business, global issues, unsorted opinions

Copy Right and Left – How Everyone Sees It

Yes, I mean everyone (well, okay, I’ll simplify it). The topic of copyrights is popular these days because of the ensuing mess, so I thought I’d address it. I’ve had similar posts in the past (but related specifically to software) (Part 1, Part 2), but in this article, I’d like to talk about everyone’s view.

This post in particular is inspired by the old post in Lorelle on WordPress: “What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content”. I’ve already spoken about the proper concept of buying (which more clearly stated what I was trying to say in the past about), but that itself did not pertain to the entirety of content sharing, which I intend to address in this article.

As I begin, let us make an important observation: humans are fallible, and technology hasn’t made it any better. In a world where you can now share with WAY more people and make WAY more money than every before, you can now be ripped off by WAY more people. In other words, the results are far bigger, but as far as WHAT can happen to you – nothing, at least with respect to commerce, has really changed. You can be robbed in a village just as you can be robbed in a small town. You can get a taxi in a big city or hitch a ride with someone in a small town. The only difference is that there are more people to make it happen in the big wide world. Let’s keep that in mind.

Another important detail people overlook:

The other guy has a reason for what he’s saying and doing. At the time someone did something you disapprove of (e.g. copied your work; ordered chocolate instead of vanilla; ran a red light; etcetera), that person had what they thought was a legitimate reason for what they were doing. You shouldn’t forget that. Don’t call them an idiot just because YOU can’t think of what that reason is OR because YOU have a better reason for NOT doing that something. Remember, other people may see you the same way when YOU do something THEY disapprove of. So don’t get ticked off at the other guy. Find out what his reasons are and why they make sense to him. Oh yeah: If you read my blog often, you may need to accustom yourself to me repeating all this – I may need to do it often in my articles such as these.

Now that I’ve rambled some important details for a while, let’s hit the meat of this article!

There are tons of different viewpoints on the subject of copyrights, including with respect to media and other things that can be digitally distributed. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to try to contain these ideas in a few imaginary characters (though real people may have overlapping attributes with more than one). Let’s call them the following:

  • The Free Creator
  • The Proprietary Creator
  • The Biz Man
  • The General Consumer
  • The Selfish Consumer

Now we must address what is going through each character’s mind when they publish (or take) content.

The Free Creator

I call him “free” because this is the creator who sells or gives away his stuff without restrictions on copying, modifications, reproduction, etcetera. In a manner of speaking, all of his rights to his work have been idealistically relinquished but in this world have not for certain legal reasons, which I will discuss.

His definition of “buying” is my own. His definition of “theft” and “stealing” is this: to take something entirely away from someone so that they cannot use it and doing so without their permission. (My bias: This is the correct definition, or at least the Biblical one (before they had computers), but society has tainted it as I shall mention.)

What does he want?

He wants people to enjoy and share his work. He likes seeing people benefit from each others’ work. Why should there be restrictions? Copying is something everyone should be entitled to do.

In his eyes, copyright law may be an antiquated attempt to protect creators that has done nothing more than create legal hassle. Why? Copyright law was instituted in order to allow an inventor to profit from his work for a time. It’s a very capitalistic-dependent setup: If you did a good job and people like your work, then you reap the reward by selling your product without the risk of others making a cheaper substitute (and thus depriving you of the reward for your work). But the system is dysfunctional because it suppresses creativity rather than promotes it (people are afraid of their work being copyrighted before they can do it; ambiguously defined copyrights are awarded; etc.). In the Free Creator’s eyes, we reward the creator for benefiting society, we don’t reward him for his own sake. Since that’s what copyright law was instituted for, it makes sense to see it this way. Obviously, people have turned it into a means to selfishly protect everything they make and hang onto a bunch of imaginary strings. Why should we reward this selfish activity?

Related and also important: why should we prevent others from making identical products on their own accord?! For an analogy, let’s say someone patented a boat. Sure, you could use other things to cross a river, but if someone else makes a boat using his own wits and creativity, why should he be punished if what he’s doing is beneficial for everyone else and it just so happens his work is similar to that of the first boat creator? Just because one guy invented something first does not mean he is entitled to be the sole maker of all things like it. It’s nice to be rewarded with money for coming up with an idea, but everyone should be able to make what they and others need.

