloading is generally easier anyway.

    Would I download the collection if it were stolen? Probably not all of it, maybe some of it.

    Is it legal? No, is it moral? Probably not. But if your car was stolen and you could get a free one instead, would you argue?

    With the cost of insurance sky rocketing (try paying all your insurance needs on a single income!) and insurance companies requiring ever increasing proof, compromises have to be made. I will endeavor to secure my collection as it stands and use digital copies in the mean, hopefully that will be enough to protect us in the mean time.

    The other issue, the digital age has out stripped the law in these issues. With the cost of a digital copy itself been seemingly low (the actual cost of the production aside), many people don't see the "value" generally. Why shouldn't I be able to watch my movie in my bedroom while my wife watches it in the lounge?

    This whole piracy thing does my head in. I can record a show, and leave it on my dvd/video recorder for viewing any time and no one would think anything is wrong. If i forget to put my recorder on, and then download the show I have missed, i am breaking the law. Just what is the difference between the 2 options.

      I agree with "Confused" here quite a lot. See DVD recorders fall under the same protection as VCR recorders do. You are allowed to make a single copy as long as it is nodistributed and is only viewed by the person recording in a private residance. (Technically speaking showing it to anybody else, even other members of the household count as distributing but who doesnt do that?)

      One of my biggest points on the matter is, I feel there are too main reasons the film and television comapnies dont like the piracy. One is the people who sell pirated DVDs are making money on something they do not own. I say fair enough, if they are stupid enough to do it, charge them. But if the person is only paying for the cost of the dvd itself does that still count?

      The second thing is they say that when someone downloads a movie or television show episode for free that is revenue lost to those companies. But who is to say I would have bought it if I wasn't able to get it for free? If I had the money to buy all the DVD versions of things I download wouldnt I do that and get the better quality content? So in my eyes you are not losing any money if its money I never would have given you anyway.

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