Claim: Copying Is Not Theft [Nina Paley Video]

Claim: Copying is not theft. See video:

Response: This video misses the point of copyright. The two actors arrive with their body parts already in existence, without a need to create them. As I’ve said in the past, if new works dropped from heaven into our laps or we were born with them, I’d favor the elimination of copyright because there was no effort required for their production (effort which should be rewarded, assuming we want creators to continue making new works).

Because the video excludes this important part (the labor of creating new works), it’s just a strawman argument. If we wanted to accurately represent the modern economy, we’d have two actors – let’s say Adam and Bob. Adam would build physical objects (say, a bicycle, a house, and grow food), and Bob would create duplicatable objects – like software and music and movies. They’d be working and working. After a while, they want to trade. Bob offers his music, his movies, and his software for sale. Adam would cross his arms and take them without paying (hey, it’s not theft – just making a copy). Adam would sit inside his house with his bicycle, food, music, software, and movies. Bob would sit outside in the rain, begging for food. Eventually, either Bob would die of starvation or he’d stop making stuff that could be copied without paying him. He gets mad and starts making physical objects for himself – like food and shelter. Now, neither of them have music, or movies, or software. Adam is worse off because he demanded that all digital-media should be “free for the taking”, thus forcing creators to stop working on those things. If only Adam had agreed to pay Bob for his work, then they’ve both have all their needs met and have luxuries, too. But, Adam can’t understand the concept of paying people for their labor if the work can be duplicated.

For some odd reason, Paley animated this video with both characters giving each other stuff. In the real-world of piracy (or “copying”), this is actually a unilateral “giving” – from the digital-media creator to everyone else with no reciprocation. If they both give each other stuff, this is a transaction which is similar copyright: copyright involves the digital-media creator giving a copy of his works, and the second character giving him money or something of value – i.e. “giving” on both sides.

The only thing this video shows me is that, by leaving out the labor aspect of creating new works (and they can involve an enormous amount of labor), Paley has constructed a strawman argument. With this video, she reinforces the stereotype of artists who don’t understand economics.

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