Money is not the primary objective of the Free Creator, but money is needed to keep creating. Everyone needs income (or at least the necessities of life) from somewhere, so some free creators may charge money for their work. However, they aren’t the least bit worried when someone copies their work.

What are his concerns?

The biggest concern of the Free Creator is other people restricting everyone from using his work as he wants them to be able to. This includes the idea of himself being restricted (perhaps because someone copyrighted his work first), and this specific concern he shares with the Proprietary Creator. Hence, in order to protect himself and others, he has to play the legal dance and retain the copyright for his work or subject it to a license (like GNU-GPL or Creative Commons for software and art respectively – I don’t know what people do with respect to patents, a related issue), which ultimately gives him some power in-case-of-emergency so to speak.

Another concern of his is the false duplication. Like everyone else, he doesn’t like their being a bogus duplication of his work, but his reasons for not wanting that are different than the others. Rather than wanting money (or even the credit), he doesn’t like the idea of people being tricked into purchasing a product that he made and gives away free for their benefit. Such is definitely the case with Blender team who makes a software program other companies are jealous of and many sell under another name.

Issues with this view

In the capitalistic world, there is little (obvious) economic incentive to create free works. They can be used to build portfolios, but the portfolios themselves are ultimately intended for getting a job creating works that will be protected by copyright law.

Humanly-speaking, it is insensitive to demand that every work made and shared be free of limitation, as if the creator has no right to decide the conditions (with or without copyright law or patents) on which they share their work with people.

The Proprietary Creator

I call them the “proprietary” not because they are necessarily selling something, but because they release their work (whether by selling it or giving it away) with strings attached. It may seem like lumping too many people, but I address them in this manner because, while they all may differ in their reactions to culture and content exchange, they all have similar wants and concerns.

The Proprietary Creator’s definition of “stealing” is taking without permission, but of course, “taking” is then defined as “copying the arrangement of [a specific work]”. It’s a definition that has evolved with the advent of copyright law.

What does he want?

The Proprietary Creator wants complete control over what happens to their work. There are an endless number of personal reasons why people do this (a common one I address in the concerns section).

Furthermore, the Proprietary Creator wants the credit for having created a his work. For digital media, this can be done with a simple link-back-to-source or citing the username of the creator and the title of the work (if applicable).

What are his concerns?

The Proprietary Creator is most concerned about other people taking credit for their work. At worst, the copier may prevent the creator from using his own work. At the very least, the original creator won’t receive all of the credit for having come up with the idea.

The second concern is that of oneself. If a person puts a great deal of effort into their work, be it a model, a piece of art, etcetera, we often say they have “expressed their self” in that particular work. In a way, people feel psychologically attached to what they have created. Sharing it would feel like sharing a piece of who they are – a piece other people may take, modify, and skew to be something other than what the work was intended to be. In so skewing, people misrepresent the original creator’s own personality, even if they give the creator credit.

Issues with this view

When a person shares their work, all parties involved need to agree to the terms and conditions that the creator has set up for sharing. This becomes a problem when a party who has not agreed to such terms finds the work and decides to take it. This becomes grounds for the activity of the General Consumer, which I discuss later.

Just as a cruel observation I’ve made, however, I do note that (perhaps based on culture), there has been a trend of possessive, even manipulative behavior. Many want copyright law followed to the letter and yet these same people find themselves are often hypocrites unintentionally, but that’s something for another article.

On a more depressing note for the Proprietary Creator, it’s impractical chasing these “thieves” inasmuch as it may be possible. During this same time, you could be doing something more productive and benefiting from that. Some proprietary creators see it this way and thus tend to be more lax. On one side, they see people ignoring their wishes (known or unknown), but on the other hand, they have the ease of mind from deciding not to worry about it.

The Biz Man

This character is not meant to represent all businessman, many of whom fall into the other categories. This character represents those who see it this way.

The Biz Man is just that: He’s all about making money. People make content to make a living. If people say they aren’t doing that, then they somehow must have an ulterior motive whose roots can be traced back to a business motive. His view of the motive for creating things is what drives the world (and has for thousands of years). There’s nothing wrong with making things for money, but it often ends out in work whose quality becomes inextricably tied with cost, schedule, and customer satisfaction.

“Stealing” to the Biz Man is not taking content, it’s taking money, capital investments. A big business would rather have its copyrighted ideas “stolen” or “pirated” by another big business so that it can sue and make money than have no one interested. At the very least, this is what lawyers want, even if the CEOs have something else in mind. But lawyers are businessmen too.

What does he want?

To make enough money to buy whatever he needs and wants. Perhaps to become famous.

What are his concerns?

Someone else making money in a field he has the capacity to make wealth in. If all you want to do in life is become rich and famous so you can buy whatever you want, then someone else “stealing opportunity” from you is not what you want to see.

Issues with this view

In a manner of speaking, it’s a “dog-eat-dog world”. This is perhaps the most hypocritical viewpoint because it 1) endorses the writing of the rules/laws; 2) violates the rules/laws; and 3) accepts violations of the rules/laws as a manner for making progress as I discuss in my article “Avoiding the Issue = Making Progress in the Software World“. The method for making progress is working around the system and paying specialists (lawyers) to clear the way for you. Unfortunately, this chops down the little guy who cannot afford to play this game nor does he want to.

The General Consumer

Ah yes, our beloved, common character, whom the other three characters usually see as naive. Ironic as it is, this naivety actually is good reasoning (Hey! It works for some people!), as I will try to explain.

In order for sharing rights to apply, all of the parties involved must agree to the conditions of sharing as established by the creator. However, when a third party, unaware of these conditions, views the work, they might make the assumption that those conditions don’t exist or dismiss them for other reasons. Physically, this might be called “spying” (if it was intentional and done with malicious / mean intent), but any curious viewer in need of what he has just found may say, “Hey, I want to make that.” A view shared with the Free Creator: should we not allow people to use the wheel or make a house just because one guy invented it first? In the digital world, we encounter a new boundary, one where, in many cases, the viewing party did not agree to the conditions of sharing but was nevertheless admitted into the group of individuals who can share the work. This is particularly the case with image-sharing sites, which boast certain imagery in order to draw visitors. Having a terms and conditions page on the website makes no difference: people didn’t agree to it, so no one is obligated to follow it.

The biggest excuse of this person is, “I didn’t know.” They never made their self aware of the conditions of sharing. But note, it’s not even possible to make their self aware of all of the possible terms and conditions of usage, much less remember each of them when the time comes.

What does he want?

He wants things to be straightforward. License agreements are rarely read (except by me, *sigh*) for good reason: they are too long. People are too lazy to read all of the legal rigamarole they are responsible for when they sign up for a service (on paper or on the computer). Why can’t it be simple? Why must there be so many strings attached to things? There are so many strings that they begin to form massive cobwebs – meant to catch unwary rogues instead of simply being safety nets for the creators.

What are his concerns?

His number one concern is how to make himself happy. (Actually, this applies to everyone.) Why should license agreements, leases, and legal junk get in his way? One could starve by the time he figures out how to be a model citizen – and by then, it’s too late.

He’s not concerned so much about getting caught. “Everyone does it”, so follow the bandwagon (do like everyone else). “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” There are a ton of phrases for it. It’s culturally-established ethics.

So what does he care about? Culture. Sometimes it’s “keeping up with the Jones”, other times it’s just self-enrichment. Suppose his buddy has pop music. “Hey, can I get a copy of that from you?” His buddy gets a new car. “Hey, where can I get a good deal on one like that?”

If he doesn’t care about culture, perhaps he’s guided by some “moral compass” or religious tenets, and he may or may not be morally permitted to disregard copyright law.

Issues with this view

It ignores the problem.

“It’s just [some work]. What’s the big deal?” A simple perspective. Yes, it is just stuff. No reason to be up-in-arms about it, but ignoring them is being insensitive. Now, if you are intentionally insensitive, you go under the next category.

With respect to the physical world, it seems there’s nothing wrong with copying an idea for your own benefit. You still have to buy all of the materials and acquire the skills to produce it. Buying from the original creator is a shortcut to work. However, it does disregard the effort of the creator in making something unique. Somehow, the original creator should be rewarded for creating something people find useful or enjoyable.

With respect to the digital world, those who make their living from selling digital content suffer the most because an exact replica of their work can be copied with little effort. The consumer benefits, but the creator may feel like they slaved away for nothing.

The “Selfish” Consumer

I label this character “selfish” primarily because that’s how creators and business people see them, regardless of their actual motives. Believe it or not, these people are also very reasonable. Their reasoning is just as compelling in their mind as the reasoning of each other characters is in his own.

“You put it out there, expect it to get taken” – the most common form of reasoning from people. It’s actually common sense. If you knowingly walk onto a battlefield, don’t be crying “foul play” when the soldiers don’t recognize your “diplomatic immunity” or whatever political crap you think you’re protected by. If you put a item in a box labeled “free”, expect that someone may take it. If you post something on the internet, it gets downloaded by every browser that views it. In truth, what you posted will probably be copied billions of times with or without your approval. “So why care?” asks the Selfish Consumer. A person of this mentality would even point out Lorelle VanFossen’s own article title as evidence against her: you knowingly put your content at risk for the world to paw at.

What does he want?

He wants to do whatever he wants with the stuff people put out there. They shared it, so why shouldn’t he take it? It’s not like he agreed to some licensing terms.

This is the world, a place where people struggle daily. Things only benefit those who take advantage of them. There’s alot of truth in that. If it’s a dog-eat-dog world, a world of survival and stepping on each others’ heads, why should he restrain himself? Suffering from terrible consequences is HIGHLY unlikely for ANY party involved/affected by a “theft”. At worst, someone gets sued and business goes on as usual. The world isn’t going to end just because something was taken without permission.

In truth, if one denies the moral law and ignores the feelings of others, from the perspective of Naturalism, it is perfectly acceptable to behave in this manner. Why not? “It’s not like there’s some god watching you,” he might say.

What are his concerns?

Getting caught breaking the law is his primary concern. As a matter of ensuring oneself is always in beneficial situations, being sued is obviously not a pleasurable situation.

The Jerk

Surprise! There’s one last character I didn’t mention at the beginning. He’s the character often referenced by “Selfish” Consumer as being the primary cause of trouble on the internet, which he is. When the Jerk just talks, he’s called a “troll”. When he downloads content without permission, he’s called a “pirate”. When you fully examine his activity, he’s called a “jerk”. Believe it or not, this character is also reasonable.

To him, life is about having fun. It can be fun to watch other people suffer and get ticked off. Another reason might be simple rebellion: “You tell me not to break it? Fine! I’ll break it.” Since there is a rebellious nature in just about everyone (I don’t know of a single, living exception on this earth), albeit smaller in some people than others, this reason may arise subconsciously in people’s minds when they are making decisions about what to do with respect to the work of someone else they encounter.


If you take nothing else from this article, at least learn this: Reason is directed. It is directed at whatever you make it be directed at. If you want to believe something, you (or someone) can come up with reasoning that shows that belief is true. That’s why there are so many different opinions, not just religious and scientific, but opinions on every kind of activity.

Changing this article

This article is not really what I would call “finished”. I don’t know everyone’s viewpoint, but I’d certainly like to hear them. I have my own particular viewpoint, so I can’t represent everyone else’s – I don’t know all of the different kinds of logic used. Feel free to add commentary. I’d like to expound more upon each point of view. I tried to reduce the viewpoints to simple individuals, but I’m afraid they may have gotten alittle mixed.

Also, I’m afraid I may have forgotten something I wanted to type, or typed something I didn’t want (which can happen when you try to start typing where you left off). If you notice any contradictory statements in the article, please let me know.


3 thoughts on “Copy Right and Left – How Everyone Sees It

  1. Interesting, if a bit convoluted (LOL), perspective on copyright infringement. Based upon vast experience I wish I didn’t have, copyright infringers come in three types: Ignorant, greedy, and assumptive. The ignorant think if it is on the web, it’s free. They can be any of the types you have listed above. They shouldn’t be ignorant either as everyone who got to the sixth grade of school learned that copy cats get punished.

    The greedy take anything that can get and abuse it. We know these people everywhere.

    The assumptive are those who think they can get away with it. They aren’t ignorant, and often they do get away with it, but they are lazy.

    Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today is a dear friend and one of the world’s leading experts in copyright and plagiarism. I highly recommend checking out his information and unique perspective on this issue.

    Thanks again for the link and the entertaining read.

  2. You could add the “artist” or the “transformer.” This individual appropriates the work of others for the purpose of making something else or to make a new statement. This person would have a sense of right and wrong in terms of when the original work was sufficiently changed or re-worked to permit the behavior without having to hassle with permission. You could also add the “conversationalist.” This person is only using the work in order to have a conversation about something. To the extent IP laws would prevent that behavior, this individual would consider them ridiculous.

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